Take Steel Magnolias, add a dash of Thelma and Louise, a big dollop of Burl Ives in a white linen suit, sprinkle with slapstick, mix with some catchy toons, then serve. This is Waitress, an uplifting and witty musical that tells the story of Jenna, who waits tables, bakes pies and dreams of a getting out of small town USA and away from her good for nothing husband. If Jenna were from small town UK, she’d win The Great British Bake Off and get her own Saturday morning show on TV. Made from the finest ingredients, Waitress is simply delicious.
Since they switched the theatre lights back on, we’ve been playing catch-up with all the shows queuing up impatiently in the wings. Our latest gig was the UK tour of The Book of Mormon. Deliciously camp, rude, lewd and super crude, the song and dance show pulls no punches when ridiculing the fairy tales at the core of the Mormon credo – and by extension, organised religion in general. So there was a third biblical testament buried on a hillside in upstate New York? Who knew? Not the villagers in far-flung Uganda who had more pressing, real-world problems to deal with, like trigger-happy warlords, grinding poverty, AIDS and female genital mutilation. Ripe for conversion? The all-American dancing boys from Salt Lake City thought so. The desperate often are.
All’s well that ends well as the Bard once wrote and the show does have a happy ending because, in the end, we all need something to believe in, even if it’s just the power of the human spirit. By curtain call we were all on our feet. Yes, it’s that good.
As we left the theatre, we spotted a solitary Mormon elder politely handing out leaflets for the cause. Seems The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sees the show as an opportunity for a recruitment drive. Who said there’s no such thing as bad publicity?
I first watched The Sound of Music in the sixties at the tender age of seven. To see over the heads of the people in front of me, I sat on an upturned seat. Not that I saw that much anyway. I nodded off halfway through and didn’t wake up ‘til Dame Julie and co were heading for the hills.
Even though the film eventually became a Christmas staple on TV, I never actually sat through it. All I knew was that it was a tale of good versus evil with singalong tunes. And then the BBC exposed the truth about the von Trapps in a 2013 warts-and-all documentary. It turned out our heroes didn’t climb any mountain or ford any stream to escape the clutches of the nasty Nazis. No, they caught the 5.30 express to Italy. It was a bitter blow.
To restore my faith in the fairy tale, I jumped at the chance to see a new production at Norwich’s Theatre Royal by the Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society. They’re amateur thesps but they always put on a good show.
As we necked our interval gins, I asked Liam,
So, when does the cute blond sing ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me?’
That’s from Cabaret.
Seems I was mixing up my Nazis.
Overall, the production was charming, with some really sweet moments. Nuns and Nazis, what’s not to like? For us, the stand-out performance was from Sara Cubitt as the Mother Abbess. ‘Climb Every Mountain’ is a tough song to sing, and we held our breath as she warbled towards that devilishly difficult final note. Did she hit it? Oh yes.
With all the endless doom and gloom swilling around us, it’s easy to forget just how far we’ve come. It says something incredibly powerful about our society when the three finalists of Strictly Come Dancing – the most popular show on British TV – were a black woman, a deaf actor and a same-sex couple, as voted for by the viewers. As critic Barbara Ellen put it in her Guardian review:
“A ground-breaking Strictly final in step with modern Britain.”
“… Strictly, and the BBC, at its best: everyone welcome, and everything all the better for it.”
Hot on the heels of Strictly came the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, also a public vote. It was won by the child of Chinese-Romanian immigrants with a gay diver bringing up the rear in second place.
And then came the out-of-the-blue and very public marriage proposal on the stage of Norwich’s splendid Theatre Royal at the end of their Christmas panto production of Dick Whittington. When Joe popped the question, the kids went wild. Just as well Luke said yes!
Watch it on Facebook. Congratulations boys.
Now that live theatre is back in full flow after the lockdown drought, we’ve been lapping up the good, the bad and average. First on the bill was the fantastic Come From Away – a West End show for our times – at the aptly named Phoenix Theatre. Next up was Norwich’s cute Maddermarket Theatre for a semi-pro production of One Man, Two Guvnors, the full-on farce which made a West End and Broadway star of James Corden. We saw the London show a few years back but enjoyed our little local offering rather more.
Then there was Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks the Musical on its pre-West End run – strictly for the kiddies and needs work before it gets to London – and The Dresser starring the brilliant Matthew Kelly as the well-past-his-sell-by-date thesp and a so-so Julian Clary as his long-suffering retainer. Both productions were at Norwich’s splendid Theatre Royal.
But by far the best in show was Six – also at Norwich’s Theatre Royal – a very modern musical about Henry the Eighth’s six wives. The gig was first performed by Cambridge University students at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017 and has since gone global. It’s now on its UK tour.
Presented as a concert by a girl group, the wives take turns to sing their stories to decide who should get lead vocals. It’s a right royal foot-tapping take on girl power long before the Spice Girls got in on the act. Of course, in reality they were just pawns in Henry’s matrimonial chess game – divorced, beheaded, died – divorced, beheaded, survived.
Let’s face it, we only really remember the old letch because he had six wives. Ok, there was the small matter of the break with Rome too, but honestly, Henry, all that fuss over a pretty face and the pursuit of a male heir. His daughters were much more capable. Well perhaps not Bloody Mary so much, but the Virgin Queen showed real girl power.