If you’ve been following me on social media, you’ll have seen that I’ve been spending a lot more time at the theatre these past few months. Moving to London certainly helped but I’m actually fairly new to the musical theatre game, which is a shame because I now feel a bit gutted about all the shows I’ve missed. Time machines have yet to be invented so all I can do is cry about it. Oh well! The truth is, I wasn’t always a fan of musical theatre. I know, shocking. I’ve always enjoyed stand-up comedy and plays, but that’s about it.
Do you remember how JK Rowling said ‘if you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book’? Well, I guess that works for all kind of arts and entertainment. I probably shouldn’t say this online as I fear for the backlash, but I was never too keen on Grease, West Side Story, Cabaret or Mamma Mia, which I feel are all standards to live by in the musical theatre industry. I was also heavily prejudiced because musical theatre culture in France isn’t as developed, so I wasn’t exposed to it very much growing up. There were a few I listened to when I was a kid — Notre Dame de Paris, Roméo & Juliette and Starmania — but as a teenager, I can’t say I was very impressed with the new musicals that made their way to our theatres and radio stations. I just couldn’t stand the lyrics, the melodies and everything in between. It sounded tacky and cringey, and I ignorantly began to think all musicals were the same.
In fact, I felt that way about musical theatre until quite recently. It would have been pretty easy to give up on musical theatre. It took a few shows before I found the one that made me want to go again and again and again. So what made me persevere, when it seemed that I was completely impervious to the genre? Well, the only reason I tried a couple more times was because I cared to show support to one person in particular, Carrie Hope Fletcher. I figured I would only stick to the productions she’s in. I’m aware that some people see this as a wrong motive to buy a ticket. Honestly, though, I think it’s a good thing that someone may have the ability to make you love something you weren’t so crazy about just because they’re in it.
Anyway, let’s take a trip down memory lane and see how my relationship with English musical theatre evolved throughout the years.
I saw my first musical whilst I was visiting New York in 2014. I had never dreamt of seeing a show on Broadway, so I wasn’t necessarily planning on it. However, as I was browsing the depths of the internet to look for recommendations of fun stuff to do in the city, I found something that literally got me jumping on my bed. There are few people I’m dying to meet or see perform, but Fran Drescher is one of them. Fran Drescher was my icon and my Queen back in the day (any fans of The Nanny reading? Leave a comment down below if you’d like to see it come to Netflix too!). Anyway, when I saw she was playing the evil stepmother in the Cinderella musical, I rushed to book tickets. Had I not been so impulsive, I would have realised that her run was scheduled to end two weeks before I arrived in New York. #epicfail Now, if you’ve ever been to the United States, in the summer especially, you know they have an insane problem with air conditioning. So, not only was I bummed to miss Fran Drescher on stage, I was absolutely fucking freezing during the whole show. Plus, the musical in itself wasn’t my cup of tea so, all in all, I Was quite disappointed. Looking back, I’m not sure Fran Drescher would have made a difference. I don’t think my final opinion about the production would have been swayed by her sole presence.
I then saw my first musical in the West End in 2016, so a couple of years later. My Friend Filipa, who I now share most of my musical experiences with, is a huge theatre enthusiast and always has been. We were both in London for YALC that summer, and she suggested that we could go and see Guys and Dolls together. Rebel Wilson was on the bill, and I was a big fan of Pitch Perfect at the time (still am, actually). Don’t get me wrong, this musical was rather entertaining but I still wasn’t completely sold on the genre. The thing is, Rebel Wilson is always cast in roles that show her comic ability. She ends up in these loud, cartoonish characters that are so exaggerated it becomes ridiculous. This is not my kind of humour. And because I already thought musicals were kind of loud and cartoonish in their own way, this musical seemed to rule in my favour. I was wowed by Oliver Tompsett’s performance, but that was about it.
The pinnacle of my aversion to musical theatre came about when I saw Cats on Broadway later that same year. This was the epitome of loud, tacky and cartoonish. Whilst the audience clapped their hands off during the bows, I could barely make sense of what I’d just seen. This is by far the weirdest piece of music and art I’ve ever witnessed, and I usually don’t do weird. I clearly wasn’t the target for this musical but, unfortunately, I took it as a sign that I’d been right about musical theatre all along. And so, I swore to never step foot in a musical theatre again.
Hahahahaha, I’m laughing at how judgemental and close-minded I was. I wish I could put it down as being young and immature, but I was past the age where it’s defendable to make general assumptions based on a couple of shows. I was stupidly opinionated on musical theatre but, as the saying goes, only fools never change their minds. Thankfully, I’m not a complete moron.
That’s where Carrie Hope Fletcher comes into the picture. I wasn’t diligently following her on YouTube channel at first — not the way I am today — but I appreciated her content. I watched her mostly for the Disney covers, the random chats and the crammed bookcase in the background. When I learnt she was going to play Wednesday in The Addams Family UK tour, I began to be more interested in her acting career. I loved The Addams Family as a kid, whether it was the cartoon, the TV series or the movie (I miss the 90’s and Christina Ricci from the 90’s). I wasn’t sure I would like it as much as a musical, but I was intrigued and reckoned it could never be as bad as Cats. Filipa was interested to see it as well, so we came up with a plan. I’d been meaning to visit Bath for forever and since the production was showing there in June 2017, we killed two birds with one stone and went on a little adventure together to make the whole thing worthwhile financially.
The Addams Family was the first show I enjoyed — the cast was bloody amazing — but this particular time of my life is a bit of a blur now. My mum passed away a week later, so the whole trip to Bath means I lost precious moments with her and, consequently, it left a bittersweet aftertaste. I could never have known, but still. However, I do remember laughing, loving the set design and taking pleasure in listening to the songs as they were being performed on stage.
I moved to London about six months later, and it took me a while before I took advantage of what the city had to offer. I’d been dealing with severe depression for so long, all I could do was stay in bed and feel sorry for myself. But, once again, Carrie was cast in a new role, so Filipa and I booked seats to go see her as Veronica Sawyer. I knew nothing about Heathers before we purchased the tickets — I had never seen the movie and had never heard the original cast recording from the off-Broadway production. However, I did try to watch the film beforehand and I couldn’t get past the first 30 minutes. It was just so twisted, a much darker version of Mean Girls with a mentally deranged bad boy. I didn’t identify with the characters, didn’t feel any empathy… and so, I was quite skeptical about the musical adaptation.
I went, not expecting much from it. I first saw it at The Other Palace in July but ‘see’ is a bit of a stretch to be honest. Because I have anxiety, I always get aisle seats so I can make a quick escape if I have to. But the way Heathers was staged for this specific venue didn’t make for a great experience. The view was pretty restricted for those who were on each extremity of the first few rows. Therefore, I enjoyed the music but missed out on so much that I couldn’t really make up my mind about it.
When it was announced that Heathers would transfer to the Haymarket, Filipa and I decided to go see it again, with better seats this time. Plus, a new song had been written for Carrie so it was a perfect excuse to justify going back.
That’s when it all changed.
October 11th, 2018 will forever remain the day where musical theatre took a whole other meaning for me. Not only did I love everything about the show, Heathers literally saved me. I briefly mentioned it in my ‘2018, a survival story‘ blog post, but Heathers was the unexpected source of light during a difficult time in my life. Even as an adult, I connected with it very strongly. One character in particular called to the darkest part of my soul, and the actor’s performance of said character was so painfully accurate, it sparked something in me that I couldn’t quite make sense of at first. I realised afterwards that he had simply made me feel, which was such a huge step forward in the healing process of grief, depression and all the other demons that made my life miserable. I don’t think anything will ever top Jamie Muscato’s interpretation of Jason Dean for me, but I would actually love to see that happening. Anyway, the songs, the lyrics, the humour, the topics, the messages, everything about Heathers made me feel uplifted, empowered and inspired.
Which is why I went to see it another 4 times after that. I had to reason myself not to go more, but it brought me so much joy that it was hard to resist. However, I also felt like I would appreciate it more if I didn’t go every single day. I was able to be there for the final performance on November 24th, and it’s enough to make me happy. It actually wouldn’t have happened without Filipa’s determination to get her hands on return tickets, so I am very thankful for her tenacity.
The rest is history. Since falling in love with Heathers, I’ve seen quite a few other musicals: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (which I actually saw in August, between Heathers at The Other Palace and Heathers at The Haymarket), Company (which I’ve seen twice), 42nd Street, Hadestown and The Lion King. I also went to a Christmas edition of West End Does and a couple of Crazy Coq Presents, two different series of concerts starring musical theatre performers. I was also going to see Leave to Remain but was bedridden with a chest infection (my biggest regret so far this year). And then, I attended MT Fest UK, which I’ll talk about in an upcoming blog post because this one is getting seriously LONG.
I swear someone needs to shut me up already — plus, I have to wrap up this blog post pretty quickly because I’m heading to Café de Paris tonight, to go see Yank: A World War Two Love Story in concert. Filipa can’t stop raving about this musical, and they’re doing a reunion concert for charity. Seriously, how did I ever dislike musical theatre? Not that all of the stories are super inclusive and I have yet to see less ableist productions but, as a whole, the musicals I’ve seen come from such a place of love.
I feel so strongly about my journey with musical theatre that I wanted to share it with you guys. It goes to show that you can grow to love something. If you don’t like reading, maybe you haven’t picked up the right kind of book for you. There are so many options out there, you’re bound to find something you like: mangas, comic books, classics, poetry, young adult fiction, contemporary adult fiction, crime novels, romance, non-fiction or coffee-table books. Same goes for cinema and theatre. Musicals are just another form of storytelling. As a reader, I should have known that it ultimately comes down to personal taste. Not all books are my cup of tea, so obviously not all musicals will be either.
At the end of the day, I’m so glad I went to see The Addams Family and Heathers because ‘Carrie Hope Fletcher’ was attached to them. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have persisted. I became passionate about musicals because of Carrie. It sounds corny as hell, but I’m so grateful for this beautiful human being.
London and New York are amazing places for musical theatre, but not everything will suit you. I haven’t enjoyed all the shows I’ve seen since Heathers — the tap dance in 42nd Street was incredible but, as a musical, I can’t say I was all that impressed. And, to be honest, there are plenty of current productions that I’m not very interested to see. Sure, I might miss out on something, but I also know that I’m not going to force myself just for the sake of it.
However, there are loads that I’d love to see:
→ Wicked, Hamilton, Les Mis, Matilda (cult classics)
→ Waitress, Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen (these are my top 3 ones for 2019)
→ Mean Girls, Prom, Anastasia (the Broadway musicals I wish I could see or could have seen)
Heathers has truly been a game-changer for me when it comes to musical theatre. Now, the only issue is that I’m spending a lot more money than I anticipated when I first moved to London, and I’m not saving much at all, haha. There are plenty of ways to see a show at affordable prices. However, I’ve got used to being in the stalls (thanks very much Today Tix & day seats!), so I’ve become a bit of a snob. Oops…
First world problems, right?
So, what about you? Are you a musical theatre enthusiast? What or who got you into musicals? If you’ve never seen one, why is that? Let me know in the comment section!