Amateur theatre – Cats

Thursday 24 September 2009

As you know, Cats (the musical that is, not the four legged furry bastards with the egos) is my all time favourite musical. I love it, love it simply to bits, and even after seeing it recently for the second time 20 years later, where I realised that it’s really all just a little (read: huge) bit naff, I continue to love it. As Karen says in Love Actually (one of my favourite movies I should add) “True love lasts a lifetime”, so what sort of feller would I be if I suddenly dumped Cats and went after some new floozy, like Avenue Q?

(Incidentally, did anyone catch this? I know! Isn’t it just too horrible for words? I tell ya, I can’t work out what is worse – what she’s wearing or that it’s just the worse case of Rich Daddy Syndrome I’ve ever seen.

Actually, it reminds me of an old joke. Many versions of it but a good one goes something like: There were these two old married university professors and one day the wife comes home and finds a note. “Dear wife,” it says, “I am writing to say that after 40 years marriage I have decided to leave you. As you are aware being a science teacher a relationship is based on chemistry, which you and I no longer have, so I have gone and run off with the 20 year old head cheer leader because, being a mathematics teacher, I know that she and I add up to equal one. We will be enjoying my 60th birthday in the Bahamas. Please forward any mail to the following address.”

A couple of weeks later, the husband opens his mail and finds this: “Dear husband,” the wife wrote back, “Thank you for your letter. I was very sad to discover that you have left me, but, being a science teacher, I should have done my research better. Still, I am very happy for you and wish you and your cheer leader girlfriend well. I want you to know that I am doing well too. Not wanting to sit at home and wallow I have decided to shack up with the 20 year old captain of the football team because, as you know being a mathematics teacher, 20 goes into 60 a hell of a lot more times that 60 goes into 20.” Boom boom.

Umm… this blog was supposed to be about a show I saw so I better get back to it.)

Back in July I joined a mailing list for local amateur theatre. I’m tired of not seeing things and finding out about shows after the dates have past. I think I was inspired after discovering that there will be a production of Spamalot in October (still haven’t got tickets, have sent reminder to work to do tomorrow) and finding out there’s been a number of G&S’s early in the year (I’m sure I’ve already done this line but I always say there are only two types of musical theatre: Gilbert and Sullivan). Imagine my pure delight when I discovered there was going to be a production of Cats! I was over the heavyside layer I can tell you (Cats reference there, to all you theatre heathens! (Note to self: don’t insult the readership.)). So, a couple of Saturdays ago, Melanie, BC and I went and saw the Holroyd Musical and Dramatic Society (HMDS) production of Cats.

The HMDS is a Western Sydney based amateur theatrical society that stages four productions a year – two musicals, a play and a panto; this year they are doing Alice in Wonderland. While the plays and pantos they choose are traditional amateur theatre fodder, they have tended to punch above their weight with the musicals. Last year they did both West Side Story (a hella lot of complicated dancing) and Les Miserables (the classic story of Sir Les Patterson feeling down in the dumps… I think. I’ve never seen it). When I read they were attempting Cats I knew that there were two possible ways it could go, but also that both ways would be highly entertaining to watch.

The three of us arrived at Wentworthville (it’s about an hour by train out west of Sydney, two stops past Parramatta) and found a nice little Chinese restaurant for some dinner. We thoroughly enjoyed the classic dishes of garlic prawns, sweet and sour pork and combination chicken, and a bargain of a price at $45. Back at the theatre we found our seats and promised ourselves the option of leaving at half time if the show was really bad.

The overture started and already I was grinning ear to ear. I knew we were in for something special, and I wasn’t disappointed. There is just something kind of wonderful about the sight of someone who should know better prancing about in a unitard. As Melanie said, some of those performers faced their worst nightmares to go out publicly in those costumes. The costumes were, actually, extremely good with huge amounts of furry details, it’s just that most members of amateur theatre don’t have a dancer’s build. Or can dance, for that matter. It’s a pity that Cats requires a good deal of both.

The performers were, over all, very good, but let me highlight some of the more “special” artiste. Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer were two chunky actors who did a great job of hamming it up, though I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t end their number by performing the traditional “double windmill” across the stage. Mungojerrie (the part that I would love to play) was particularly special; not only was he equipped with his mother’s bum and his father’s belly, he also had a lisp, which meant he sung his song something like this:

Mungojscheree and Rumpleteaser
We’re a notorsczhious couple of catscz
Aschz knockabout clownsczjh and quick-jszcange comedianzchs
Tight-rope walkezsph and acrobatcszjhs.

Humour is found in many places.

The actress playing Grizabella the glamour cat was well too fed to be playing a part. She had the legs of an elephant, so perhaps it was apt that hers is the one that sings “Memory”? I did wonder if she was related to the director.

(Incidentally, I can say things like that as I spent nine great years with the Broken Hill Repertory and saw more than one production decision based on nepotism. Truth be told, sometimes it’s the easiest way to fill a play as you then know the strengths and weaknesses of the cast. I know that I got parts as I knew the directors well (not that well, but they knew I’d be perfect for the part) and I’d cast friends too knowing they’d be fun to have around during rehearsals. I should, while I’m here, thank a certain old school librarian friend of mine who gave me one of my first theatrical parts in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I played the chocolate factory Charlie). Considering she knew me through six years of school plus kindergarten I’m sure made her decision a lot easier in selecting me. After that role, and for the next nine years, there wasn’t many plays I wasn’t involved in, be in on stage or behind curtain. So, thank you Rosemary, I have a lot to you to be thankful for.)

Where was I? Oh yes.

The guy playing the Rum Tum Tugger was clearly having a good time. The three of us also had bets that he was probably the only straight actor in the whole show – BC’s gaydar was no registering. It was going DING DING DING something chronic for Mr Mistoffelees (I think the ballet training didn’t help) while mine was ringing away for Skimbleshanks, the railway cat, another favourite role of mine. Skimbleshanks had a lovely jawbone and lots of nice facial expression being trained in the school of overacting, though when singing was unable to project over the orchestra; it didn’t help that he kept running out of breath halfway through his phrasing too. I didn’t mind as I was singing the song softly to myself anyway. Jennyanydots, the old Gumbie cat, was quite gorgeous, though she was wearing this dress that was so covered in frills that whenever she moved she looked like a overzealous flapper. All the wiggling was annoying me by the end, especially when she’d do it in the middle of someone else’s song – naughty upstaging! The ladies who did most of the singing – as they mostly narrate the songs I’m not sure of their names – were all great. As BC said about the show, “I could understand every word” and I have to agree. A couple of times I realised that all these years, listening only to the original Australia cast recording, I’d been singing the wrong words!

Special mention – in fact a whole paragraph to himself – has to go to the bloke in the Munkustrap role. The black and silver tom Munkustrap is the storyteller and protector of the Jellicle tribe, and second in command after Old Deuteronomy (I stole that description from Wikipedia). Munkustrap is pretty much the most important cat on the stage and should be played like a solid wall, standing broadly, shoulders squared, with his arms ready to defend. This is a cat always on guard, always ready to protect. The ultimate Alpha Cat, that’s how it should be played. Well, not in this production. This geezer instead spent the whole play with one arm outstretched to the audience singing to an invisible scull, with a facial expression that could have been fervency or could have been trying to remember what was on the shopping list. I think he secretly wished that he was having a go at “Memory”. If that cat was the protector I’d be stocking up on insurance. As second in command he was definitely a Number Two. Alpha Cat? More like Alfalfa Cat!

(I have to that Brad for that last line. I mentioned to him that I had spent the day trying to wrack out a good joke at the actor’s expense and the best I had come up with was “Instead of Munkustrap being the 2-I-C, he was more the Pooh-I-See.” While it (sort of) works as a spoken gag it looks terrible on paper. Actually, it’s pretty bad any way you look at it.)

So, basically, the guy playing Munkustrap was crap.

But, and here’s the but…

This is amateur theatre. Those performers are probably shop assistants or teachers or bank clerks during the day and have given up three, four nights a week for the last few months to be in this show – for free! They do it because they love being on a stage and being someone else for a couple of hours, and that to me sounds like a great thing as it’s something that, at times, I terribly miss. It’s all very well for me to sit there with my choc top and scoff about how much better I would have been in that part, but it’s not me up on that stage. So, I think you have to commend all amateur theatre players because their dedication is something to be admired.

It doesn’t help if they’ve done a bad job, though.

This, luckily, was a good show and BC and I really enjoyed ourselves. “Kinda like a popcorn musical. Fun and entertaining. And sooooo camp” is how BC put it. Melanie I think had a fun time but she can be disparaging of a performance which pisses me off no end, especially if I’ve forked out for the tickets (we won’t mention My Fair Lady). I think, watching her out the corner of my eye, she enjoyed the show a lot more at the beginning but it started to grate and by the end it was a bit of a chore. But – hey! – it’s a night out in good company and on that level what more could she ask from amateur theatre?

Actually, this was a lot more professional than some professional shows I’ve seen. BC has just reminded me that halfway through the “Macavity” number every microphone – the head mikes and the positional mikes – blew. The lasses singing this very dramatic song just kept going and proceeded to project their voices in compensate for the sudden loss of volume. Their ability to come through such a disturbing “live” moment deserved the extra boost of applause. Unfortunately the mikes were gone for the rest of the show (which luckily is near its end anyway) but everyone did a great job in coping.

So that’s that then. I would encourage you to all go see the production but it finished two weeks ago. Oh well.


What I did on my holidays – Brisbane for two days

Wednesday 22 July 2009

On the train out to my sister’s. Shouldn’t be much longer. I’ve got no idea when my stop is and relying on the gentleman voice over to tell when to get off.

JUST WHERE DO YOU GET OFF MATE??
Umm… Wacol Station.

Quite proud of myself for remembering where the Sportsman Hotel is (stop just called – my station is next) – down the road and up the hill, though I don’t remember the hill being that steep. Still, I’m all checked in. Instead of a mint they’ve left on my pillow a condom and sachet of lube. Positive thinking, how nice of them. With a gay bar downstairs, here’s hoping.

(Damn. There’s a carpark on both sides of the track. I can’t remember which way to go. I’ll stand at the top and hopefully someone will wave.)

–+–

Back at the train station waiting for my return ride. Louise (my sister’s partner) was good enough to drive me from their house. For a station they say is “just around the corner” it’s a bloody big corner.

What an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon: playing Uncle. I haven’t seen my nephew Zackary and niece Lucy since March last year and I was surprised how much they have aged. Zack is so much more literate and considered; Lucy co-ordinated and elegant. It does sadden me that I’m not there in their lives, except these few rare visits (depending on what exhibition is on at the gallery) because it does bring me joy and allow me to feel I am making some influence and contribution into their lives. I suppose, though, being in Exotic Sydney, at least I can be the one they run away to in their teenage years. Just don’t try to hit me for any money.

We jumped on the trampoline and read books and were shown assorted prized toys and talked about moon phases and dancing and how Lucy’s not going to have a baby (apparently they hurt). After their dinner I tucked them into bed and they both complained about my scraggy beard (I’m in desperate need of a trim). Louise came home from work and she, Michelle (that’s my sister) and I had a roast pork dinner piled high with veggies. Considering that Michelle was such a bastard eater I was quite surprised. Her potatoes and pumpkin were particularly superb. I asked what was her secret. She took a packet from the cupboard and tossed it across the table:

McCORMICK
Produce Partners
Country Style Roast Potatoes

“You’re secret’s safe with me,” I said.

–+–

The whole “hangin’ with the kids” thing did get me thinking of a conversation that Anita and I had sitting while sipping tea in front of a large open fire in Margaret River. For some reason (I can’t remember why but it seemed a sensible question at the time) Anita asked me if I wanted to be a father. I answered truthfully: I don’t think my life will ever be fully complete and I will go to my crematorium a slightly sad man knowing full well that I will never have the opportunity to father children. It’s very true. I think parenting is one of the greatest gifts and greatest responsibilities of Life, and it bitters me to think it is wasted on so many people who have no desire, respect or appreciation of this… greatest thing. This is not some Darwinian theory of forwarding on your genes for a greater society (if this was the case can I start the list of those who should be neutered now?), it is solely about being there and comforting and teaching and guiding a new being; hoping to teach that child what is right in the world and to allow that person the opportunities to see what a huge influence they can make. And on saying that it so terribly saddens me that I know with all my heart that I can never be whole because I am a gay man and will never father. I would go as far as saying that I envy my friends who discover their “gayness” late in life, after they were married (though I also believe they were fooling themselves into a life of “normality” the entire time… until they woke up to themselves) as they at least from their slight adventure have children. Not that I would have to think that children are some sort of prize, like a kewpie doll – Summer of the Seventeenth Doll this is not – but they have… I don’t know… made an input into the next generation. And I think that’s a swell thing. And at times I look at the bottom of my glass knowing it’s not mine.

I mean, it’s not as if I’m Todd McKenney! Thank Gods for that!

On saying this, Zackary did keep calling me by the wrong name. Zack has a gay couple set of uncles who are friends with Louise and Michelle and he kept calling me by their names – a small mistake. While I was happy that Zack had some sort of male role models, Louise did tell me that the two had recently adopted a set (very Franklin Mint) of children whom they have named “Will” and “Grace”. Perhaps there is a reason why gay men can’t have children after all…

Got me thinking, though, what would I name my children. Well, if it were a girl, it would have to be Kylie. If it were a boy, then something really butch… like Madonna.

Back at the hotel I had a few too many beers.

–+–

Next day, Friday, I got up exceedingly late – after 12 – then hurried to the gallery to see the American Impressionist exhibition. Beautiful show full of artists I have heard of and works I have never seen. One of the greatest things an exhibition can achieve is a sense of honour that you have witness these pieces away from home, and this show certainly achieved that. It was certainly a case of the wrong shoes as I was tired standing looking at these masterpieces. At one stage there were no chairs for an entire two rooms! I had to force myself to fully appreciate their brilliance before moving to the next room and having a bit of a sit down; I could see the chairs in the next room but I wasn’t allowed to go a rest the toes till studying every available work. It’s very much a case of Mr Bean: “I look at the pictures” for me, or – my preference – Mr Chance: “I like to watch” (actually, I’ve got another blog about these two stored away, I’ll pull out sometime). I love Art – capital A, and art – little a, and shudder at a life without it. To look at these beautiful things is a joy that so few will ever understand.

I’ve been known to burst into tears at Art. It was a 1904 Frederick McCubbin work called The Pioneer at the Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria. Have a look at it; it’s beautiful. The first time I saw this work I sat in front of it on the perfectly positioned stool and I sat and I stared. This work is speaks of two generations who have live/fought Australia’s landscape, the second generation burying the first and in tern being buried by the New World. That’s how I see it. So I sat in front of this work and I looked at it and allowed my mind to experience everything that McCubbin was trying to suggest one hundred years’ earlier. And I looked at the immense hope and the intent sorrow that this represents, and I started to cry. I allowed myself to pleasure of tears trickling down cheeks; that strange mix of happiness and sorrow that comes through such an action; and to a certain level I felt cleansed. It’s nice to have a cry. Then a bunch of schoolboys rambled in and I quickly wiped my eyes and left the room. It’s one thing being in touch with your motions – it’s another being called a silly by someone who uses Clearasil.

You should also check out (check out?) other McCubbin works, such as Lost and On the Wallaby Track to understand what a superb artist this man was.

On the subject (this does link, me joining Heidelberg artists to London’s West End, believe it or not), that night I saw a new production of Cats. Now, if you would ask me (and believe me, not enough ever do) what my favourite musical of all time was I would promptly say Cats. I don’t’ think it is the best musical – I mean there are so many Gilbert and Sullivans out there, but I think they’re excluded being Operettas, but also My Fair Lady which is horribly perfect in every way, A Chorus Line, or new works like The Producers (a perfect stage play) or – quelle supreme! – Mamma Mia! – but I will always say it was my favourite musical is Cats. Why? Well I will tell you.

My parents used to own a corner shop, a local deli. I still don’t know how I feel about that time. I wasn’t very receptive to the change, I had other interests, I was unwilling to work in the store, but in my defense I was stupid and 17, so that I apologise about. On the other hand I did find the store nothing more than an excuse for my parents to not participate in my life (“Oh we have to be at the store”, they would say to every reportorial show I was in. Now I’m not saying I was performing Shakespeare, but I do, to this day, still rue them for seeing only two shows in my entire nine year theatrical career.) but I still thank them for one thing above all others. In 1989, there was a lady who used to visit the store who said she was going to see the original production of Cats and Mah said that I would like to see it. The lady invited me along and Mah allowed me to go.

I sat there in this huge room, the Festival Theatre in Adelaide, biggest room I had ever been it, and it was chocka block full of people, and the lights dimmed and the room went silent. Then the overture began and the stage started to sparkle with lights representing the night sky, as the overture for Cats works, and I burst into tears. It was that exact moment that I knew that all I wanted to do for the rest of my life is sit in darkened rooms and have people entertain me. And I was 16.

Since then I have done everything I can to see every show, being it professional or amateur, since. I don’t care, I love being… entertained. It’s not that, that sort of cheapens it. It’s more than that. It’s the talent of the artists, it’s the music and the direction, it’s the escapism, that keeps me in this imaginary world of lights and make-up. There is a lot of envy too, I know I could never be good enough to be in this world – and I blame both myself and my parents for that – so I please myself by sitting in the bleachers and watching.

People in my life, I take them to shows, but they usually disappoint me by not valuing them as I do. It has never bothered me buying a single seat, but it is so nice to drink a glass of bubbles with someone and to see their face and for it to hopefully suggest that blind awe that mine did when I first saw these shows. There are times where I have been so disappointed – one time I vowed never to share a theatrical experience again – but others have been worth it – my Dah seeing The Lion King is one of them, my Beautiful Creature seeing The 39 Steps is another.

Anyway, enough of this.

–+–

Back at the Sportsman Hotel there was drag shows on ground and Karaoke in basement. In the Karaoke Bar a gentleman came up to me.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” I said back.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” he said.

“No, sorry,” I said.

“Last night,” he said. Then it dawned on me.

“Oh, I have completely lost a lot of last night, I’m really sorry if that offends you,” I said.

“Not at all,” he said, “but I can tell you, you had a good time.”

Upstairs a handsome boy in a blue singlet was bopping along to the music. Anyone who even caught his glance he would approach. “Oh no mate, I’m straight,” he would claim. All that I watched said something on the lines of “Yeah, whatever,” and carried on with their conversations.

In the far corner, by the pool table, was a chap I do remember chatting to in the toilets the night before. He was a tall thin shearer complete with flannel shirt, brimmed hat and a front tooth missing. There was something so incredibly physically attractive about him, even though he was with his wife and you completely knew he was “Out-of-Bounds”. Anyway, we’d got talking at some time, I think it was because I had commented on his hat; it was a very nice hat. So there is me talking about this fantastic hat and he was talking about how he was straight, and I think “well done” to him, though I can’t work out why he was in this bar – perhaps he as staying the night, it’s very cheap and very central. But as we talk he tells me he was going to sue that movie – you know the one, that movie – Brokeback Mountain – as it painted a negative image of shearers and suggested that all “cowboys” they were gay. “I was gonna sue, you can’t do that sort of thing, it’s wrong,” he said. I dried my hands and left.

On the walls of the toilets are posters for AIDS awareness, which are great thing. This horrible – yet completely preventable – disease continues to grow. It did bother me, though that the Queensland Association of Healthy Communities – or QAHC. My trouble is if you pronounce it with the ‘Q” being hard it says “kak”, which is not the best promotion of Queenslandic health. On saying that, if you say the ‘Q” with a faked “U” it would come out “kwak”, which is even worse, being the worst possible advertisement of northern Australian AIDS related awareness. It did get me thinking – what they needed was to rebadge themselves as the Queensland Association of Medical Awareness – or QAMA (“khama”) or Queensland AIDS Caring Communities’ Alliance, or “kwakka”, or perhaps I’ve just been overly influence by my time in Western Australia…

–+–

To cut a long story short, I didn’t get a root and instead simply got incredibly durnk drunk, but still woke up and was able to get out and to the airport with plenty of time before my 12 noon flight back to Sydney.

one more to go…