The Singing Librarian’s 2019 in review – Theatre part 2: doing it


As ever, I haven’t “just” watched theatre this year, I have also been actively involved. I attended the NODA Summer School for the second year running, this year doing a brilliant course on Directing Musical Theatre. I haven’t yet had a chance to put this into practice, as all my theatrical activities this year have been on the stage.

A number of concerts have happened throughout the year, which have seen me sing songs including ‘True Colours’, ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’, ‘Anthem’ and ‘Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive’. The latter was part of Singalong Christmas, which sees us tell the story of the birth of Christ through a wide variety of songs – this one is sung by one of the shepherds, in case you were wondering.

I also performed in two musicals, and I am going to take them in reverse order.

A close-up of a pair of eyes, with the word EVITA written across them.

Promo image of Magaldi in Evita.

First, Evita, which was performed in the Autumn. This was my first time performing in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, and rather handily is my favourite of his well-known shows. I played the role of Magaldi, and became accustomed to saying “you know, the role played by Jimmy Nail in the film…”. I didn’t try to emulate Jimmy Nail (never try to copy a performance!), but tried to put my own stamp on it. The character doesn’t have much stage time, but he does memorably sing ‘On This Night of a Thousand Stars’. Twice. This role allowed me to unleash my vocals in a way I don’t usually do – the character is a singer, and a show-off at that. So I put every ounce of volume and embellishment into his big solo that I could find. I also had to hit some ridiculously high notes (without switching to falsetto) in one of the other numbers, which took a few people by surprise. The show was not easy, with tricky harmonies and some super-fast costume changes, but it worked really well.  The direction and design, along with the performances, created something rather special.

A man in a brown cardigan opening a large book.

The Singing Librarian as Henry Higgins.

And before that was My Fair Lady, performed in the Spring. Yes, I’ve done this show before. But this time was different. Last time, I played Freddy Eynsford-Hill. This time, I played Professor Henry Higgins. This really was the role of a lifetime for me. I’m a character actor, not a romantic lead, so although I have played a fantastic variety of parts, the leading male role in a musical never seemed very likely. And what a role! So many fantastic actors have tackled this part before, and everyone thinks they know the character. He is, I realised, not a very nice man at all. His linguistic snobbishness is quite funny, as is his disdain of certain social conventions such as dressing properly for Ascot. But his attitude towards women, although often played for comedy, really isn’t funny, a fact which audiences can perhaps see more easily now. So a challenge – be true to the character without making him a villain. Enjoy the role and the songs without excusing his behaviour.

And I think it worked. I am as proud of my performance as Henry Higgins as I am of anything else I have achieved in the theatre. It was incredibly difficult, bringing me to tears at times, and I frequently doubted that I could carry it off (not least because at 40, I felt rather young for the part, even though the actor portraying him on Broadway at the time was about the same age as me). But on the night(s), it felt right. As the curtain came down, I knew that we had put on a great show, and that I had done the part justice. We got some fantastic feedback, too, including a glowing show report from NODA.

So two very different roles, which allowed me to prove (if only to myself) that I definitely can act and sing. 2020 has some excitement in store already in terms of my involvement with theatre. It has a great year to live up to!

 

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