I knew as soon as I booked these tickets that this would be one of those shows where I would stick out like a sore thumb – but I didn’t care. I grew up with musicals like Oliver! and Tom Thumb and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to see Singin’ in the Rain just because a few old ladies would be looking at me like I was about to steal their handbags.
I booked the tickets before the casting was announced, so the fact that Faye Tozer and Maxwell Caulfield were in the show was a bonus. I’d seen Faye in “The Tailor Made Man” back in March so I knew how good she was on stage – and then there’s Maxwell Caulfield. Oh. My. God. I have watched Casualty religiously since I was about seven, and Maxwell as Dr Jim Brodie was my absolute favourite (apart from Charlie Fairhead of course.) I was less than impressed (I cried for three days straight) when his character sacrificed himself to save a pregnant woman when an oil tanker crashed into the hospital and caused a massive fire (it was a Christmas special – they went all out.) So the fact that I’d be seeing him on stage ten years after he left Casualty was pretty exciting. Pretty exciting? I was bouncing off the walls!
The show was at the Opera House in Manchester which is just a tram ride away from where I live. I’d dragged my Mum along with me – she still insists that she hates musicals despite going to see Rock of Ages about twenty times – and she was not looking forward to it. We were seated in the stalls in Row X but it was still a pretty impressive view.
As the music started a big grin spread across my face – it was exactly what I was expecting. The song “Fit as a Fiddle” performed by Don (James Leece) and Cosmo (Stephane Anelli) basically included everything I love about older musicals. There was tap dancing, slapstick comedy, clever lyrics – I was in heaven! Cosmo’s big song “Make ‘em Laugh” was absolutely amazing. He was being hit in the head by planks of wood, falling over absolutely nothing – pure, innocent humour. It was brilliant to watch. Another song, “Moses Supposes” was absolute genius. If you think “La Vie Boheme” from RENT is hard to sing, try “Moses Supposes!” The setting was Don, Cosmo and a Dialect Coach (Luke Dowling) reciting a number of increasingly difficult tongue twisters, ending with “Moses Supposes.” This was one of my favourite parts of the show – it reminded me so much of Tom Thumb (the 1958 musical with Russ Tamblyn.) Don and Cosmo made the tongue twister “Moses Supposes” into a song, and they were trying to coax the Dialect Coach into joining them. There’s a scene in Tom Thumb where the people at the fare buy “Talented Shoes” that dance as long as the music is playing, and “Moses Supposes” was almost exactly like this. The further into the song Don and Cosmo got, the more powerless the Dialect Coach was to resist. It was perfect.
During “Good Morning” you really got to see how talented Amy Ellen Richardson who played Kathy, Don’s love interest, really is. She is a spectacular dancer with brilliant comic timing and I loved watching her perform. Then came, of course, “Singin’ in the Rain.” This was the clever part. The middle of the stage was sunken so that in formed a sort of tray to catch the 12,000 litres of water they were about to drop on Don’s head. The effect was magnificent – as soon as the rain started the whole audience gasped in awe. As Don splashed around the stage he had a gleeful look on his face – even more so when he started kicking water at the audience. I was very glad that I was way back in row X at that point! He sang the iconic song beautifully and then it was time for the interval, at which point about six men with mops came onto the stage to get rid of the excess water that hadn’t drained out of the trough.
A definite highlight for me was Faye Tozer who played Lina Lamont, the film star. She was amazing. She featured a lot more in the second half – the plot was that RF Simpson (Maxwell Caulfield – eek!) ran the film company Monumental Pictures, and they had decided to branch out into “talking pictures,” (bear in mind the musical is set in 1927.) The only problem is their star, Lina Lamont, has the most god-awful high pitched voice with the worst accent you have ever heard – “girl” was pronounced “goyl.” Faye played the character incredibly, although she actually has exercises to do at the end of each show to get her voice back down to a normal pitch! Because of this awful voice, it was decided that Kathy would sing and talk for Lina, and it would be dubbed over the film to make it sound like Lina was talking and singing herself. That was also really clever – they had a screen that dropped down to show a black and white film of Lina miming the song, while Kathy sat on a stool on the stage and sang the song. It was so simple but so well acted, and Faye really did look beautiful on the screen.
Of course at the end everything works out for the best – Lina is exposed as a fraud, Kathy gets the credit she deserves and she and Don live happily ever after. Then came the finale – a reprise of “Singin’ in the Rain.” At first it was the ensemble splashing around in yet more water whilst taking their bows, but eventually the whole cast came onto the stage. They all had silver umbrellas but, as they opened them, the underneath of the umbrellas were all different colours and it looked really impressive as they all danced around. Once again the audience in the front rows got absolutely soaked – Maxwell definitely had a mischievous glint in his eye as he splashed around – and then it was time to leave.
I had already told my Mum that I would be going to the stage door no matter what – I had waited ten years to meet Maxwell Caulfield and I was not walking away! Unfortunately I sprained my hip two weeks ago so I was on a crutch (which I got knocked off at least twice) but I still managed to hobble to the stage door. There were very few people there – but there was a man “Martyn with a “y” – who had what looked like every Steps album ever made in his hands. I guessed he might be waiting for Faye. I wanted to say hello to Matthew Malthouse who was in the ensemble and who kept catching my eye throughout the show thanks to his impressive dancing skills, but I am hopeless at recognising people and I must have missed him. I did get to meet Amy Ellen Richardson though, and made sure to tell her how talented I thought she was. I also met Stephane Anelli (Cosmo) and the lovely Faye Tozer, who spent a long time at the stage door chatting away and signing things. Then, the only person left was Maxwell Caulfield. Ohhhhh God!
If you have read my blog before you will know that I have a tendency to fan girl, and if you haven’t, now you know. I cried for three days over this man’s fictional death and now I somehow had to get some words out of my mouth that didn’t make me sound like a complete idiot. I had met him once before, very briefly, at the last Rock of Ages show, but he was in the audience with his friends and I didn’t want to bother him for too long. As he stepped out of the door I backed off – no way can I talk to him, it’s Maxwell Caulfield! But my Mum pushed me forward and I managed to say hello. He is one of the kindest, friendliest people I have ever met. Not only did he remember me from Rock of Ages but he also noticed that I’d coloured my hair since then. We had a nice chat – I actually managed to speak – and, after two failed attempts at a picture with my Mum as photographer (Mums and technology – not good) I gave up and took one with my front-facing camera. I knew I had to get something out about Casualty so I told him how I cried when he died and he replied “so did my bank manager!” After chatting about my injured hip (he made me promise to keep up with my physiotherapy) it was time for him to leave. My Mum wanted to go straight away but I needed a few seconds to process what had just happened. After waiting ten years to meet someone it’s very unlikely that they’re going to match up to your expectations, but Maxwell really did and I want to thank him for being so patient and generous with his time, it meant the world to me!