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Monthly Musical Musings - January

Annemarie Lewis Thomas' monthly musical theatre column

Dateline: 22nd January, 2010

Well, belated New Year greetings, Musical fans. What will 2010 bring us in the way of fresh new Musical Theatre? Pantos are winding down (does anybody else remember the time when they used to run until late February/March?) and hundreds of performers are once again returning to their 'day jobs' until the next theatre gig materialises. Simultaneously thousands of wannabe performers are embarking on the dreaded audition circuit with the hope of achieving a life long dream of getting into drama college.

The biggest announcement so far this year has been that Judy Craymer (the saviour of all things Abba with a storyline) has decided that her next venture will be a Spice Girls musical. I will refrain from expressing my original reaction (although I'm sure many of you can guess what it was!) Judging by how massive the Girls were in their heyday I'm confident that there will be an audience for the show (and let's face it - it can't be as bad as the Movie!)

Meanwhile, sticking with the Spice Girls, Mel C has been creating quite a storm by gaining a positive critical response to her taking over the role of Mrs Johnson in Blood Brothers (some critics were even raving). Maybe she was doing her apprenticeship in preparation for the Spice Girls musical?

This February we'll see two giants of the Broadway stage making their London debuts - first up is Megan Mullally, famous for playing Karen in Will and Grace (incidentally she is rumoured to be working on a musical featuring this iconic sit com character). Megan made her Broadway debut playing Marty in Grease around 16 years ago. More recently she created one of the main characters in the latest Mel Brooks musical, Young Frankenstein. A matter of days later Stephanie J Block is returning to London after her special appearance in the recent Scott Alan concert - this time though it'll be all about her (so I guess you could still call it a debut…of sorts)

What is it about the Broadway Musical Theatre performer that makes them so 'amazing'? I've had so many discussions about this over the years and still the answer is unclear. Is it the level of competition over in the States, which guarantees that only the best of the best get through? or is it the natural confidence of a native American? or is it simply the magic 'it'? is there a secret college simply churning out power houses of performers?

Then there are those that would argue that we Brits are every bit as good and there is no difference at all. Some keep a foot in both camps with the classic 'we do straight plays better than anyone else, but the Americans still floor us with the Musicals'.

To balance the argument before I really wind people up I should add that at the moment we are in the unusual position of exporting some of our Musical Theatre talent over to them - Scarlet Strallen, Caroline Sheen and Laura Michelle Kelly (maybe we have cornered the market of Mary Poppins?) Then of course there are the British performers that the Americans adopted as their own, for example Julie Andrews and Angela Lansbury.

I think that Musical Theatre is much more in their blood than over here (please don't all shout about our history with Musical Theatre - with the old "Gilbert and Sullivan started it all"). As a nation they certainly treat their performers better than we do - just see their wage packets if you have any doubt as to the accuracy of this statement. Gosh - maybe it's that our 'best performers' simply can't afford to do it for a living? I also think that the characteristic British reserve holds us back in this genre.

I f I had to pick my favourite performances that I've ever seen in Musicals through the years, all of them would feature a Broadway performer. I feel very unpatriotic with that statement, but it is a fact (for me). I'm now in the position of training new UK performers, and I am constantly naming Broadway stars for them to aspire to be like. Obviously I'm making a huge generalisation and if I sat and thought properly about things I would be able to name iconic British stars of Musical Theatre that have equally inspired.

So for me the highlight of 2010 is likely to be the performers that I've booked tickets to see - unless of course that Spice Girls musical opens a bit quicker than anticipated - then who knows?

Annemarie Lewis Thomas

Originally from Swansea, Annemarie graduated from Middlesex Polytechnic with a degree in Performance Arts. As the Musical Director for the award winning Steam Industry she was the MD/Arranger for many critically acclaimed shows. As an established pianist on the London cabaret scene she has played for people such as Patti Boulaye, Andy Bell, Ria Jones, Howard Samuels, Paul L Martin to name just a few. In 2009 she opened her own full time college - MTA (The Musical Theatre Academy) - offering the UK's first accelerated training programme for musical theatre performers.

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