I was ten years old when I first experienced a West End show. It was 1993 and I was filled with pre-teen angst, following my family’s move into a new home, the subsequent new school and my parents impending divorce. On a dark wintery evening, I boarded a coach full of strangers for a school trip to the historic London Palladium. The show was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph with Phillip Schofield.
As the lights dimmed and the overture began the world melted away and I was hooked. As timed has passed I’ve become unclear on the details of that evening, we sat somewhere in the upper circle and I don’t remember the name of a single person who was there with me, but I was captivated from the first few bars and that feeling, hasn’t faded.
Being ten and with impending choices to make; what secondary school to attend? What career to begin moving towards? What kind of life do I want? (I’ve always been a tad overly analytical.) I’m sad to say it was a good few years before I managed to get to the theatre again. I let the magic of the theatre be overwhelmed by reality. But I never forgot.
My first love is musical theatre but really any show will do. As I’ve grown up, my preferences have become more extravagant, I rarely choose to sit anywhere other than the stalls and this limits how often I get to indulge. Having said that there are a huge number of great offers available for shows nowadays and I’ve been known to take full advantage of these (Well I have to share my experience with as many friends and family as possible don’t I? Who doesn’t see each show 2-3 times minimum?).
Then with my youth disappearing before me much faster than I ever anticipated, it happened. Under the category of refusing to fail to do anything on my ‘things to do before you’re thirty list’, my sights turned to Theatreland’s counterpart across the Atlantic, Broadway. Unfortunately for me it was probably a once in a lifetime trip but boy was it worth it!
Now for me, shows have become synonymous with big life events; Cats and Starlight mark the beginning of the most cherished relationship in my life. Rent inspired me to attempt to overcome my often crippling shyness through an A/S level in drama and got me through 6th form at school. Let It Be saw my Mum turn 50, Scrooge, a last family outing at Christmas with my grandparents. Wicked saw not only, my Dad turn 50 but also me turn 30 and my engagement. Not to mention every birthday, every anniversary and every ‘just for the hell of it trip’ to We Will Rock You, The Book of Mormon, Lord of the Rings, Viva Forever, Rock of Ages, Wizard of Oz, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Phantom Of The Opera, Love Never Dies, Spamalot, Miss Saigon, Oliver, Blood Brothers, The Lion King, Avenue Q, Priscilla, Woman in Black, Richard II, Richard III, Potted Potter, Midsummer Night's Dream, or West End Live!
Maybe it’s my supressed desire for the limelight. I guarantee I’m travelling in the car or getting home and singing my heart out to the soundtrack and dreaming of being a star, for weeks afterwards. Maybe it’s the music, a few bars of Once and I’m in tears. Maybe it’s the actors that can’t hide the joy of performing and the live audience reaction. Maybe it’s that sense of escapism, plain old me gets whisked away to exotic lands with characters and stories that touch my heart and soul. Maybe it’s the element of surprise, who knew Jersey Boys, a show I was outvoted on and ‘forced’ to see, would become an all-time favourite and constant presence on my ipod.
Whatever it is each time the hush falls over the auditorium, the lights dim and the first notes fill the air, I’m ten years old and I’m waiting with baited breath to be absorbed into their world. I walk away each and every time with one thought, when can I go again?
By Sheila White
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