I arrived in London yesterday!
But first I ate that bacon, spinach, and tomato wrap up there. It was pretty fantastic. I flew from Barcelona to London on British Airways, and it, too, was pretty fantastic. It felt like we’d barely lifted into the sky when this was the view from my window:
During my flight, I alternated between writing one of my books and rewatching My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, because I am a professional and a nine-year-old at heart. Also, the new My Little Pony series is fantastic and I am a thoroughly devoted fan of the show.
I landed in London and immediately the sound of English everywhere washed over me like a sweet neon tide of Fanta.
It’s been years since the last time I was in England, and before I got here I had only very, very hazy memories of London’s Underground. Having lived in Japan for nearly four years and having just experienced a lot of Barcelona’s train system, I was surprised by the low ceiling on London’s trains. It makes for a cozier train ride, that’s for sure. I also like the design of the train interior – folding seats are in Japanese trains too, but they’re right in front of the door. I saw ones just tucked into the regular rows of seats. Pretty nifty – if you had a large suitcase, you could just fold the seats up and bam, suitcase seat. Or a wheelchair, or a robot, or a large armadillo.
After I checked into my hotel, I noticed that Jersey Boys has recently made its debut on the West End. Hence the failed pun in the title bar above. I’m sleepy, so you’ll have to forgive my lack of originality tonight.
Jersey Boys is my favorite musical. I’m a sucker for stories about Italian New York – one of my favorite movies is A Bronx Tale with Robert DeNiro and Chazz Palminteri. I think I mentioned it recently on here, or planned to. My favorite line from the whole movie is: “The saddest thing in the world is wasted talent.” I want to talk about that for hours, so I’ll save that for another post.
Back to Jersey Boys! I saw it for the first time when I was going to school in New York. I lived close to Broadway so I saw the show more than once. I don’t remember what my expectations were the first time I saw it, but I remember walking out with my parents and no longer having any kind of control over the speed or volume of my praise for the thing.
During that run, my favorite performer was always in Tommy’s role. What makes the musical fantastic, in my opinion, is that it’s told from all four perspectives. Tommy says in the beginning, “You ask four guys, you get four different answers.” He starts off the story, Bobby continues it, Nicky goes third, and Frankie finishes it. (I was pondering names during the show – I’ve always loved how Italian guys aren’t threatened by having their names made into endearments. Tom becomes Tommy, Nick becomes Nicky, yet they’re still tough guys. Italians and Italian Americans are excellent people for many reasons, but that’s an odd quirky one that came to mind last night.)
This time, when I saw the show in London, my favorite performer was – hands down – Bobby. The actor who’s playing him now has this voice – deep, well-enunciated, and fits the character’s personality perfectly. He also has this dry cynicism and simultaneous goofiness to the way he delivers his lines that I just clicked with immediately. I laughed the hardest at his lines and felt the most sympathy for him (at least until the last act, and then Frankie’s performer really got me in the feelings).
The beginning started a little shaky – Frankie’s performer seemed to have a rasp in his voice as he sang his first lines at Frankie Valli’s incredible high pitch. It could have just been a dry throat or the performer was sick or any number of things, but it was tough to overlook when the first line after his singing is Tommy saying, “Kid had the voice of an angel.” The performer’s voice did improve and he quickly proved his singing mettle, and oddly, hearing him struggle in the start just made me appreciate how talented he is later on when he nailed some very vocally challenging notes.
I clapped my hardest at the beginning, because I remember attending my own plays in college. I remember sitting in the audience while the actors in my plays delivered the lines I’d written. Theatre, as a live performance, is always changing. No two performances are alike, which is part of what I love about theatre. I remembered seeing three performances three nights in a row and seeing a different take every night. Part of the differences depended on the audience.
The scariest moment for me while watching my own plays was the first joke. Once that first joke landed and the audience laughed, I could relax. It didn’t matter if they didn’t react to a few after that, what was vital was that first joke. Because I knew and my actors knew it was a joke, but sometimes the audience wouldn’t, and the actors would know they’d missed a mark and the atmosphere would noticeably shift. Sometimes, a line that had us all laughing in rehearsals would be delivered with just one word emphasized a certain way, but when the performance began and the actor delivered the line differently: dead silence from the seats.
So when I realized that Frankie’s performer might be having some problems with his voice (and when I heard some nearly silent murmuring around me) I clapped my hardest to try and encourage the whole company. At a professional level like the West End, I know the performers probably don’t need encouragement, but I thought they’d appreciate it nonetheless.
The audience and the performers really clicked about a third of the way into the show. The jokes kept rolling in, and we in the audience kept on laughing. By the end, my heart felt full and my creative brain was rushing with ideas. That’s what good art always does – inspires people to make more like it.