Over the last 20 years I’ve done a LOT of musical theatre. Sometimes rehearsing for three shows at the same time, I’ve found it hard to turn down the opportunity to get my jazz hands on. Some of the shows I’ve done have hit a standard worthy of any West End show, some of them have been brilliant and hugely enjoyable amateur productions and one or two of them I’ve been glad to consign to history.
I thought my current venture would be the latter. Over the last 20 years I have auditioned for the part of Nancy in Oliver! 5 times – losing out for all sorts of reasons. I’ve always thought it was the part I was born to play. Even more so than Maria in West Side story (only 4 auditions – 4? pathetic, it’s like I didn’t care at all). I’m too old for the part now really. I may chant “playing age 25” on a regular basis but I’m well aware that I’m about as convincing as a 25 year old as Jimmy Savile is as a man with normal sexual preferences. But when the chance to go for it one more time came up, I couldn’t resist, even though I knew it was a small group with no budget, playing in a very basic venue. The last 5 times there have been between 4 and 20 girls going up against me. This time there was 1, and she didn’t want it, using the song as a warm up for the part she was seriously going for. Unheard of. Guess I got lucky.
When I got the part, it actually felt like a bit of an anti-climax. Maybe wanting something so long you build up expectations that reality just can’t live up to. I wasn’t called for the first few weeks of rehearsals and it’s hard rehearsing through the summer – holidays get in the way, including two of my own as well as another production that meant I missed another week. Other cast members have been missing as well – typically on different nights to me so it was a little bit like ships that pass in the night. I didn’t do one scene properly until the Sunday before we opened. So show week arrived and I haven’t been living and breathing Nancy as much as I always assumed I would.
We’re in a tiny theatre (in a school) with a 2 piece “orchestra” (piano and drums), no set to speak of and a Bill Sykes who doesn’t know his own strength, which has resulted in a sprained arm and badly bruised knees. We’ve also been through 4 MDs/accompanists on the road to opening night.
But, and here’s the good bit.
I don’t care. This group has given me the chance to play the part that first got me interested in musicals. I’ve spent more time preparing for auditions for this one than I care to remember. I’ve known the dialogue and songs for so long I hardly needed to pick up a script. So, is it any wonder that I felt a bit teary way back at the audition (last chance saloon) when I realised I might actually get it this time and again last night at the dress rehearsal, I had a lump in my throat during the finale – the same lump that’s been in my throat the five times I’ve missed out and had to watch somebody else taking that bow for one of the best female roles in musical theatre. But this time it was for a different reason and that made it all the more emotional.
I don’t care if we don’t have a huge stage, an 18 piece band, a realistic London Bridge, West End costumes or a chorus full of 20 girls who didn’t get the part and are hoping Sykes will hit me that bit too hard so they can step in tomorrow. Hell, I even like the kids. The cast may not be a troupe of ex professionals but they are good people who haven’t judged me for swooping in and grabbing the showiest part in their production. Having had my confidence, my health and (dramatic though it may sound) my life destroyed by one of the “big” groups, it’s been a long road back to the swagger Nancy demands.
A big demon has been exorcised this week. I’ve proved I can do it. Any other parts that come my way now are just a bonus (except Maria obvs. Even I know that’s pushing it, but Dame Kiri did it at 40 so never say never!)