People say that you’re never too old for a birthday, and while the day never fills you with that same sense of unbridled joy and excitement in your latter years as it did in your childhood, you nonetheless will surely mark the occasion in some manner: a party perhaps? Maybe a nice lunch with ‘the girls’? Or, my personal favourite, a trip to the theatre.
My birthday is steadily creeping up on me…like an ominous vulture circling overhead, greedily awaiting its chance to peck away at a little more of my youth. Yes, this June I will be – well, let’s just say I’m still (just about) clinging on to my twenties shall we? I can picture the teenagers wincing pityingly on one side and the more mature among you shaking their heads and tutting derogatorily. I may not necessarily be feeling that enviable thrill of turning another year older, but I am looking forward to using it as a legitimate reason for snapping up a couple of tickets to a show in town.
For a theatre-lover, there really is no better night out in London than a visit to the West End. Spending a couple of hours immersed in another world is an experience like no other, and with such a rich variety of productions to choose from, it never gets old. While this is a blessing, it can also be a curse when you find yourself faced with the impossible question: what to see?
You must first decide whether it shall be play or musical? Then what the ‘theme’ of your evening will be; comical, classic, upbeat, melodramatic, sing-a-long fun and so forth? Then of course, do you go for something old or something new? If you’ve ever sat in front of your DVD collection, staring aimlessly at the array of films on offer as you try to choose just one for that night’s entertainment, then you’ll understand just how hard that choice can be.
While I do of course enjoy a stage play, I am a musical kind of gal in my heart of hearts and will usually find myself drawn to the latter in a choice between the two. From therein however, it becomes definitively more difficult. Theatre variety is a blessing precisely because it offers something for everyone; if you want to cry (Ghost, Les Mis), if you want to rock out (Rock of Ages, WWRY), if you want to laugh (Shrek) and so on…whatever it is you’re looking for that night, Theatreland has it ready and waiting for an audience. Like most theatre fans though I expect, I’m often divided in what I’m looking for. Stage musicals are all about entertainment, but the ‘misery’ of a show like Les Miserables is just as entertaining as the rockin’ fun of Queen’s We Will Rock You; just in different ways… Then of course, you have the further complication of whether to revisit an old favourite or try out a newcomer!
I’m fortunate enough to be regularly offered the chance to take in a number of different shows in my profession – I’ve probably seen more theatre since I started writing about it than I have in my accumulative years before then. It’s a wonderful thing but there’s no choice involved, so when faced with the need to make that choice myself, I’ll admit to finding it a challenge.
There is still a selection of shows I haven’t seen, like the darkly bloody Sweeney Todd or the childhood classic of The Lion King. A birthday would seem like the perfect opportunity to amend that, starting off a brand new year with a brand new show, but then, that lingering doubt most people have when it comes to the unknown rears its head. It isn’t a common occurrence (thankfully), but there are times when I’ve been left rather underwhelmed by a show that the majority seem to completely adore. Ever tried a new dish at a favourite restaurant, then found that you don’t like it and wish you’d stuck to something you’ve eaten there before and know you do like? Same thing. Of course, often when you try something new you discover a love for it you never knew you had, but the point is you never know until you’ve bought the dish and had a taste.
So maybe a show that’s been pre-approved by the theatrical palate then…a show you’ve previously tasted, but only once or twice, so it still delivers that ‘new experience’ thrill. There are a few stand-out productions I’ve seen this past year that are still playing in the West End and fit this bill; again they differ from one another measurably: Ghost the Musical was utterly heart-breaking when I saw it, while Matilda the Musical put a smile on my face that just wouldn’t go away. I’ve also embraced my green side with Wicked, which cast a spell over me that it seems just can’t be broken. I’ve had a little nibble at all of these and more and found their flavour to be most agreeable; I could definitely go for a second helping of these tasty morsels.
Everyone has a meal though that, like a death-row prisoner the night before execution, is always the favourite you return to when given a choice. No matter how many times you’ve eaten it before, it never loses its appeal. I enjoy a varied menu of theatre, but the melodramatic musicals are always going to be under the ‘Specials’ section for me. I can’t get enough of shows like Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera; the power of their stories and characters and the sweeping melodies of their music hits me like a ton of bricks every time – there’s a very good reason why these two shows are the longest-running musicals in the West End. When my seven-year-old daughter was given the choice of any show to see for her birthday last year, she didn’t even have to think before going for Les Mis. She adores everything about it, even at her young age, and since that last visit, she constantly asks when she can go again. I adore Les Mis too but as of yet, it has still been unable to knock The Phantom of the Opera down from its perch on the #1 spot of my theatre favourites. Phantom is a darkly intense musical that is also passionate, haunting and heart-renderingly beautiful with a rich, glorious score. Whenever the topic of theatre crops up, I always think of Phantom first and no matter how many times I sit down at that table, I would gladly go back to it again and again without ever tiring of it.
I don’t know what show I’ll be heading to in a celebratory tribute to the day of my birth just yet, but one thing I do know is that, no matter where I end up, it’s sure to be a treat of a night.
Why not leave a comment telling me what show you would treat yourself to?
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)