Thursday, August 19, 2004
It won't have escaped the sharper ones among you that I'm something of a sucker for a show tune. Give me a pair of tap-shoes, a follow-spot, and a row of chorus boys, and I'll put on a performance for you. Oh, sod it: skip the tap-shoes and the follow-spot, and you'll get a performance from me any time you want.
Of course, back in the old days, if someone enquired whether you were "musical", then it was a pretty safe bet they weren't sounding you out for the role of the butch baritone in the church choir. And even in these ever-so-straight times, the first night of any big West End musical is still invariably camper than backstage at G.A.Y for Kylie's birthday bash. And no, I'm not going to venture an opinion why that should be: the moment I ever start analysing anything is the instant it stops being fun. Just try me on Valentine's Day if you don't believe me on that one.
So, from being a Theatre Queen, you'd think it would be only a few further footsteps on the road to that other gay cliché, the Opera Queen. Yet for some reason I've never quite understood the appeal, and, by the time the Fat Lady's done her stuff, I've already been gone for a couple of hours and drunk the stalls bar dry. I know there are some cracking tunes out there (I have seen Diva and that Bugs Bunny cartoon, after all), but it's the whole po-faced seriousness of the entire event itself that turns me off. I mean, when was the last time you ever saw anyone leave a performance of Aida with a manic grin on their face, a spring in their step, and change from two hundred and fifty quid? Thought so. I don't do serious. Never have done. Never will.
And, with the odd really useless exception along the way, serious is not a word you'd ever attribute to a good old-fashioned Show, the kind of all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza that makes even the most straight and strait-laced long to grab the greasepaint and the glitter, and chuck the long-time girlfriend in favour of a fairy-flutter stage-right with that camp boy in the pink tights.
I was reminded of this the other night when I went to the National Theatre, to see A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Stephen Sondheim's vaudeville farce set in Ancient Rome, and the show on which Brit-com Up Pompeii was based. Lewd, lascivious and bawdy, and busting out all over with outrageously contrived situations and some of the corniest jokes you've ever heard, it's the most side-splitting and rollicking musical two hours currently playing in the West End. If it was packed with any more feel-good factor, they'd shove a government health warning on it. And with two-thirds of all the seats only ten quid I might just be able to get all serious and cultural with the toffs and corporate clients and afford that restricted-view seat at the opera as well.