Invisible Stranger

Invisible Stranger

Collecting Crises on Old Compton Street and Beyond

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Little Tinker

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Thursday, November 18, 2004
The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd
The Producers, Mel Brooks' smash-hit stage version of his cult movie, is currently the hottest ticket in London, with the homo-world and its shag-on-the-side prepared to sell their comprehensive stash of Class A's and Clarins just to nab a couple of tatty seats up there in the gods.

And for once it's a show worthy of the hokum and hoopla, the best of its kind in the West End since the near-legendary revival of Guys and Dolls at the National well over twenty years ago. And what's more, it's a real, honest-to-goose-stepping musical, none of that seriously dreary and Really Useless nonsense. And it comes complete with brassy Brunhildas, show-stopping storm-troopers, and an up-for-it gang of sex-starved old biddies doing a tap-dance routine with their Zimmers,

The highlight, of course, is the "Springtime for Hitler" sequence ("Don't be stupid/ Be a smartie/ Come and join the Nazi Party"), the sort of glitzy spectacular Leni Riefenstahl and Busby Berkeley might have come up with after one too many nights on the Liebfraumilch. It manages to be offensive to Jews and Gentiles, Germans and gays, and Bavarian pigeon-fanciers alike, which can't be bad. All done in the worst possible taste, natürlich, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world, or even a little piece of the Sudetenland.

But the best bit for me comes earlier in the show, when one of the two leads, a spineless, do-everything-by-the book, fourth-rate nobody (accountant), played by the excellent Lee Evans, decides he's done with the old corporate kow-towing and tells his slimeball of a boss just where he can stick his Dixon Ticonderoga number two pencil.

And then, accompanied by a veritable cleavage of chorines, he chucks the certainty of routine, and soft-shoe-shuffles his way off into the sunset, or, in his case, the Broadway lights of the Great White Way, to realise his dream.

I wanna be a producer
Wear a tux on op'ning nights!
I wanna be a producer
And see my name up there in lights!

I wanna be a producer
Show the world just what I've got
I wanna be a producer
'Cause it's everything I'm not . . .

Oh, my nine-to-five darlings, that discordant twang you hear is a chord being struck somewhere in the atomic alarm-clock this Stranger has in place of a heart. Ditching what you've settled for, in favour of what you've always dreamed about, setting off on that high-wire with no safety net to break your fall. Isn't that really what we all want to do? You know, it's not the things you do in this life which you regret, but the things you don't.

Sitting in the stalls as a kid, I would always much rather have been up there on stage, dancing with the chorus boys. Of course, at that age I didn't realise that dancing wasn't quite what I wanted to do with the chorus boys. And despite the twisted sisters of today saying I'm "theatrical" enough already, and that I've been performing ever since my first Streisand LP, whenever anyone asked I'd always say I wanted to be an astronaut instead. (Whichever way, I suppose I'd still be flying off with the fairies.)

I did some Am Dram at University, when I wasn't making a colossal flop of whoring my way to a non-existent job in the mee-jah, that is, and surprisingly always got given the over-the-top and "camp" roles. (I can't think why.) But I never developed my theatrical – ahem – bent, after I graduated.

There's a reason for that. You see, back in infants' school, we did a couple of little plays a year. I even got to act the Virgin Mary in one of them, and let me assure you that never has a Mary been more winsome in a wimple as this Mary was at a mere six years old.

However, the play I remember best was the tale of Jonah and the Whale. My fellow classmates had to lie on the classroom floor, forming the outline of a whale, the idea being that the spotty and obnoxious kid playing Jonah would be swallowed whole by them.

Taking pride in the fact I was most certainly the spottiest and most obnoxious kid in the world, I naturally assumed the star role would be mine for the taking. Imagine my horror when the role went to my then-worst enemy. Imagine the tears! Imagine the tantrums! Imagine the childish sulks and the hissy fits! Imagine me at chucking-out time on Compton Street come Saturday night: it’s pretty much the same thing.

Finally, and to shut me up, the teacher took me to one side and assured me there was one part left to be cast, one part which had been written especially with me in mind. And, as she lifted me up onto a desk so that I could now look omnisciently down on Moby Dick and his dinner, she reminded me how pivotal my role was to the story, and how no-one but Master Stranger himself could give the part the authority and the dignity it deserved.

And that, my dears, is why I've never seriously pursued my acting ambitions. (And, come to think of it, probably explains a whole lot more as well.)

For once you've played at being God, then everything else can only ever be a bit part.

* * *

(This wasn't the post I'd planned and, to be honest, I'm not quite sure what it’s all been about. But if you hear that I've suddenly run off to join the circus then you shouldn't act in the least bit surprised.)