Often called the ‘First Lady of British Musical Theatre’, Elaine Paige returned to the London stage this month as Queen Rat in the pantomime DICK WHITTINGTON at the London Palladium.
After making her West End debut in 1968 as one of the Tribe in HAIR, she won the Olivier Award ten years later for her acclaimed portrayal of Eva Peron in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s EVITA. In 1981 Elaine originated the role of one-time glamour puss Grizabella in Sir Andrew’s CATS. Her song ‘Memory’ became a top 10 hit. She followed that with Florence in CHESS and Edith Piaf in PIAF. After playing Norma Desmond in SUNSET BOULEVARD at London’s Adelphi Theatre, Elaine reprised the role for her Broadway debut in 1996.
I drew this CATS, PIAF, EVITA montage of Elaine and tried on a number of occasions to catch her at the BBC Radio 2 studios, where she records her weekly ELAINE PAIGE ON SUNDAY show, but kept missing her. So I waited at the Palladium’s stage door on Saturday – a plan that proved much more successful, as she arrived for the first matinee.
Continuing my drawings from the hit Disney musical THE LION KING after my wife and I saw the West End production at the Lyceum Theatre last month. It’s an annual tradition for us to catch something Shakespearean for our wedding anniversary and since the show is loosely based on HAMLET, we decided to take in a Sunday matinee.
English stage and screen actor George Asprey plays the murderous villain, Scar, who is even more loosely based on Shakespeare’s main antagonist King Claudius. George’s extensive television credits include appearances in THE CROWN (Seasons 1 & 2), THE BILL, HOLBY CITY and THE DYING OF THE LIGHT for which he was nominated for a BAFTA Award in 1994. His notable stage roles were Billy Flynn in CHICAGO, Rusty Charlie in GUYS & DOLLS for Birmingham Rep and Rolf in THE SOUND OF MUSIC at Sadler’s Wells and the UK Tour.
I managed to catch up with George to sign my sketch last Tuesday, when he arrived for the evening performance.
Every November, to celebrate our wedding anniversary, my wife and I take in a bit of the Bard – something Shakespearean or a show based on his works. This year we chose a Sunday matinee of the multi award-winning musical THE LION KING, based on the celebrated 1994 Disney animated film which in turn was inspired by HAMLET. Celebrating its 19th year at the Lyceum Theatre in London’s West End after opening on Broadway in 1997, winning six Tony Awards, the show has seen 24 global productions, seen by over 90 million people. I decided to sketch a few of my favourite characters.
The first is Zazu, the much-loved red-beaked hornbill, who acts as the King’s adviser ‘Mufasa’s little stooge’ or Polonius in the Shakespearean context. Played by Gary Jordan, who said in a recent interview that he “loves every minute of it’, who not only has to act and sing, but has to be a puppeteer as well. “I have to combine the performance for the bird and the actor to make them look like one.”
Gary himself is in his 20th year in theatre with an impressive resume, including AVENUE Q, GREASE, and ANYONE CAN WHISTLE. He is also a highly regarded pianist and musical director working with drama schools and cabarets around London. I met him at the stage door after last Saturday’s matinee where he signed my drawing.
OSLO tells the story of two maverick Norwegian diplomats who coordinated top secret talks that inspired seemingly impossible friendships leading to the groundbreaking Oslo Peace accords in 1993 between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the State of Israel. JT Rogers play opened last year at the Lincoln Centre in New York, winning the Tony Award. The London production opened at the National Theatre for a brief and sold out run before transferring to the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End. Toby Stephens plays Terje Rod-Larsen and Lydia Leonard, his wife Mona Juul, the Norwegian diplomats who orchestrated the Peace accord between Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO’s Yasser Arafat. Both Toby and Lydia signed my sketch a couple of weeks ago at the Pinter stage door.
Nicknamed ‘The Scud’ because his serve was once regarded as one of the fastest in the game, resembling a scud missile, retired Australian tennis ace Mark Philippoussis returned to London’s Royal Albert Hall last week for this years final Champions Tour event.
While he didn’t win a Grand Slam, he did reach the final of the US Open, losing to compatriot Pat Rafter in 1998 and Wimbledon in 2003 where he was beaten by Roger Federer. He won 11 career titles and reached No. 8 in the world rankings in 1999. Mark was also instrumental in Australia winning the Davis Cup in that year and again in 2003, winning both deciding rubbers.
He signed my sketch at the RAH stage door last Thursday evening before his opening match with former No.1 Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Popular British TV stars Robert Glenister and Kris Marshall join Christian Slater in the first major revival in nearly a decade of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS at London’s Playhouse theatre. Set in the cut-throat world of a Chicago real-estate office, it’s a fast talking, expletive-filled depiction of sleazy salesmen scrapping it out. Robert plays the ‘spitting, hissing’, angry Moss and Kris is the uptight office manager, Williamson. I met both actors after last Saturday nights performance at the stage door, where they signed my sketch for me.
The new musical EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE that generated a lot of buzz in Sheffield earlier this year has now transferred to London’s Apollo Theatre. Described as the ‘Billy Elliot for today’s generation’, it tells the story of Jamie New, a sixteen year-old schoolboy living on a Sheffield council estate who beats bullies and prejudice to go to the school prom in full drag. It’s based on the 2011 BBC documentary about secondary student Jamie Campbell’s ambition to become a drag queen.
The lead role is played by twenty-five year-old John McCrea who grew up near Sheffield and began his London stage career at the age of nine in CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG at the Palladium. In his five-star review for the Independent, Paul Taylor wrote, “the extraordinary bravura of John McCrea’s performance is the right mix of sas and sensitivity and strength.” I caught up with John before Saturday’s matinee at the stage door where he signed this montage sketch for me.
American actress and singer Amber Riley completed her West End debut in the hit musical DREAMGIRLS at London’s Savoy theatre last Saturday night. After receiving critical acclaim for her portrayal of lead Effie White, Amber won this year’s Olivier Award for Best actress in a Musical. The thirty-one year-old is best known for her TV role as Mercedes Jones on the Fox comedy-drama series GLEE for which she won a Screen Actors Guild Award. She also won season 17 of DANCING WITH THE STARS in 2013 and has been nominated for the Grammy three times. It took me a few attempts to get this drawing signed. For one reason or another I keep missing Amber at the stage door, but finally, on the last night after her final performance I got the graph.
English all rounder Dannielle Wyatt made history in Canberra last week as England achieved the highest successful run chase in the history of Women’s T20 Internationals to beat Australia and draw the Ashes series. Her brilliant century, off just 57 balls was the first by an English women in T20’s. It included 13 fours and two sixes, winning her the player-of-the-match award. Chasing an impressive 178 by the hosts, England were quickly in trouble at 30/3, but ‘devastating Danni’ and captain Heather Knight put on a 139-run fourth-wicket partnership to set up the win and earn a 2-1 victory in the T20 matches and an 8-all draw in the overall series.
Twenty-six year-old Danni has been with the England team for the past seven years since her March 2010 debut in Mumbai. She was part the World Cup-winning national squad which beat India in the Final at Lords earlier this year. Her domestic T20 team, the Southern Vipers also reached the final of the Kia Super League in September, in Hove where she signed this drawing for me.
Bryan Cranston made his London stage debut as Howard Beale, the mad prophet of the airways to rave reviews in NETWORK on the Lyttelton boards at the National Theatre this month.
Based on Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant script for the Oscar winning 1976 film, Bryan plays the aging news anchor who threatens to kill himself on live TV, becoming an instant crazed celebrity guru yelling the iconic slogan, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Bryan won a Tony for his portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson in ALL THE WAY on Broadway and is the winner of six Emmys and 2 Golden Globe Awards for his celebrated role as Walter White, the chemistry-teacher-turned-drug-lord in the hit television show BREAKING BAD. He also earned BAFTA and Oscar nominations for TRUMBO in 2015.
Bryan signed my sketch at the National Theatre stage door last week.