Drawing: Martin Kemp in Chicago

Autographed drawing of Martin Kemp in Chicago at the Phoenix Theatre on London's West End

Spandau Ballet bassist and actor Martin Kemp made his West End debut early last month, taking over from Cuba Gooding Jr as the nefarious lawyer Billy Flynn in the London revival of CHICAGO at the Phoenix Theatre. No stranger to the stage, Martin was last seen in the capital as the legendary record producer Sam Phillips in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at the Royal Festival Hall in 2017.

While discussing his CHICAGO gig in an interview Martin said the playing the West End was always on his list of things to do. “It’s nice to be in the centre of town”, and it’s the first time he’s sung in character on stage. Did Cuba give him any advice? ” Yes , he said,”watch it as many times as you can.”

Although Martin’s ‘Billy’ is a little different than Cuba’s. “That’s the beauty playing Billy Flynn, we all interpret it differently and agrees it’s such a great part. “Billy commands the stage and everything’s in my key. He’s the devil that gets the girls to sell their souls.”

I met him arriving at the stage door on Saturday, where he signed this sketch. “Thanks man,” he said. Martin is scheduled until early September.

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Drawing: Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement – Flight Of The Conchords

Autographed drawing of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement Flight Of The Conchords

Self-styled as New Zealand’s ‘fourth most popular guitar-based digital-bongo acapella- rap-funk-comedy-folk duo’, and ‘retired sex symbols’, Flight Of The Conchords, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement are, by global consensus, one of the most successful musical comedy bands on the planet.

As fellow Kiwis… actually as a members of the human race we had to see them perform live, the first time in eight years in the UK. We managed to get tickets to see them at London’s O2. However their big comeback, sold-out arena tour was postponed after a couple of dates, when Bret fell down a flight of stairs, breaking two bones in his hand, “a very rock ‘n’ roll injury” he wrote on his Instagram post.

Bones fixed, the bona fide rock stars rescheduled, adding extra shows. We finally got to the O2 gig on 22 June. “Sorry we’re three months late,” they said in typical Conchordian laid back schtick. Jemaine also apologised for looking ‘older and dustier’, but Bret pointed out that the audience have also put on some years since they last toured “So we’re even.” In London, they did three sell-out shows at the O2 and four at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith.

The O2’s a fortress and nigh impossible to meet the artists let alone get stuff signed. The Apollo isn’t much better, with a reinforced gate protecting the lane to the stage door, but it has an opening. I had also heard that sometimes barriers are erected for after show signing and selfie sessions. I decided to go with an entry rather than exit option and quickly did this sketch, arriving at the said gate just as it was closing after Bret and Jemaine had passed through in a big black van and down to the stage door.

However, while I was muttering the typical antipodean expletive, ‘bugger’ or something stronger, a very accommodating gentleman with a lanyard approached me and asked if he could help. I explained the situation and he promised to pass it on. A month passed, nothing returned. Then yesterday this arrived back in the post. Apologies for thinking the worse of said accommodating gentleman with lanyard… in fact ‘thanks.’

Drawing: Stephanie Corley, Quirijn de Lang and Zoe Rainey in Kiss Me Kate

Autographed drawing of Stephanie Corley, Quirijn deLang and Zoe Rainey in Kiss Me Kate at the London Coliseum

Opera North’s award-winning production of Cole Porter’s Broadway comedy classic KISS ME KATE has just completed it’s very brief one-week run at the London Coliseum. The West End debut was also at the same venue, opening on March 8 1951, after premiering at the New Century Theatre on Broadway two years earlier, winning 5 Tony Awards.

This farcical battle of the sexes is set both on and off-stage during the production of a musical version of Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, revolving around the tempestuous love lives of actor-manager Fred Graham and his leading lady and ex-wife Lilli Vanessi. Add to the mix, Fred’s current paramour Lois Lane, her gambler boyfriend Bill and a couple of pursuing gangsters and you have the perfect set-up for ‘showbiz shannagians’.

After an initial run at the Theatre Grand Leeds in May, this production transferred to London and is now at the Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre. This ‘jubilant marriage of Porter and the Bard’ had the critics buzzing. The best comment was in the Guardian’s five-star review – “So hot, it’s practically a fire risk”.

Acclaimed opera singers Stephanie Corley and Quirijn de Lang play the lead roles-Lilli/Kate and Fred/Petruchio respectively. West End star Zoe Rainey is Lois/Bianca. I left this montage sketch at the stage door and it came back yesterday, signed and dedicated.

Drawing: Joyce DiDonato

Autographed drawing of opera singer Joyce DiDonato

One of the world’s most celebrated opera singers, American lyric-coloratura mezzo- soprano Joyce DiDonato returned to Covent Garden earlier this month for a one night only recital with the Royal Opera’s music director, Antonio Pappano.

For Opera-lite people, like myself, a ‘lyric-coloratura’ has a light, agile singing voice with a great range, that can reach a high upper extension capable of a fast vocal coloratura, which refers to the elaborate ornamentation of a melody. A ‘mezzo-soprano’ simply means ‘half soprano’, pitched between a soprano (high) and a contralto (low).

Described as a ‘gilt-edged opera star’, Joyce is notable for her interpretations of Handel, Mozart and Rossini, composers who included many roles for lyric-coloratura mezzo-sopranos in their operas. Winner of two Grammy Awards, she made her Royal Opera House debut in 2013 as Fox in Leos Janacek’s THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN and later that year performed in THE LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS at London’s Royal Albert Hall, that included leading the audience in the traditional patriotic piece, ‘Rule Britannia.’

Joyce signed my sketch at the Royal Opera House before the June 4 recital.

Drawing: Krisztina Szabo

Autographed drawing of opera singer Krisztina Szabo

Hungarian-Canadian opera singer Krisztina Szabo made her Covent Garden debut last week in George Benjamin and Martin Crimp’s latest collaboration, LESSONS IN LOVE AND VIOLENCE at the Royal Opera House. The mezzo-soprano, who has performed extensively in both North America and Europe, appeared as the Angel and Maria in Opera Philadelphia and the Holland Festival’s productions of George and Martin’s previous worldwide hit WRITTEN ON SKIN. After its brief London season, LESSONS will embark on a European tour, including another debut for Krisztina at the Netherlands Opera in Amsterdam. Her style is described as “exemplifying today’s modern singer- vocally versatile, excellent stage prowess, painting vivid character portraits.” Krisztina signed my drawing at the Royal Opera House this week.

Drawing: Itzhak Perlman

Autographed drawing of violinist Itzhak Perlman

Itzhak Perlman is the epitome of the word legend. I know I use it often, and have been very fortunate to spend brief moments with a few who have kindly reciprocated by signing one of my scribbles. But Itzhak is undeniably the reigning virtuoso of the violin – the world’s greatest living exponent of the instrument. The 71 year-old Israeli-American
has won 15 Grammy and four Emmy Awards among countless other accolades.

When I found out he was doing a one-off appearance in London to conduct the Mozart Requiem with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus at the Royal Festival Hall last Sunday I immediately put pencil to paper and did this montage sketch, which he signed and dedicated. It’s one of my prize possessions.

Drawing: Anna Goryachova in Carmen

Autographed drawing of opera singer Anna Goryachova in Carmen

Russian mezzo-soprano Anna Goryachova made her Royal Opera debut earlier this year in the title role of Barrie Kosky’s ‘daringly dark’ new production of CARMEN. She shared the role with fellow debutant Gaelle Arquez. The 34 year-old native of St Petersburg began her opera career in her hometown’s Chamber Opera and has been a popular performer throughout Europe and Scandinavia since.

She had previously performed the role of CARMEN at Belgium’s Opera Vlaanderen and Teato Real in Madrid. In London the production broke with convention, resembling more the dazzle-dazzle of Vaudeville. Anna signed my drawing, which I left for her at the Royal Opera House stage door, with a vivid red crayon and returned it to me along with a very nice thank you note.

Drawing: Gaelle Arquez in Carmen

Autographed drawing of opera singer Gaelle ArquezOne of the world’s rising young opera stars, French mezzo-soprano Gaelle Arquez made her Convent Garden debut earlier this year, performing the title role in the Royal Opera’s production of Bizet’s CARMEN. It’s a role she knows well however, having played the famous gypsy previously this year in Frankfurt and Madrid. After graduating from the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Paris, Gaelle debuted as Zerlina in DON GIOVANNI for the Opera de Paris and has since played all the major opera houses around the world. Gaelle signed my drawing at the Royal Opera House after a performance of CARMEN last month.

Drawing: Malin Bystrom in Salome

Autographed drawing of Malin Bystrom in Salome at the Royal Opera House in London

“In Swedish soprano Malin Bystrom, we come as near to perfection as we ever will: a petulant, imperious teenager becoming drugged with lust,” wrote Michael Church in his five-star Independent review for the third revival of David McVicar’s gory and provocative production of Richard Strauss’s SALOME at the Royal Opera House. “Her voice rides easily over the hundred-piece orchestra and the porcelain purity of her tone contrasts ever more starkly with her blood-bolstered presence. Wonderful.”

After six appearances since her Covent Garden debut in 2002, Malin returned for the ROH’s 2017/1018 Autumn season, playing Helene in LES VEPRES SICILIENNES in November and the biblical femme fatale SALOME in January.

Malin signed my sketch for me after I left it at the stage door.

Drawing: Adrianne Pieczonka in Tosca

Autographed drawing of soprano Adrianne Pieczonka in Tosca at the Royal Opera House, London

Canadian soprano star Adrianne Pieczonka returned to London’s Covent Garden last month to play the title role in the Royal Opera’s production of Puccini’s TOSCA. This is Adrienne’s fourth appearance for the company, having debuted as Donna Anna in
Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI in 2002. She also played Floria Tosca in the 2009 film version directed by Frank Zamacona based on the San Francisco Opera production.

Adrienne was in the first of three casts for this season’s Royal Opera staging, conducted by Dan Ettinger and Placido Domingo. Describing her own vocal range as “somewhere between a lyric and a dramatic soprano,” Adrienne is able to include a wide variety of roles in her repertoire and has become internationally celebrated for her interpretations of Wagner, Strauss, Verdi and Puccini.

The German magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ wrote,” Frenetic ovations greeted Adrienne Pieczonka for her supreme performance… clear, powerful with contoured high notes and precise dramatic gestures… the star of the evening.”

I left this sketch of her at the stage door and she not only signed and returned it, but included a nice note: ‘Dear Mark – I am so impressed with your drawing! Fantastic!’… so I guess she liked it.