Born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero eighty-six years ago in Washington DC to a Scottish-Italian mother and a Puerto Rican father, Chita Rivera has became an absolute performing phenomenon, especially in musical theatre. Last year she received the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre in recognition of her stage contribution, which has spanned nearly seven decades, starting with her first Broadway role in 1951 in CALL ME MADAM, followed by lead roles in GUYS AND DOLLS and CAN CAN. Six years later she was cast as the firebrand Anita in WEST SIDE STORY, a role that launched her towards stardom and ensured her inclusion in Broadway folklore.
Chita has received a record ten Tony nominations, winning two for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Her first was in 1984 for her performance as Anna in THE RINK opposite Liza Minnelli and again in 1993 as the vampy diva Aurora, the title character in Kander and Ebb’s KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN at the Broadhurst Theatre after reprising the role from the West End production a year earlier. Both performances also earned Chita the Drama Desk Award. In 2009 she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Chita signed and dedicated, adding her distinctive flower doodle, my montage sketch, including her as Anita from WEST SIDE STORY, last Saturday at Wogan House after she appeared on Graham Norton’s BBC Radio 2 show prior to her concert at London’s Cadogan Hall the following day.
Dracula! (Mr Swallow – The Musical) the hit new musical at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival transferred to London’s Soho Theatre last month and due to phenomenal demand has added extra shows, now running until 7 March 2015.
Written by the comically acclaimed character performer Nick Mohammed, this musical spoof follows the chaotic final dress rehearsal for the fictitious show Dracula, as his excitable alter ego, Mr Swallow in the title role, enters on roller staktes making strange demands and increasingly bizarre interpretations, like a “tin pot tyrant”. He is joined by three brilliant musical theatre actors; David Elms plays Joseph, the director who also plays Van Helsing; Kieran Hodgson is Jonathan Harker and Johanna Grace is his fiancée, Wilhamina, accompanied by a five piece band playing original compositions by Ollie Birch.
Nick graduated with a first in geophysics and commenced doctoral studies in seismology at Cambridge, but was caught in the glare of the Footlights Troupe and took up comedy instead. He is developing Mr Swallow as a TV vehicle.
I caught up briefly with Nick and the cast after Saturday’s evening performance where he and Joanna signed my sketch.
I kept meaning to catch up with musical theatre icon Bonnie Langford and finally I did so over the weekend after a matinée performance of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at London’s Savoy Theatre.
Bonnie plays the glamorous divorcée Muriel Enbanks and signed this sketch of her as the Lady of the Lake from Spamalot.
Ever since winning the talent show Opportunity Knocks as a six year old and taking to the stage a year later in Gone With The Wind, Bonnie has been a crowd favourite. She has played all the big shows – Cats, Me and My Girl and the role of Roxy Hart in Chicago on both the West End and Broadway stages.
She began playing The Lady of the Lake in the UK tour in early 2012 before a three month run at the Harold Pinter Theatre (formerly The Comedy Theatre) later in 2012, then two stints at the Playhouse Theatre in May-November 2013 and February-March 2014.
In April 2010 the Broadway revival of Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical transferred to the Gielgud in London’s West End, with the same cast… I mean, tribe, including leads Gavin Creel as Claude and Will Swenson as Berger.
The Daily Telegraph’s Charles Spencer said it was “A timely and irresistibly vital revival of the greatest of all rock musicals.” But Hair is more than just a musical, it is a social and cultural phenomenon.
It went on to win the 2009 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, with classic tracks like Aquarius, I Got Life, Good Morning Starshine, Let the Sunshine In and the title song Hair itself.
Will, who was nominated for a Tony for his Hair performance, is currently playing Inspector Javert in Les Miserables at the Imperial Theatre in New York and Gavin is starring on the London stage as Elder Price in the Tony and Olivier winning The Book of Mormon for which he won the Best Actor Olivier at this year’s (2014) awards.
I spent a bit of time at the stage door on a balmy May evening in 2010 mingling with the tribe and getting them all to sign the sketch.
Emma Thompson returned to musical theatre after a 30 year break to make her New York stage debut in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to critical acclaim alongside Bryn Terfel as the serial-killing shaver. She last appeared on the boards in London in 1989 in Look Back in Anger. With her then husband Kenneth Branagh and in the musical Me and My Girl with Robert Lindsay in 1985.
For five performances she played Mrs Lovett, London’s worst pie maker in the concert production of the Sondheim’s classic, seminal musical at the Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts in the Big Apple. Backed by the New York Philharmonic Emma wowed the critics last month, one saying she, “not only held her own against more experienced vocalists, but wound up running off with the show”.
I quickly drew this minimal line drawing when I found out she would be attending the Empire Awards at the end of March, where she was nominated for Saving Mr Banks. Like the trooper she is, Emma signed for everyone, including my sketch, “Oh Sweeney,” she smiled, “I hope you win,” I said. “So do I,” she replied – and she did.
Frances Ruffelle’s name must appear near the top of a list of great people in British Musical Theatre.
She originated the role of Eponine in both the West End and Broadway productions of the blockbuster musical Les Misérables, winning the Tony award in 1987. Frances also represented the UK in the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest, finishing 10th singing Lonely Symphony (We Will Be Free). She also the original Dinah in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original London production of Starlight Express in 1984 at the age of 16. Frances played the female lead Roxie Hart in Chicago at the Adelphi Theatre in London from September 2003 to June 2004. She reprised the role for the show’s 10th anniversary in 2007 and continued in the production into 2008.
Frances returned to the London stage recently to play the deranged but vulnerable mum of London mapmaker Phyllis Pearsall in The A to Z of Mrs P at the Southwark Playhouse where she signed my sketch.
The New York Times in 2001 wrote that Andrew Lloyd Webber is “the most commercially successful composer in history”.
I was quite keen to get him to sign a sketch. His latest musical had its World Premiere at the Aldwych Theatre in London last night (19 December 2013).
Stephen Ward – The Musical charts the rise and fall from grace of the man behind the sixties Profumo scandal. The composer of the megahits Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar takes on a real life story of legal injustice, risky sex and the hypocrisy of the establishment.
Almost on cue, as the Lord arrived, a single lightning flash was followed by a roll of thunder, then the heavens opened with a monsoon proportion downpour (which may account for the roof of the 112 year old Apollo Theatre collapsing moments later).
The Aldwych Theatre occupies the corner of Aldwych and Drury Lane with little cover over the entrance. I was fortunate enough to position myself on the Drury Lane side when the Lord Lloyd-Webber’s vehicle stopped with ten minutes till curtain. I was the first to ask him for his ‘graph. He began it… then the deluge began… so he was escorted quickly to cover. I followed. He was in a hurry, but looked at the sketch and said, “very well done,” and signed it again in his distinctive script, before proceeding in to the comfort and dry of the auditorium.