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Opinion: Reflections on 2021 - Musical Theatre – ‘Here I Go Again’

In this piece our regular opinion writer, Sue Turbutt, reflects on the year that was 2021 and discusses how world events impacted us all, our collective experience and how she made it through with music.

So, where to start when reflecting on this past year, particularly the first half when "lockdowns were us"!

There were many things I missed immensely – my family, my friends, my hairdresser, eating out, my hairdresser, celebrating milestone occasions, my hairdresser – you get the gist…

Apart from the obvious of spending time with the people I love, the thing I missed next was the theatre – musical theatre in particular.

I’ve always imagined myself as a performer. I blame it on my obsession with Grease from a formative age. In fact, it’s the single one thing that caused a big fallout with a cherished school friend when she stubbornly refused to see it with me for a fifth time (rude!). We eventually reconciled over the moves from Saturday Night Fever and whilst I am never one to hold on to a grudge (WHAT?! I hear my friends and family cry), it’s all I can do to stop myself from mentioning it EVERY time we meet.

So back to 1978. I started off wanting to be the cool Rizzo and, even now, I can’t quite resist leaning against a wall (trust me, ANY wall!). My knee coquettishly bent with one foot on the bricks, improvising with a mint matchmaker as a cigarette holder, as I dreamily croon that “there are worse things I could do”.

I then considered the sassy, motor-mouthed Marty – after all she had the best lines in Summer Nights (although I’ve never mastered the cute nose twitch before "like does he have a car").

The realisation hit hard and, frankly, hurt when I was forced to conclude that I would likely have been cast as the geeky Jan or, even more probable, the goodie two shoes Sandy herself. But by the time I’d grown my hair into a fringed bob, Olivia Newton John had moved on to her Xanadu years, so all bets were off.

The Karaoke craze hit next into which I was dragged, literally kicking and screaming, by my friend Paula, just after we started working in the City. She persuaded me that a bar called Coates would be the place to be on this particular Friday night, where we could get up on a stage and sing to any song we wanted. They even screened the words. Fabulous! Despite my extrovert tendencies, especially for all things musical, the thought of this was totes embarrassing and I resisted… for all of three minutes. By 6:30pm, I’d won two tickets to a Beach Boys concert with a guy I’d never met before (and never met again!)

Next came Mamma Mia! The Musical. Since it opened in 1999, let’s just say that I’ve been more than once and less than 50 times – I really can’t and don’t want to be any more specific. It’s an illness! I blame my friend Gary who shares – and encourages - my addiction. Again, as the years have galloped by (time flies when you’re enjoying yourself at musical theatre), I fancied myself as the spirited Donna (I was never quite foolish enough to think that I would be able to get away with being the teenage Sophie – well, not at 36!), then the fabulous flirtatious Tanya. I couldn’t quite come to terms with ever being Rosie (‘none taken’ I hear Julie Walters cry). Now? Well, let’s say that I’d willingly play the part (for free, hell I’d even pay them!) of one of the elderly waitresses in the Taverna. Needless to say, I’d make a valuable understudy – in fact, in my busy mind, I still dream this may happen every time I go. I’m word perfect on all roles… but not necessarily pitch perfect.

Anyhow, I realised that there might be a legitimate (and more realistic) outlet for my lip syncing to all things musical and became a member of my local Rock Choir in February 2019. I love it! I’ve met a bunch of people who all have a couple of things in common – they’ve realised that singing is good for the soul and they have huge, kind hearts.

We’ve been through all the lockdowns together, we’ve Zoomed, we’ve each told our back stories, we’ve laughed and cried together… and sometimes we’ve even got round to singing!

This culminated in a live gig at the beginning of December. Well, when I say ‘gig’… we were gathered under canvas in our local market town to sing before the Mayor turned on the Christmas lights. You see a high street, I see the Albert Hall!

My concern was how I would be able to get through the haunting ‘Silent Night’ emotionally intact, given that the final line ‘slee-eep in heavenly peace’ makes me think of my parents who, for those who know, you never quite get over losing. The feelings I have during the year become exaggerated at Christmas.

As that daunting line approached, a lump formed in my throat and I could feel the all too familiar tears building. It was at that exact point, from the corner of my eye, I saw a feisty little girl at the front of the audience, who couldn’t be any more than three, trying to catch my eye in a ‘Rupert Bear’ stare off. I then realised that the stare was one of concentration as she was simultaneously ‘flossing’ to the carol, her cute pigtails almost taking her older brother’s eye out. Oh, there were tears alright – those of near hysteria – my parents always did have a wonderful sense of humour. #upstagedbyathreeyearold!

So, as I try to make up for lost time during lockdowns (and hope we're not faced with more of them) and single-handedly reflate London’s West End Theatres, all I can say is… ‘thank you for the music’.

By Sue Turbutt