And now, ladies and gentlemen... it's Showtime!
Monday night is the technical rehearsal. Despite having been ordered to be at the theatre for 6 pm, the crew are running about 2 hours behind schedule, so time to find a quiet corner (or a spot half way up the stairs1) with an easy to read book, or the crossword. It's not a full costume rehearsal - but anything that's glittery or sparkly is worn by special request from the lighting guys. Not because they are particulary fond of us in our sequins, but rather to see how the reflections affect their lighting plans. I finally get hold of my 'One' coat, which needs buttons and velcro sewn onto it. The buttons I can manage myself (and do so during the generous hanging about time this evening), but the velcro needs a sewing machine and some time, neither of which I possess. My fellow Sondheim-slag volunteers the services of her mother-in-law, currently resident with her and keen to make herself useful.
Time drags on - the scrim curtain2 is proving temperamental, and takes a while to sort out. I'm getting hungry, but it's a bit tricky to nip out to the nearest shop in full stage make-up, complete with false eyelashes, although the combination of jeans and silver waistcoat is rather fetching, if I do say so myself. The stage manager is extremely professional and shortens each routine to entrances and exits only, otherwise we would be there till about 3 am
I do experience something I've never done before - be 'miked up' with a little microphone sellotaped to my forehead. It feels slightly odd and I'm sure it's going to detach itself, but it's good not to have to belt out my less than wonderful singing-voice.
Tuesday's dress rehearsal has a few minor hiccups...
- My 'One' coat miraculously reappears, complete with velcro, and the butttons which I had painstakingly sewn on re-attached properly, since they'd had to be removed to put the velcro on.
- My mike isn't working.
- I can't get my false eyelashes stuck on properly, as the glue has gone all lumpy.
- The place where I was supposed to start Broadway Baby from is too visible from the audience, so has to be changed.
- My top hat gets knocked off during the positioning for the kick-line and suffers from a little trampling underfoot from enthusiatic tap-shoe-shod hoofers.
- Despite having a solo spot, I'm not in the soloists dressing room. Which I dont really mind - I'm not that much of a prima donna! But I cast envious looks at their better-lit mirrors and extra space, as I struggle in a corner from one costume into another. I discover that at one stage I need to be wearing 4 pairs of tights: black ones on top, but one pair of black isn't opaque enought so that's a double black layer. The costume change immediately afterwards is very quick, so I have to have my fishnets already on underneath. And fishnets look better with a pair of plain tights underneath them.
- But it's a reasonably clean run through and, amazingly, I am home with stiff drink in hand before midnight.
The tension is palpable as we buzz around the dressing rooms making last minute costume adjustments and make-up enhancements. Word comes through that the Ambassador is in the audience. The director is wandering about handing each and every one of us a beautiful long stemmed white rose, with a special 'thank you for all your hard work - break a leg!' message from him attached to it. The 30 minute call is announced. We calm our butterfly stomachs and line up in the wings for our first entrance. I realise we will only ever hear the opening song 2 more times.
And we're off! Onto the brightly lit stage, looking out at a packed theatre and being thrilled by their response. The gasps as we start into Cabaret (a line of underwear-clad bodies shuffling backwards, bums first, towards the front of the stage...) are audible and the cheers and clapping at the end are magnificent.
It all goes rather smoothly, except for some recurring mike problems and one person missing from Chorus Line, calling for some hasty last minute re-choreographing. But the audience is on its feet at the final curtain and we are all grinning from ear to ear as we head home.
The second night of a show is traditionally the toughest - the adrenalin from the opening night has evaporated and, if everything's gone swimmingly so far, there can be a little too much complacency in the air. I choose this moment to give a box of sweeties to the backstage crew. Having done my first ever stint stage-managing myself earlier this year3, I am acutely aware of the difficulties and pressures these guys are under. So I congratulate them for their professionalism (seriously - they were terrific). Plus it always pays to be nice to the crew - they're the people lighting your spotlight and making sure your mike is working, don't forget.
It's a bit like a roller coaster. The long slog uphill, feeling the tensions and anticipation mount, and then all of a sudden you're into a swooping, screaming, hair-rasing ride that seems to be over in milliseconds. It seems unbelievable that here we are at the culmination of 10 months of work - auditions, rehearsals, planning - and that tomorrow there will be no more Showtime
We set out to enjoy our final crack at stardom. Hey, we even got a mention on the local radio station this morning! My friends and family are in the audience tonight, so I give a few special waves and winks in their direction. I also cheekily add a '2-fingered salute' behind my back, beach-volleyball stylee, when we have our backs to the audience at the end of Mein Herr.
Maybe it's just karma, or maybe it's tempting fate... one of the tappers and I were practising our cane twirling4 before going on and she wondered aloud what one should do if the cane dropped. Then, as we were lining up, one of the girls suggested dedicating the number to the 2 girls who hadn't been able to take part (ie one of whom I was replacing). Hmmm. Way to make me feel part of the gang! Anyway, as we were doing the cane twirling, didn't one of them drop her stick... Oooops!
The backstage crew are enjoying themsleves - the guys in the lighting box have donned bunny-rabbit ears, which they lift on and off in time with our on-stage hat moves. What wags they are!
But all good things must come to an end. I have to miss the cast party, as I have my kids with me, plus I'm heading off to Ireland early the next morning5. It strikes me as I drive home (and interrogate my entourage on their favourite moments) that I had put 'dance on stage' as one of my wish list aspirations last year. Wonder should I put 'win an Oscar' on next years...
And a final thank you, dear reader, for sharing this experience with me. I've had a fantastic time and I sincerely hope it won't be the last. So until we meet again - so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye.