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Shenton's View

It’s our time, breathe it in; worlds to change and worlds to win

It’s always difficult picking favourites — but of course we all have them. One of the questions I’m asked most regularly is what my favourite show playing in London is, or to provide a list of the top three, by way of a shorthand recommendation for visitors from abroad. (And right now I’d say: Matilda for a new musical, Sweeney Todd for a brilliant revival, and One Man Two Guvnors for an uproarious comedy, but of course I’m not saying that this will work for everyone!)

Starting the weekend after next, meanwhile, I’m asking a range of leading theatrical personalities to choose A Few Of My Favourite Songs in a reprise of the season I first hosted last year at Jermyn Street Theatre and we are moving to Soho Theatre this year, to benefit the Theatrical Guild. First up is Simon Russell Beale (on May 20), then Jeremy Sams (May 27), Howard Goodall (June 17) and Kerry Ellis (July 8), with some of their song choices sung live by Caroline Sheen (May 20/27), Emma Williams (June 17) and of course Kerry herself, accompanied by the wonderful Ben Stock (except for the final night, when Kerry will be accompanied by Craig Adams).

It’s a kind of Desert Island Discs of the theatre, in which their musical choices are threaded through a conversational narrative of their lives and careers. (And speaking of Desert Island Discs, I can’t wait to hear that irrepressible doyenne of the London theatre scene Blanche Marvin when she appears on that show soon, and to see what she chooses).

Being invited to make lists of things we love, though, is an often illuminating experience, as it gives us time for reflection and balance in the forward propulsion of our lives, where we are constantly being exposed to new experiences that keep those lists under review all the time as well. I never have any trouble choosing my all-time favourite musical, for instance — it’s Guys and Dolls, hands down the most tuneful, constantly fresh and forever invincible Broadway classic that not only defines an area of New York with timeless skill, but an entire era. From the moment that great overture strikes up, you know you’re in for a great time.

But every now and then it’s a pleasure to expand my list of favourites — and in the last few years, I’ve added Next to Normal and Jerry Springer - the Opera to my all-time favourites that include many of the other classics of musical theatre, from Carousel and My Fair Lady to She Loves Me, Pippin and On the Twentieth Century (No, this isn’t a complete list!)

Ask another question about who my favourite theatrical composer is, and of course it has to be Sondheim; time and again, his work — both musically and lyrically — is full of infinite possibilities, not to say infinite intricacies. In the last few days, I’ve been totally floored twice by the same song: “Our Time”, from Merrily We Roll Along, which has just been given a brilliant new production at Theatr Clwyd in Mold in North Wales, and my review of which will appear on The Stage website today.

Seeing the show at Clwyd made me think that, though the show isn’t Sondheim’s best (that’s unquestionably Sweeney Todd in my view), it’s probably my favourite of all his scores. And ‘Our Time’ one of my individual favourites of all his songs. It was also performed last Sunday during the London Gay Men’s Chorus 21st anniversary concert at the Royal Festival Hall — an amazing celebratory event for a choir that began, very humbly, when 9 men gathered for an impromptu fund-raising sing in Angel tube station in 1991, and has grown now in size and stature to accommodate some 230 members, 190 of whom sing.

And on Sunday they were joined by an extended choir of schoolkids that the chorus have gone to work with, that included a disabled section, some of whom were autistic, others deaf, for an absolutely haunting rendition of ‘Our Time’. For some of these kids, of course, it is never their time; but on Sunday, it suddenly was, and watching them was simply overwhelming. As the song has it, “Gives you the shivers/ makes you think/ There’s so much stuff to sing!/ And you and me, / We’ll be singing it like the birds,/ Me with music and you the words,/ Tell ‘em things they don’t know!” 

And the London Gay Men’s Chorus have been putting those words in action in their work with schools and other community work, but also within the extended gay community itself, to become an essential part of the fabric of London gay life and how it offers a wonderfully vivid artistic expression of our culture and music.

It’s amazing to think that 21 years ago, when they first formed, the age of consent for gay men was still a shockingly unequal 21 (as against 16 for heterosexuals); and just as amazing to think that we’re still fighting now for equal marital rights, instead of the legal fudge of civil partnerships (Bravo, President Obama, for finally getting off the fence yesterday and saying that it’s time for gay marriage to be allowed in America. ‘Our Time’ once again summonses up the moment perfectly: “It’s our time, breathe it in: / Worlds to change and worlds to win. /Our turn coming through,/ Me and you, man,/ Me and you!” I think I’ll have to have it played at my own gay wedding in July….).

And yes, of course there’s Judy Garland songs in the London Gay Men’s Chorus repertoire — but also Manilow, Madonna and Morrissey. And Sondheim and even Wagner. And a new commission, too, from gay writers Mark Ravenhill and Conor Mitchell. I’ve seen them over the years, of course, but never as thrilling as this. They’re now another of my favourite things in London.


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Like, I suspect, many others, I met my husband singing in the LGMC.

I of course mean Civil Partner, as yesterday the government signally failed yet again to include a bill on Same Sex Marriage, although there was one to allow Croatia to enter the EU. That sums it up really. Gay citizens (who are, after all, still voters and taxpayers!) in this country are still somewhere below the citizens of Croatia when it comes to civil rights, or at least that's the message that the coalition gave yesterday.

We'll be very happy to come and sing 'Our Time' for you and Mark in Central Park. Let's see, 190 x club class air fares, hotel rooms, hair and makeup assistance, maybe even a foreign car, a charge account at the corner bar ... perhaps Cameron Mackintosh could give us to you as a wedding present!

proud member of LGMC since 2000


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I know I am going to be hated for what I am about to say-but I have to say it. Can we please,please get off this "gay bandwagon"? I am nearly 70 and that means that I can clearly recall when such people were refered to as "cissies" or "queers" and their actions were unlawful even in private.In short they were regarded by society in the same way as paedeophiles are today.

Now no one wants to go back to that bigoted situation, but on the other hand it does seem that-especially in show biz the pendulam has swung a bit too far in the opposite direction; we no longer persecute homosexuals we celebrate them. It seems that virtually every production, whatever has to have at least one gay person in it. Gayness has become almost the norm; if one is not at least bi-sexual (Come on -you must have had at least one experience of "the other") one is regarded as weird or "uncool"

Well..sorry people but being attracted to one's own sex is not now nor will it ever be natural to human b eings if for no other reason in that it fails the number one criterion of nature i.e. it produces no off spring. Gays can "marry" -or rather go through the same ceremony as straight people but at the end of the day, at night, n othing is joined together -except disgustingly- and no children are produced. And God only knows what sort of children these "couples" are bringing up when they adopt them! In ten years time when they are adults I suspect that we shall have a rash of books,plays and the rest about them....

So..sorry Mr President but I really think that you should have kept quiet on this issue with so much else to occupy you this year. And Sorry show biz but this "gay thing" is now gone too far. Let us get our perspectives right here and give this issue a rest. I refuse to feel "queer" about not bein g "queer"!

Just read the above in total disbelief. SO, SO much to say but will not sink to his level and therefore am counting to ten very, very slowly............

Forgive me. No, not @Richard Purcell, but readers for having to read his comment. I considered removing it, but of course (a) that's a form of censorship, and everyone's entitled to their opinion; and (b) it proves that homophobia is still alive and well and living in Britain (or Holland, where Mr Purcell lives), so we still have a long way to go.

For the record, Mr Purcell has posted occasional comments in the past, mostly to do with his disdain for the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the promotion of his daughter Celine, whom he has previously dubbed here "a major musical star here in Holland."

I know we can't choose our parents, and I'm sure she's suitably embarrassed by him.... and isn't hoping to work for Andrew Lloyd Webber anytime soon, either. He's reported publicly here about LOVE NEVER DIES that "my daughter who is a major musical star of long experience saw this show and found the plot laughable by the way and I tend to believe her rather than Mr Shenton".

Mr Purcell's own response to this blog would be laughable, too, if it wasn't so tragic.

Google really is your friend at the crack of dawn when you've nothing to read.

Try this, about @RichardPurcell

I laughed till the tears ran down my face, although that might be a cold. Poor man, poor daughter (who incidentally is an understudy in Holland, not a star). Their story would make a Catherine Cookson musical which is about the unkindest thing I can say about him.

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If he called his daughter Celine he must be gay.

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@ Richard Purcell... 'The lady doth protest too much, methinks.'

In case you don't recognise it, that's a quote from William Shakespeare who, according to Boris Johnson at the recent Stonewall Hustings, was gay, or at the very least bi-sexual...

And as a matter of FACT if you'd like to bother opening your eyes to the world outside your window, you'd see that somewhere approaching 10% of the animal kingdom as a whole are not breeders. This causes big problems for farmers around the world (plenty of gay sheep in New Zealand!) and no end of visitor attractions at zoos (just try Googling 'gay' and 'penguin'...).

I know you're old, Mr Purcell, but really! You live in one of the most tolerant and forward looking countries in Europe. Couldn't you be more representative of it?

Whilst I completely agree with Phil above that one shouldn’t sink to his level, I cannot let this go unchallenged. I think Mr Purcell’s first observation is partially true - generally speaking there may be more gay characters in plays and films than there used to be. But whereas say fifty years ago the majority of these characters would have been there for purely comic effect – only in the plot because they were flamboyantly camp, say – there is now a huge increase in characters who are “incidentally” gay and whose gayness is not the be-all and end-all of their purpose in the plot. And rather than “celebrating” being gay it’s simply realigning reality; having the occasional gay character is much more realistic than having none.

But as a straight person it makes me furious when bigoted straight people say that gay marriage is an absurd idea because you can’t produce children. We’ve been married 24 years and it was a great sadness when we realised we couldn’t have children – but I do not think that in any way invalidates our marriage. And as for the use of the word “disgustingly” – well, sex (straight or gay) is only disgusting if it’s forced on you, as in a rape situation. Otherwise if you want to do it, do it. If you don’t want to do it, Mr Purcell should relax, it’s never going to be compulsory.

The comments about adopted children are beyond ridiculous and I can’t think how to address them so I shan’t bother. I just wanted to make it clear that Mr Purcell’s views are not representative of me or any other straight people I know!

I wouln't usually comment but feel I have to in response to the comment.
It definitely isn't time to get off the "gay bandwagon" if comments like this are still being made, and especially as the hetrosexual band wagon has been going for much longer!

Not producing children does not make your relationship any less valid than those relationships that do; and good luck to any couple that adopts any child, they will be able to give that child a loving and caring upbringing, regardless of their sexual orientation. Sexual orientation does not affect a person's ability to bring up a child or make that child more likely to become an offender, racist or even the same sexual orientation as their parent.

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