For the second time in recent years my children have unwittingly lead me on a journey back in time. And what a very pleasant and fun filled journey it’s been.
The trip back to my youth was when I spent nights rehearsing and performing in Childrens’ pantomimes and musicals as a junior member of the South Canterbury Drama League.
I was one of the seven dwarfs in Snow White, probably Dopey, and I flew across the stage as Wendy’s brother, John, in Peter Pan.
The first occasion I was reminded of this was just a few years ago when my son Paddy was chosen to be in the Royal New Zealand Opera Company’s production of Carmen. He was about 10 at the time and was one of the village children in the chorus.
It was while I was picking him up from a rehearsal one evening that an assistant director took me aside and asked if I’d like to join the cast of Carmen. He very quickly added that even though it was an opera I wouldn’t have to sing . I have to admit to being a tad disappointed and wondered if they could have at least given me a go. My Father was a great singer and I’ve always felt sure that I had the gene. My wife, however, insists that it skipped a generation.
So without having to audition I found myself performing for the Royal NZ Opera Company… in a non-singing role as the fourth soldier from the left up the back. My gray hair shone out and I was told later that one audience member was curious as to who was playing the old soldier. I was clearly creating the impression that the Spanish army on stage was more like Dad’s Army.
Anyway, it was a great experience witnessing at close hand the workings of a professional opera, with the principal performers from far off places such as New York, Latvia and Barcelona, mixed in with some of New Zealand’s best Opera exponents.
Fast forward to March 2008 and these days I spend my weekday afternoons playing your favourite songs on 93.4 Auckland’s Easy Listening Breeze. Our son is now 14, and along with his 10 year old sister is rehearsing for the National Youth Theatre Company’s production of the evergreen Grease.
And here I am again, like all the parents involved, dropping off and picking kids at rehearsal times when, out of the blue, along comes another Producer with another brainwave (or is that explosion) involving me…. and the show.
Now you may remember from the movie that there is a slightly sleazy character in Grease called the ‘main brain’ Vince Fontaine – the 1950’s rock’n roll DJ who appears at the big prom night dance.
So yes the question was asked would I be the 2008 version of Vince Fontaine?
For some strange reason it is yet again a non-singing role! But I’m throwing myself into it none the less and have even gone so far as to colour the grey hair for the role so I look like someone from a ‘50’s radio station … not the Concert Programme.
Rehearsals are going well, and with just a couple of weeks to go, I’m having a great time back in the 1950s.
I feel very fortunate, if not privileged to be a part of this production. There are more than 200 kids involved from age 7 to me! I am the token adult in the mix and I’m very impressed with the dedication and talent of all those involved.
The National Youth Theatre Company (NYTC) has been in existence for four years and really came of age last year with a sell out season of High School Muscial.
Grease, of course, is High School Musical from a different era. It has some pretty dark themes with school gangs, boy racers and teen pregnancy and if you listen carefully to the movie there’s also a fair amount of profanity in the lyrics.
Someone however, had the clever idea to write two versions of Grease. One, the edgy darker ‘adult’ version and another, the more family friendly version which is the one NYTC has chosen.
You have to admit songs such as “We Go Together”, “You’re the One That I Want” or “Greased Lightning” are very appealing to all generations so the show certainly lends itself to a family audience.
Performing with your children can sometimes have minor drawbacks – for them.
My son Paddy has to endure his father (as Vince Fontaine) chatting up one of his best friends who plays the part of Marty in the show. I admit that’s hard for a teenage boy to handle. It’s hard for his father to handle too but that’s one of the things you have to overcome for your art I suppose.
The chatting up scene was really the reason why a visit to the “colour shop” was required because a white haired DJ chatting up one of the Pink Ladies did look at bit dodgy. A bit like a Grandfather as opposed to a hip cool DJ with an impressionable teenager.
I’m convinced my now charcoal grey hair makes me look 10 years younger with perhaps a hint of George Clooney! But no my wife has given me the reality check and says I’m more Dick Van Dyke from Mary Poppins!
People’s reactions to the ‘make over’ have been fascinating. Double-takes are common. Questioning looks are even more so, giving me the impression that the observers feel a little concerned that my trying to regain my youth is a bit of a worry! In most cases I try to explain.
Musicals are a wonderful experience for both kids and parents. It has to be a real collaboration. Most parents of course work wonders behind the scenes in the wardrobe department, building and painting sets, or even just the act of giving up their weekends to run the family taxi service is a major involvement.
So for me to get the opportunity to be on stage with these kids is an honour and even though I am the only one there who was actually alive during this era they have really excelled in creating the feeling of the period. It’s better than the real thing!
In fact I feel their standard is so high that even with all my years of doing live television I’m going to have to be well and truly on my game to live up to the standard as the “Main Brain” Vince Fontaine.