There was a videotape. The stage show Cats. It had been filmed and edited andpackaged and somehow found its place on the shelf in my grandparents’ house.I would watch it over and over, fascinated that, somewhere in the city I lived in,such things were happening every night. There was a videotape, and that’s howit began.
For my childhood self, theatre was always an anticipated treat. Every Christmas, we’d dressup and our grandparents would take us to see something. Through these trips Icame to know basic Shakespeare, The Snowman and numerous shows basedon my favourite books. In between visits, I would sit in my grandparents’ livingroom, and discover Giselle, and Oliver!, and Annie.
I loved the ballets and the poetry of Shakespeare but my favourite parts were thehuge ensemble numbers, where entire casts would come together and sing. Theyears that followed were full of dance shows, and joining whichever choir myschool had invented that week. I was enthralled by the idea of performing but itwas always just for fun. Although I loved to sing, I thought maybe I preferred itwhen I could just listen.
While theatre had momentarily caught my attention, it was never the direction Iplanned upon and in the years that followed, aside from occasional theatre trips,musicals dropped almost entirely off my radar. It just wasn’t something I everthought about. Until a Saturday morning in early December of the year I turned 18, when a boywhose taste I trusted implicitly sang a single line from a show about witches. Andit began again.
I was lying on my bed the first time I heard Idina Menzel sing. Interest piqued, I typedher name into Youtube, found the videos with the most hits, and began myeducation. I started, predictably, with Wicked but it was later, when I strayedaway from witches and into New York’s East village, that my awe was solidified.That was the night I first saw RENT.
Since that first night in my bedroom, I’ve seen the show all over the world. Whentwo of the original cast returned to Broadway, I flew to New York and fell in lovewith a city. I saw RENT live for the first time at the theatre that had become itshome and I felt, in a way I never had before, that theatre was… important. Thiswasn’t just something I enjoyed, it was something I was supposed to do. There isa moment in RENT where 15 spotlights light the empty stage. The cast walksout, each standing beneath one, and, facing out to the audience, they sing.
As I sat in my seat, I remember thinking how do you create a moment like that? And then: I want to find out.
The first time I listened to The Last 5 Years, I thought it beautiful, and intelligent,but there was no real impact beyond that. It was not as if, somewhere betweenThe Schmuel Song and A Summer In Ohio, a voice could be heard whispering, ‘Hey,this show will change your life one day’. I had no idea.
When I heard it was returning to the West End, I was far more excited by theaccompanying production of Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick…BOOM! by the same company. I almost didn’t buy a ticket. It almost never happened.
During the rehearsal process for the two shows, I spoke to my friend Leon, whohad been cast in Tick, Tick…BOOM! He asked if I was seeing The Last 5 Years.
“Should I?” I asked.
“You have to” he said.
I saw the final matinée. It was four years ago, almost, and still there are momentsI remember like they happened only yesterday. After the show, I saw Leon. “Wasn’t it amazing?” he asked, and I said, “Who are those people?”
Who are those people who make me want to be a part of something?
He told me about Paul, the actor playing Jamie and aproducer of the show. He told me about Notes from New York andeverything the team were doing and what wonderful people were involved. He told me, standing in the street, just another Sunday night.
And I knew.
A change of continent distracted me momentarily, but on my return to the UK,my friend Nicci called asking if I’d like a few days work. “Let me just tell you who it’s for” she said, so I let her. “Speckulation Entertainment, the guys behind Notes from New York -” she began, and I’d heard enough.
A few days became three years.
Everything that has happened since: the people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen, thedreams I’ve watched come true, was born of that time. In 2012, Speckulation Entertainment produced Jason Robert Brown in concert. He sang from his albums, from his musical 13, some new material – and from The Last Five Years. As Jason sang his final song of the night, I rested my head on Paul’s shoulder.
“I listened to this song in a rainstorm in America,” I said.
Before I knew any of this would happen.
“And now here he is, singing it,” Paul replied.
And I thought, here we all are.
October 6th, 2011. The day after my 23rd birthday. Having slept only a few hours,inhaled 4 coffees and travelled halfway across London,I stood in the wings at the Royal Albert Hall. Just a few minutes previously,I’d placed several bottles of water at the foot of the conductors podium and beenthanked, with a smile and a hand on my back, by Marvin Hamlisch.
Now, sound checking a song from the first show I had ever seen her perform, Idina Menzelstood, hair scraped back, her voice ringing out around the empty auditorium. Iwas still, taking a tiny moment of peace in what had been the most exhaustingfew days I had ever known. But now there was a second of quiet tranquility asI watched her sing to the arena, where, over three years before, I’d seen herfor the first time. And then it passed.
As I made to move, to respondonce more to the ringing phones and barked orders and general chaosinvolved with Doing A Show, I remember thinking nothing, no matter howstrong, or sad, or scary, can ever take that away. I’d have those few seconds, thatdefining something, for the rest of my life. And there would – I knew – be awful,soul-destroying things to come, both on that day and in the future, but who wasI to complain? For a few seconds, didn’t I have it all? For those moments that arebarely visible to the naked eye, those you-had-to-be-there days, those stories totell, wouldn’t it always be worth it?
Ava Eldred is a production assistant in London and blogs at www.likealullaby.com.