A Peek Behind the Curtain into the World of 'Do You Hear The People Sing?' is My BroadwayWorld Highlight of 2013
It's the time of year for best-of lists.
With so much to choose from, I am instead going to present my own personal highlight of 2013. A concert performed on the other side of the world, featuring performers from all over the world, it was also an unmistakably Australian affair. Produced by Australian-based Enda Markey, and starring two of our brightest musical talents, David Harris and Amanda Harrison, the Shanghai opening of the Asia-Pacific tour of Do You Hear The People Sing? represents the very best of what Australian theatre has to offer, both on the (world) stage, and behind the scenes.
What made the concert extra special for this BroadwayWorld writer was the invitation I was given by producer Markey to be a
fan fly on the wall both before, and after, the Saturday night performance at the Shanghai Grand Theatre. Do You Hear The People Sing? celebrates the works of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, and their iconic musicals Les Miserables and Miss Saigon were the soundtrack to my teens. With the Shanghai concerts headlined by Michael Ball and Lea Salonga, two of the biggest stars to come out of the original London productions of these musicals, the chance to go behind the scenes was an opportunity not to be missed. I decided to fly to Shanghai for the weekend to honour my 15-year-old fan-girl self, who would not have believed she'd one day get to experience something like this.
Here, then, is what happened when I pulled back the curtain on a world I've loved since I was a kid ...
It's a chilly, starless night in Shanghai, but behind the scenes of Do You Hear The People Sing? the creative team is neon-lit with energy. Australian performer Amanda Harrison has taken ill, and suddenly there are four voices to work with, instead of five. Parts have to be rearranged, and headliner Lea Salonga has taken on double-duty, picking up some of the numbers originally performed by Harrison. Backstage before tonight's show, the atmosphere has a sense of chaotic vigour to it; everyone is meeting someone about something. Last minute plans. Next minute plans. Things they can't tell me. And a few things they can tell me (but I can't tell you just yet!).
As the cast arrives, there's Marie Zamora, Cosette from the original Paris production of Les Miserables, all wrapped up against the Shanghai night, and Lea Salonga, hair still in rollers, heading for her dressing room. Salonga is impossibly pretty in the flesh; she looks just the same as that fresh-faced girl from the original Miss Saigon. Follow Salonga on her entertaining, fierce Twitter feed and you'll know she's a mature, grown-up woman now. But for a split-second when we shake hands, I see the teenage Lea, the young girl at the very beginning of all this. I manage a Nice to meet you, as I mentally pinch myself, and remind myself not to stare too long at a woman I've admired for more than half my life.
Next up it's Michael Ball. We are introduced via my immediate confession that I used to keep a framed picture of him next to my bed. A little bit of worship is something he's used to, this man. Ball has fans that travel the world to see him perform; some of these Ballettes - the moniker give to his most dedicated female fans - will be in the front row of the Shanghai Grand Theatre tonight. I ask him if it feels like a responsibility to have people follow him around the world like this, and he counters that it feels more like a privilege.
"These women have all travelled from various parts of the world to come together, to meet up so that they feel safe in a foreign place. They go off and have their trips together, then they've got this focal point of seeing the show. I think it's just heavenly," he tells me as we settle in his dressing room for a pre-show chat.
"I love talking to the girls, and finding out about them, and encouraging what they do," he adds. Continued next page.