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JON PETERSON: Jon's bio

From the top...

I scraped my way out, much to my poor Mum's anguish, after days of hammering and drilling from the inside, on Thursday August 9th, 1962 in my Mum and Dad's bed in their Northwood Hills bungalow in London, England. I was born with the name Peter Sellers. Thanks Mum and Dad! - My first little chore when I started to work was to get rid of that! Neither my Mum or I looked too good after my birth, but my Mum recovered nicely...
I was the runt of the litter. Tiny, sickly and pathetic - and I've retained all the promise of my youth. At two weeks, I developed a double hernia, as a kid I would bleed from the nose until there was more blood on the walls than in me and I didn't grow past 5 foot until I was nearly 15. Such potential…
I had a passion for The Show Business since I could form a thought and there was no question of my doing anything else. At first I wanted to be Gene Kelly, but when I realised that I liked him because he got to kiss Judy Garland - her beauty and talent bewitched me like a sorceress - I focused on the master, Fred Astaire. To this day I can't watch any part of BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 without weeping with a painful joy that such perfection could be right there, for all to see.
My parents, always wanting to do what's right, sent me off, when I reached seven years old, to dance classes at The Paulette School of Dance in Greenford, Middlesex, where we then lived. I adored my teacher, Pauline Withers. Her Mum would take the money and Pauline would have a big reel-to-reel tape recorder with every type of music known to man, from which we would get our accompaniment. She taught the lot; ballet, tap, modern, national, pointework for the girls... I still think of her as one of my greatest teachers.
I was on my way. Everything clicked into place.
In 1971, at the age of nine, I got into the Royal Ballet School as a Junior Associate, at their then studios in Talgarth Road, Barons Court, in London. They shared the building at that time with the Royal Ballet Company - and so then I entered a magical world. I will always remember the sounds of multiple pianos and castanets from distant studios, the smell of coffee, resin and good honest sweat that would greet you when you entered the building. One day I saw Margot Fonteyn at the payphone, her black hair pulled tightly back and her black tights betraying the fact that she was someone, I don't know, special. I loved the whole world. Bonnie Langford was in my class. I was a little brat at nine and would tease her about being a "star". Now we are great mates, 35 years later. Also in my class were Kim Leeson, who went on to lead the group HOT GOSSIP in the early 80's, Madeleine Loftin, now a wonderful director, Nicola Roberts, who went on to become a principal with the Royal Ballet. All of these people I idolised for their extraordinariness - and still do. The talent, hope and potential in, I guess all of us, was ignitable.
After more grueling auditions lasting entire days, we soon each won a place at the famous Royal Ballet School, White Lodge - the next stage of the training. Bonnie had already had a hit on TV with JUST WILLIAM and in the West End and on Broadway with GYPSY, playing Baby June, so she scooted off to Italia Conti, where all the stars went to be groomed (as I saw it) .So the rest of our hopeful gang of sprites arrived at the White Lodge in September 1973. An isolated 17th century hunting lodge in the middle of Richmond Park, outside London, White Lodge was the perfect setting to mould a passion for the arts into willing, impressionable minds and ready, hard-working young bodies.. From the first day, I knew that something had gone terribly wrong…

The Royal Ballet School

I was barely eleven years old when I first went through those iron gates (and over the cattle-grid) to this historic George I/II mansion right in the middle of Richmond Park, in Surrey, a wealthy south London suburb. Immediately, I entered a Victorian world of discipline and competition, where true friendships were neither encouraged, nor sought out. From my normal childhood existance of school camaraderie, well-planned social activities and structured upbringing, I smashed into this existance of joyless, goal-driven, bitching and relentless SLOG!
It was a boarding school, but with a handful of "day" pupils-kids who lived in the London area, of which I was one. However my journey to school was about 90 minutes. It would have been better for me to board, but as "day" pupils we were relatively ostracised and partitioned, so by the time it became apparent that getting up at 5.30 am, six days a week and getting home at 7.30 pm after a full day of school and dance classes was too much for me, I chose the lesser evil of exhaustion rather than living full time with all these kids who didn’t behave like the kids I was used to at home.
The day consisted of regular schoolwork for half the day and dance for the second half. I realised the education side of the school was not what I would have had at Latymer, where my brother was (and for which I was offered an interview if I chose to follow that route) and, too tired all the time to try to supplement their not-particularly comprehensive education with my own initiative, I slipped from a bright young kid into a below-average grades kid. Competition was fierce for us budding dancers and by the age of twelve, kids may not have been the brightest, but all knew how to bitch and belittle each other in any given situation. Outward signs that I wasn’t taking too well to this unrelenting regime included my developing a nervous twitch! I remember Richard Glasstone making me come to ballet class ten minutes before the other kids where he would make me lie on the floor to relax and breathe.
What all this left me with was a sort of strength, I suppose. I stopped relying on peoples' friendship, I dealt with things by myself without turning to anyone for help. To this day, I perhaps don't really work at friendships enough, perhaps feeling that they'll turn their backs on me eventually, anyway.
I made perhaps one friend that I'll call a friend till the end, Jeremy Kerridge, who has just retired from a stellar career with Northern Ballet Theatre in England. He's now teaching at Arts Ed in Tring. My very closest friend at the school, Michael Popper, who when I first met him at the age of 10, I felt I'd known him in a former life - the connection was so strong between us - drifted out of my life when I left that world of ballet and we've never seen each other again, which saddens me.
But in time there came many good times at White Lodge. I was always friendly with the much older students and idolised their immense talent; Anthony Dowson, Siobohan Stanley, Cathy Price, Stephen Wicks, Debbie Weiss, Stephen Sherriff, all older and wiser; I saw them as finished products, both as artists and people and I studied them with unashamed little awe.
We performed a lot, both with the Royal Ballet in small roles in "The Dream", "The Nutcracker", "Sleeping Beauty", oh gosh, so many things, as well as seasons of our own shows at Covent Garden, Richmond and Wimbledon Theatres and up and down the country and Europe.
The teachers were an colourful bunch...some wonderful teachers, like Mme. Douchy, our french teacher, who was a young heroine during World War II, working for the French Resistance. I adored her, but somehow in whose class I couldn’t control myself. I behaved appallingly, screaming and laughing and carrying on like a demon! I suppose it was a form of release. Mm. Douchy often threw me out of the class by my hair! - I loved and respected her though, and she knew it, never giving up on me. Dorothy Dalton, who was our geography teacher, though I wasn't allowed to take my O' levels in geography because I was one of the brighter kids. Bright kids took maths. There was just no time to take a full carriculum. The 'A' group were allowed only one geography lesson per week but I was so fascinated by travel that at the end of term geography exams, which the brighter kids still had to take, I would always come within the top two.
Our dance teachers were also a colorful bunch! - I'll only mention the great ones here – the teachers who moved me...Top of the list Nancy Kilgour, who is responsible for a great many of the world's top ballerinas. A tiny, Canadian spitfire, Nancy taught me from the age of 11 through to 17. Always TOTALLY inspiring, full of the joy of dance and of LIFE, she was never an emotional bully, just a taskmaster. Training with her I knew that she would throw herself on the tracks if it meant it would help us achieve. Years later, after life had taken us both around the block a couple of times, Nancy was teaching at a studio in London and I took her class. Afterwards she said to me, "Peter," (my real name) "..you really are a beautiful dancer, aren't you."

I'll take that to my grave.

Richard Glasstone, my full-time teacher for most of my time at the school, I also admire 100%, I knew that he cared more than the others. He was so passionate and would fly out of control - I mean OUT OF CONTROL!! Every day we debated what he might do to us today. I'm sure today it would be called abuse, but deep down, we knew he actually loved us and it was his passion for dance that overcame him. Somebody told me that when I quit ballet and went into musicals at 18, he cried like a father. I don't know how true this is, but I choose to believe it!

There were many other dance teachers too. Most of these teachers brought with them golden experiences to share with us from their days as top dancers around the world. Those experiences also included, in some cases, emotional bullying. But we inevitably toughened up. We developed mighty, durable emotional scars that could hold us up in any given situation. Though, I don’t think I’ve ever come up against any situations quite as intense in my adult life as those that engulfed me at the Royal Ballet School.

For the last couple of years at the school, I was in a worse state than I dared to admit. I was trying to keep it a secret from everybody, but I just wanted out of my lot and I would find any, sometimes shocking ways to escape. Teens are simply terrified children reeling at the shock of what their new bodies are showing them of the dark side of existance. Boy, I would get migraines that nearly shut out everything, and trying to find the time on our racehorse schedule to secretly binge like there was no tomorrow required much determination!

Barbara Fewster was the principle of the Royal Ballet School back then and she was so tough. Of course, as a feisty, rebellious teen, I was at loggerheads with her constantly. By the end, I think she had despaired of me, calling me unbalanced and telling me to quit dancing before it put me in an institution!

Today, I have a fuller picture of my own limitations at that time. I was always exhausted, always living on my nerves, looked so young for my age and was very small. I found out four years ago why this was. I was born with a hole in the heart - three, actually (I'm so competitive!) All of those symptoms, fatigue, small for one’s age, irritability, were all classic hole-in-the-heart symptoms. When I found out in 2002, the cardiologist said that he was amazed that I'd done all that I had for so long without - well, you know...

I had open-heart surgery to fix it in 2003 and though it was a long and very painful recovery, I'm now getting back on my feet and am able to dance again and stronger than before. One day I would love to see Barbara Fewster again and explain why disappointing her was out of my hands. I still feel like I let her down, in a sense. But I know I was destined to do what I do now.

However, wherever you are, Miss Fewster, I give you a big hug and a thank you for making me the artist you were afraid I'd never be.

1981. Striking out on my own.

Now, it was up to me. My passion had always been for musicals so musicals are what I did. My immediate problem was to get my Equity card. Without it, I couldn't get into a West End musical. If I joined a ballet company it would get me that provisional Equity card and leave my path open, so I took the train to Manchester and auditioned for Northern Ballet Theatre. They took me on, and I hurriedly packed my bags and joined the company. Three weeks into my contract, I called in sick and took the train back down to London to audition for THE SOUND OF MUSIC revival with Petula Clarke. On the train who should I bump into but Robert de Warren, the director of Northern Ballet Theatre. "What are you doing here, my dear?" - I was caught with my pants down! Luckily I got the job as understudy to Rolf in the show. At the audition, which was on the stage of the Apollo Victoria Theatre, I met Bonnie Langford, who was auditioning for Liesl. She was in the middle of rehearsing for a new musical at the New London Theatre and she wasn't convinced that it was going to amount to anything, so she had decided to try out for Petula's show. Luckily for her, she ended up staying with her own show.
It was CATS.

So, until rehearsals began I took a job as an office boy in a solicitors in the Temple. It was such fun and such a tempting taste of normality that I thought about staying on and being settled. That thought lasted about week.

In the early summer, I was called back to Northern Ballet Theatre to play 'Eros' in their production of SYLVIA that was playing at the Richmond Theatre. I remember being rather out of shape, having worked in an office for the past couple of months, but it was a good laugh being back with some chums again, though it was extremely weird to be waiting at the same bus stop after the show was over, that I had waited at while a terrified kid at White Lodge. It was actually creepy for me. Richmond and White Lodge still crops up sometimes in uncomfortable dreams...a psychologist could tell me why; something to do with being thrown into that environment so young and about aspirations never aspired to - a failure before I'd begun...but who cares, the place just gives me the creeps, no matter how gorgeous it is.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC was the perfect introduction to the the musical theatre world. The cast were like family. We pooled rides home, we all socialised, had big warm parties and trips to the country - it was idyllic. Claire Parker played Liesl, and she and I taught ourselves the entire "Begin the Beguine" number (that Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell danced in BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940") under the stage at the Apollo Victoria every afternoon and rewarded ourselves with scurrying next door to Woolworth’s afterwards to gouge on bars of Nestles Milky Bars!. I was at last where I felt I belonged. I went on as Rolf many times and when Paul Shearstone left the show, I took over the role. I was in heaven.

The producer of the show, Ross Taylor, was so nice to me – I was just a kid in the chorus - and he took time to give me many lectures in his office, advising me, amongst other things, to develop a unique singing style and to try not to sound like all the traditional musical theatre voices. He told me to study Petula and note how she had formed her own distinctive sound. For me, it was the best advice - and I must have taken it, because even if I tried real hard, I wouldn’t be ABLE to sound like a traditional Broadway singer!

We were teching the day Charles and Di got married around the corner.

That summer, out of the blue, I got a final school report from The Royal Ballet. It seemed strange to me, because I had left the school right at the beginning of the year and had put a lot of distance between myself and those school-days.

The report said, "He is gifted and should not waste his talents."

1982. Working at the Apollo Victoria.

Until the end of September, I was involved with THE SOUND OF MUSIC. The management made me verbally commit to doing a UK tour of the show in 1983 where Isla St Claire would play Maria. I think it was around November that I received a call to say that the tour was cancelled and I was free to accept other work.
While I was still with the show, Finola Hughes, who was then working with Wayne Sleep on his group, "Dash", begged him to audition me for the group.
From the moment I walked into the studio, I knew he hated me. Even today, if I get a vibe from the people I'm auditioning for that they don't dig me. I shrink and become as untalented as they obviously intend me to be - I'm too accommodating, aren't I? - so, at the end of the audition, Wayne gave me one of his more withering smiles - he had many to choose from - and said, "You're very minny, aren't you!" - Poor old Finola, she was standing there, just breathing in. She tried so hard to get me a break but it just wasn't meant to be. I'm still grateful to Finola for putting herself out for me though. I still wish I was better at auditions. In my opinion, it's NOT about going to "audition classes" and perfecting it that way. It's - in reality- a pot-shot, and if you're on that day all well and good. Some people are just always "on" – but I’ve notes that these are the ones who suddenly turn "off" at curtain up, thus keeping mediocrity healthy and alive.
I worked from November till January 2003 at the Players Theatre in London. This is the famous music-hall theatre underneath the Arches at Charing Cross. We did a music-hall Christmas show called ALI BABA AND HIS THIRTY-NINE THIEVES. Melania Morley and I were the two dancing thieves, I guess. I can't remember much about it, except that every night I ate at "Food For Thought", the wonderful vegetarian restaurant in a Covent Garden basement. It's still there, on Floral Street. Every time I go home I make a bee-line for it. If you ever go, try their "scrunch" desert...

I started studying with Deidra Lovell in Horton jazz dance and was blown away by it and her. It was at a decomposing old dance studio called the Urdang. It was a very cold winter and because the studio was pretty much unheated, I remember steam rising off our bodies as if we were on fire during the two hour class.

I turned down "Babes In Arms" - not sure for who; maybe Leicester?...and "Poppy" for the RSC that year, which was supposed to go to Broadway. Not sure if it did. There are so many things that we don't get hired to do but we audition them too, you know!

1983. "Y' at the Piccadilly Theatre.

In February, after finishing my run at the Players Theatre, I went on my first grown up adventure. I took a five week trip to New York City. I was only twenty, but nothing was going to stop me doing it; renting an apartment on East 49th Street, right opposite Katherine Hepburn...though I never caught sight of her. I spent the entire time doing classes at Alvin Ailey, seeing Broadway shows, sightseeing and eating, eating, eating. The first Broadway show I saw was "Forty-Second Street", with Millicent Martin. I was dumbstruck, it was so out of this world. I only came home when the money ran out.
It had sowed a seed and from then on all I wanted to do was go to New York. London no longer quite did it for me, though probably because I would no longer let it.

It's funny, now that I'm older - though not much wiser, London holds the same romantic fascination for me that New York did in my young naivite.

Once back in London, I was seeing someone who was in Arlene Phillips' Hot Gossip and a brilliant and very much in demand dancer on the TV and commercial circuit. Conequently, I was lucky enough to briefly get involved in Flick Colby's group, "Zoo". This was, I think her last dance group for TOP OF THE POPS on BBC1, having had such huge success with LEGS & CO and PANS PEOPLE in the seventies. I did the 1000th episode of TOP OF THE POPS as a member of "Zoo" and it was such an exciting adventure for me to be in the show I had been glued to ten years earlier, though God knows I was hideously gawky and balletic. I still had much shaping to do.
I was getting back into form after those weeks of eating in New York, and auditioned for a new show that was being resurrected from the ashes of the show, "I", that closed before it opened at the Piccadilly Theatre. "Y", as it was re-named, was going to use the same costumes and same format as "I" - a Paris Revue-type show - but they ditched the director and choreographers Derek Deane and Graham Fletcher of the Royal Ballet (Graham and I were soon to share a life and a dressing room for 18 months in CATS) and replaced them with somebody more in tune with how to bring their very Parisian ideas to reality, Molly Molloy.
Molly was, and is Paris' most in-demand choreographer/director. The shows at the Paradis Latin are hers, as well The Crazy Horse, hundreds of movies, TV, commercials, pop videos and industrials. There was nobody better equipped to take on this sprawling, damaged phoenix and put it back together again. This time, with performers that she had picked.

The audition was gruelling. All day, non-stop. I remember one routine was to "It's Raining Men" and I was already drooling at her gorgeous choroegraphy.

I got the job and rehearsals were very intense (we rehearsed at that Urdang Studios - poo!) but she made it so enjoyable. Her wit and charisma kept us all begging for more and watching her demonstrate her work, how could anybody not want to go to the very edge to emulate her style?

"Y" was a very grand Paradis-Latin-style revue, brought to London and housed in the Piccadilly Theatre, which had been renovated to fit the show; its stalls ripped out and replaced with cabaret-type tables, chairs, sofas, etc and one of the lobbies was fitted with a full-restaurant kitchen. The money!....
That summer, I also worked for Arlene Phillips for the first time. She came to see "Y" and invited a few of us to audition for a Cliff Richard project that she was choreographing. Arlene had started out as Molly's assistant before striking out on her own and forming the incredible "Hot Gossip". That group radically changed so many things, from dance-style, to fashion, to sexual borderlines - it also gave a career to Sarah Brightman, who headed the group before the divinely talented Kim Leeson (we'd been classmates at the Royal Ballet and she has always been one of my idols) took over and made the group soar.
Working with Arlene has been another blessing for me. Watching her work and create, sometimes having to do it off the cuff in that fast-paced world of videos where you really have to instantly adapt to the situation you're thrown into and shoot! I loved her discipline, her wonderful choreography and her loyalty too. In 1983 alone, I did three videos for her for Cliff Richard, one for Sarah Brightman ("Listen To The Rhythm Of The Falling Rain" - an all-night shoot in an alley in the East End with fake rain coming down on us and Andrew lloyd-Webber, arms folded, sculking in the shadows, not speaking to any of us), and a TV commercial for "Soda Stream". This was all juggled with getting to the theatre by our 9pm show-time every night. Oh and I must say that Cliff Richard IS the loveliest man in show-business. A gentleman through and through; between takes he tried to give up his seat to me in his trailer so that I, one of the dancers, could rest. Me - a nobody!
Now, THAT's class.

Back at the theatre, we all shared a huge quick-change dressing room off of stage right and all the boys and girls were constantly naked together. Any prissy inhibitions were knocked out of you if you were in "Y". To this day I'll whip 'em off in front of anyone and not give it a thought. But that's another story...
The show featured the Italian quick-change master, Arturo Brachetti and had a Dracula number, an Ali Baba number using "Zubbediya" from KISMET" ( I had big baggy Arabian pants on for this and at one point had to run off the upstage left wing and come right back on again to do something fancy from the next wing down. One day my huge baggies (my pants, silly!) got caught on a light in the wing and I fell, face down, with just my head and torso on stage, the rest of me trapped in the wings. I performed the entire solo half onstage, pinned to the floor, tugging...), there was a Louis XIV courtly gavot that turned into a raunchy strip, (to "Sweet Inspiration") - all so sexual and yet all the top London dancers were in this show. I remember a really fantastic charleston number with myself and four girls. I loved it so much and went so crazy every night in it, that during the last show before Christmas of 1983, my left cartilage popped onstage.
Bamn! I slipped on some oil from the dry-ice machine and that was it!

I spent the early hours of Christmas Eve in the emergency room.

1984. Enforced rest and WILD BOYS!

I struggled on in"Y" for a couple of months, I was out of the dance numbers but took over from the girl singer, which was fine as the whole show was very androgenous anyway. But once my 48 permissable performances were exhausted, they fired me. I had to bite the bullet and book myself into the hospital to get my knee taken care of. Back then, it wasn't as simple as today's arthroscopic surgery; you had to be sliced open and the cartilage dug out. Consequently, my recovery was nine weeks, which was pretty good for those days. I wasn't out of the anisthetic before I was on my bed doing my exercises. I couldn't spare this down time - you only live seventy years!
In May, once I was recovered, I did a TV special for Welsh TV, working for choreographer Kathy Burke, who was such a laugh, a sort of Mancunian version of the actress of the same name! Kathy had been an assistant to Arlene and assisted on "Y" for a while too. That gig tested my knee quite nicely and it seemed to stand up ok, so I was back up and running again, though, again, I would look at the rushes and cringe. I could see what I needed to do to improve but my body didn’t seem to have the same desire as I did. I think most dancers and actors feel this when watching themselves. I admire those who can view themselves with a detached air.
There wasn't a lot of work around this year, though, so I just went back into class and bided my time. I had a great summer in London, picnicked in Green Park most days after classes, went sightseeing and revelled in having my fitness back, loving Anna du Boisson's ballet classes to the point where I would well up with joy in the middle of a step. Anna got me through many many traumas, both emotional and physical. She always had unquestioning faith in me no matter what state I was in mentally at the time-and sometimes I was in a pretty bad way. My self-doubt overcame me in great big waves that would leave me paralysed. She would coax me out of my private hell and inspire me back to life with her joyful, exciting classes and her beauty as a human being. I definitely owe Anna my life and would do anything for her.
Whilst out of commission and depressed I ran away, alone, to Crete to escape. Then, at Easter, I took myself off to explore Paris for the first time and fell deeply in love with it, of course! My favourite restaurant, "La Poule au Pot" in Les Halles...I wonder if it is still there...
Then Arlene gave word that she was going to audition for the new Duran Duran video, called WILD BOYS! - We had the audition at "Pineapple West" studios in Baker Street; an old church building. Pineapple has since left that premises. It was always their "west wing" and did better for aerobics and pilates than for us dancers. It was a huge audition and a truly incredible dancer by the name of Void was assisting Arlene on it. Void was in Hot Gossip, so I automatically worshipped her! Real name, Yvonne Evans, she was a thoroughbred jazz dancer, taking the technique to its apex of perfection, giving it the credence of the purest Russian ballet technique. The most flexible dancer with the most achingly beautiful lines. When she moved, you could cry. Void acted VERY tough. I was completely terrified of her. She was the greatest dancer I'd ever seen and hard as nails too. Everyone was a little frightened of Void. But as I got older and got to know her just a little better, I realised that she was the sweetest girl, as frightened as the rest of us, with no confidence at all in her God-given talents. In my experience, the very best people always were the ones with the doubts.

1985. My mutiny on MUTINY. Plus working on ON YOUR TOES, CATS

I think I did a few TV commercials at the beginning of this year. "Tizer" comes to mind, "Kentucky Fried Chicken", "Wrangler Jeans"... there may even have been others. The work seemed to come so easily during this period. I guess I was just at the right age and drifted into being connected with the right people.
Early in the year I got into ON YOUR TOES, at the Palace Theatre, as swing. Now, I had never swung before - a swing is a person who understudies a group of people in the show and could be thrown on for any one or combination of those people at any time - A hateful job at the best of times, but I had to understudy 10 people; 5 ballet dancers and 5 tap dancers. Oh, it was ghastly. The cast were mostly lovely, but I was always thrown on at the drop of a hat and they were MEAN to me; though it was always with an air of the hysterical and the camp, so I loved it. But mean or not, they were right. I did tend to panic when I was thrown on, not being too good at thinking on my feet in an emergency. It seems that whenever I would appear in a number, it would turn into the evacuation of Pompeii. I was usually convinced that I was right and that the dancers, who did the same thing every evening- were just in my way. Skirts would fly, bodies bounce....my nickname on the show was "Calamity John".
No, swinging was not for me. After four months, I quit the show, content to try something new...
In the Spring I got into a new musical written and starring David Essex, based on "Mutiny On The Bounty" which was going to be mounted at the Piccadilly Theatre. It was choreographed by Christopher Bruce, of the Ballet Rambert. I was going to be one of the dancers. Even by this time in my life, I had already tired of being one of the dancers. It bored the hell out of me to be standing at the back being a jolly peasant while some talentless little shit from a soap got to do stuff way beyond his ability and got paid enough money doing it to buy ME a cottage in the country!

Although that was NOT the case here. I was in awe of David Essex. An immense talent and a gentleman.

So rehearsals began in a dive in PUTNEY, of all places - impossible for us all to get to, and it was freezing cold. I was still doing ON YOUR TOES at night, too, and staying with my parents in Greenford, Middlesex, a good 90 minutes out of town. I was so exhausted, even before we began. But when we got going and it was clear that we, the dancers, were just decoration, that the choreography was PAINFULLY contemporary – I know it’s a terrible thing to admit, but I just loathe contemporary dance- God knows I've tried to appreciate something in it that gives me a thrill, but, no, I have no desire to do it, watch it, or shave my head and scowl when I dance. Consequently, I, in my pouty sulkiness, decided that Christopher Bruce and I were never going to hit it off. I couldn't understand his work – all those funny movements. Where was the TAP?!!.
I knew I was caught up in the wrong place - I had no reason being there. Plus, I was SO tired...
I started feeling fluey, so went to my doctors to get something to keep me going. He sent me for more tests, just in case it was glandular fever, which at my age was a possibility. I LATCHED onto that. I marched into rehearsals and announced that I had glandular fever and would have to leave the show IMMEDIATELY. Goodbye!
Frank Finley, who played Captain Bligh, was such a lovely man and gave me some pills that he swore by, David Essex was also so nice to me. What a gentleman he is too. He even sent me a Christmas card every year for about 10 years after all this!
I felt so bad, because I had resolved that NOTHING could compel me to stay, but I couldn't just say "I'm off", because of those damned draconian contracts that they used to put us all in, which dictated that the only way to leave a job you hated was either to beg (never!) or get sick. Death was also allowed.
Unfortunately for my little deception, two weeks later, I began rehearsing to play ""Skimbleshanks" in CATS at the New London Theatre, and when MUTINY found out, they threatened to blacklist me from Equity unless I paid back all the money I'd earned from them in full.

I’d have given them my teeth...

I had dreamed of being in CATS since it opened. THIS was where I was meant to be. The auditions were 2 and 3 day marathons, but if you got a part in the show it was a theatrical experience, a study in discipline and a joyful thrill that I've never quite matched since. Just to walk into the empty auditorium at the New London Theatre to rehearse was an adventure. The theatre had a buzz to it. All the elements were right. This was the right show in the right place at the right time. I think also, that the fact that the New London was right there, in the middle of the area that the poems are all written about lent this original production of the show an authority and credence. It remained the flagship production throughout the world for its entire 8949 performances. I saw the original cast on Broadway and the show and cast really just didn’t get it, I felt. I wonder why that was?

Ask anybody who is lucky enough to have been in CATS and they will tell you that it's the most gruelling thing they've ever done. It isn't just the eight shows per week, but the need to be in constant rehearsals. There is a cast change - sometimes big, sometimes small - every 3 months, which means that you would never be more than 6 weeks at a time without being in intense rehearsals during the day plus, of course, doing the show at night. Brush-up rehearsals would be every week in some form or other. It completely took over your life. By the time you were approachiing the end of the Jellicle Ball during that eighth show of the week, you'd be practically hallucinating...I'm sure I saw the Virgin Mary half a dozen times! The thrill of performing the Jellicle Ball is something you can't describe. So well constructed, this 20 minute dance sequence at the end of Act 1 builds so intelligently and dramatically, that the last 2 minutes are as emotionally draining as they are physically.

I fell completely in love with the wonderful Erin Lordan, who played Demeter when I joined the show. A beautiful woman with a hint of Indian and a hint of Elizabeth Taylor, he voice haunting, her dancing mesmeric and her love and passion for everybody gladly returned to her. I've seen twenty different productions of CATS but nothing has ever compared to Erin Lordan. That little something extra that they talk about embodied Erin on and offstage. I worshipped the ground she walked on. I would run around as fast as I could before one of my entrances from the back of the circle and watch, in utter adoration, as she would weave a spell with that Macavity song. I nearly passed out with joy when, after my first dress-run with the company, she asked me, in the green room, to marry her...I'd been too afraid to even talk to her till then.
I don't believe Lloyd Webber even saw her do this role. I suppose his schedule doesn't permit it, but it seems he has missed all the better performances by the better artists of his roles – maybe content only to witness the high profile. Well, he sure missed something special if he missed Erin.
In 2005, I found out by browsing the internet that dear Erin had passed away in February of that year. I can only think that God could no longer bear not to have her on his knee, laughing that laugh and singing to him. God bless her. I'll love her till the day I die.
Working with Gillian Lynne was another life-changing experience. The absolute epitome of excellence and professionalism. She gave you 100% and you'd better be damned sure you gave it back to her 100%. She had NO time for flakes, laziness, excuses of any sort. But why should she? She is quite simply, a genius, and if you were as eager to please her as she was to make you as good as God meant you to be - actually, a little better - she would reward you with the ride of your life.
If I could just have one more rehearsal for the Jellicle Ball with Gillian before I die, I'll be content. She is incomparable.

The high I was on was very quickly tempered when, during my first Saturday night performance, with my parents in the audience, I tore the cartilage in my right knee - exactly the same thing I did in "Y" in 1983, but the other knee. I was so embarrassed and frightened - and furious at the Gods - that I refused to stop dancing, refused to stop doing the show, and refused to tell anybody. It was agony. It would pop out at any given moment during the show and I would have to run offstage, slam myslef onto the floor in a crouched position to pop it back in again. This debacle went on for three months, but there came a point when, that November, I finally confessed to our company manager, Bob West, that I really had to go into hospital and get this thing sorted out. Bob was, of course, a wonder. They don't call him Uncle Bob for nothing. I was out for 9 weeks on full pay. I was so humbled by this compassion and generosity that I rushed to get back to the show as fast as I possibly could.

1986. CATS, CATS, CATS...

I think I managed to return to the show by February and spent the rest of the year ensconsed in CATS - and blissfully happy too...if exhausted.
I managed to squeeze in a small show at the Donmar Warehouse, called CREATURES OF LIGHT, a musical about fairies and nymphs. It was fun to work on and the schedule didn't clash with CATS because we played afternoons only. I played a satire called Estillimus and that's about all I can remember, except that in the show was Michael Sundin, an old friend from around the circuit. Michael was so much fun. I remember him being on the phone all day to a multitude of agents, soring out glamourous deals and I was very envious of him. He went on to be one of the hosts on BLUE PETER, until the press hunted him down. Poor guy. He took it all so beautifully, wth so much dignity. He passed away in 1989, an early vicitm of the terrible AIDS plague. I can still remember my getting back from Newcastle, where I'd been on the road with Wayne Sleep, to hear his voice on my answering machine saying, Well, I'm here, where are YOU?" which I didn't get till a few days after he had passed on. I didn't know it, but he was in hospital in Newcastle. I felt so sad not to have been able to say goodbye.
I was soon given the understudy to Mr Mistofolees, when my buddy Luke Baxter, who had been the understudy, left the show to go into LA CAGE AUX FOLLES at the London Palladium. I went on quite a bit too, because Graham Fletcher, who played the role, was always going off to do other stuff. The role TERRIFIED me. I would wretch and heave every night after the act II solo. It was the hole in the heart thing – though I just thought I was such a weed and that I had much to learn! But I loved the role, gave it all I had and was told that I was "POTENTIALLY the best Mistofolees ever" - which of course meant that I’d be great if I could get the stamina down. I sure tried…
I have to say, though, that for someone terrified of heights, climbing up to the lighting rig and climbing over the edge of it (during the Macavity fight sequence going on below) to have one foot hooked into a twisted, noosed rope by one of the crew, and then, at the right moment, pushed out by a member of the crew, so that I would spin as I was lowered to the stage, and, once landed, unhook my foot, assume the pose and shout, "Presto!" - before beginning the solo… Well, I was SO petrified, that I was knackered by the time I landed!...Oh, my palms are sweaty just thinking about it...
I was always relieved to go back to being "Skimbleshanks", my main role. I had a total character for this cat, inspired a little by Charles Hawtrey. I was often WAY over the top - and wouldn't budge from my “artistic choices”. I think that the trick to keeping a show like CATS alive is NOT to be a carbon-copy of everybody that has done it before. (Managements understandably lean toward the opposite, because a known commodity is better than a risk in a long, established run - but you have to ignore them if you feel strongly that you can bring something unique of yourself to the role) Seeing the show years later I found a lot of my interpretation had become "carbon-copied" - so I must have been doing something right. Sometimes I might go a little far though; My Skimble was admittedly border-line insane, a possible paedophile who talked to himself - often quite loudly - in the quiet moments and never had the slightest doubt that everything that ever went on anywhere was entirely because of him.
Anita Harris was "Grizabella" for a lot of this, my first visit to CATS. She is one of the most truly adorable people in showbiz. Her portrayal of the character was spot on, with so many more levels than any of the – shall we say “corporate favourites” in the role. Her "Touch Me" would knock you for six!- every Saturday between shows she would come to each dressing room with cakes and goodies. Classy lady. We've remained friends to this day.
This goes without saying because everybody remains friends with Anita.

1987. 42nd STREET on the S/S Norway

I left CATS at the end of January 1987.
It was a great thing for me. I got dreadlocks, I had a ball decorating my new house and continuing with my daily classes.
I wanted to do something different, to get away from London and the intensity of all that West End drama, so in August I went onto the S/S Norway to do 42ND STREET on the ship. The ship went from Miami to the Caribbean islands of St Maartin, St Thomas and somewhere else with a lot of flies – but it was so gorgeous! The wonderful Randy Skinner directed and choreographed, Karen Clegg from the West End production, was Peggy Sawyer, Michael Lee-Wright was Billy and I was Andy-Lee.
For 5 months we did that wonderful show, saw some heavenly places, made firm friends, firm enemies (we were on a ship after all and there was no escaping each other), all of us had wild affairs and then I quit the show before the end of the contract because I'd had enough.
My friend Lucy Mitchell (who played "Anytime Annie") and I, would behave appallingly onboard, nightly turning all the rich passengers' signs on their doors around from "Do not disturb" to "Please make up room" - we STRIPPED the Christmas trees on the decks practically bare for our cabins' adornment and, because these cabins were so slummy, bought that sticky-back-plastic stuff from the drug store in Miami and plastered the walls with the it - looked fantastic, but one day we came onboard and it had all been stripped off. Passengers were always trying to lure us into their cabins after seeing the shows, ( a fireable offense if we were caught) but I was so well behaved and demure (then!) that I never once took anybody up on their offer. God! I was dumb!
We did one other show apart from 42nd STREET. It was a “Hollywood” revue called SEA LEGS GOES HOLLYWOOD. From the rich, thoroughbred quality of 42nd STREET, this show was in every way a contrast. Brash, gawdy, grotesque; this was your quintessential cruise ship show. Potentially hideous in every way except that all the performers were incredible – mostly Broadway and West End people., so what you saw was unexpectedly fabulous. I remember nodding and grinning a lot, as you have to do when you dance on a cruise ship, being a dancing tomato, and singing a tribute to Judy Garland, upstage, alone, on a pedastal, singing QUIET PLEASE, THERE’S A LADY ONSTAGE.
Not gay at all, and extremely classy…

1988. - ANNA BALLERINA

I lasted on the S/S Norway until April, but in the end had to get off the ship to prevent total insanity - and depravity.
I spent about a month driving up the east coast of America from Florida to New York and visiting with Marcia Madeira, the lighting designer of 42ND STREET and a great friend ever since. (Marcia won Tonys and Drama Desks and all sorts of impressive things) I had already fallen in love with New York and this was the start of almost annual visits until I finally moved here in 1998.

Once back in London, in May, I started pre-production as assistant to Molly Molloy on a new German movie, ANNA BALLERINA, which was to be a follow-up to the successful TV series of the same name. Molly is undoubtedly the very best choreographer and director that I've ever worked with and I had to just get on with it and not get too excited about what a thrill it was. Molly made it all a romp - a very PROFESSIONAL romp, but a romp nevertheless - from begining to end. I discovered that creativity comes much easier through laughter and as long as you have a mutual passion and understanding of the end picture you are trying to create, then all you have to do is add the sense of humour and the joy and you have your product, water-tight and ready to roll.

We auditioned for the new lead actor for the movie over a couple of weeks, while putting the shots and dance sequences slowly together in the studio. It was a tricky piece of casting because the actor had to also be a company-level ballet and jazz - and TAP dancer and not be too terrifying to look at. We auditoned everybody; Royal Ballet principles, actors who could move, the lot, but it was tough to find that actor. After two weeks of me doing the audition scene for most of the auditionees, to give them a sense of it in context, the producers came to me and said, "Oh, why don't you play the bloody part!" - but they said it, of course, with a thick German accent.

Sylvia Seidel, who played Anna, was the sweetest thing and an extraordinary actress. For me, such a talent is always a little bitter/sweet to behold, because there is such a beautiful sense of what might be achieved; Sylvia was (and is) a great beauty, she could, if she chose, go the route of a very successful dance career, or a successful acting career. So many possibilities. Consequently the ones in the position to move such an artist along (casting people, agents...) will almost always drop the ball; their own talents so far below that of the commodity for whom they are supposed to be working. It's easy to see, in this movie, her freshness and honesty, plust the little trace of sadness that I will always think of as a part of what makes Sylvia so special.
She was lovely to me throughout the movie. We were both exhausted and ready to drop by the end, but she was always such a lady and never complained about anything.
We shot in Munich, in Ingolstadt, in Austria, and I loved every minute of it; such a different way of working from the slog of theatre. Immersing yourself into a role seems easier.
The premier was in Essen, Germany just before Christmas and it was a lot of fun to be flown out there, treated like royalty for a night and then flown home again.! – though after the glamour and spectacle of that night, I spent the following night on a bench at the airport because my flight was cancelled.
Ah, dichotomy…

1989. - A YEAR IN WAYNE SLEEP'S WORLD...

I began the year doing an industrial for Molly Molloy and Apple computersin Paris. Oh, those wonderful Paris dancers! Every time I would go and work there, I would spend every spare second just wandering around and lapping up the atmosphere (and the dancers…). If I could live anywhere apart from London (and, I guess New York, as I seem to be sticking around) it would be Paris. I think if you have an artistic bone in your carcass you do want to live there. To live in New York, it seems you have to be somewhat artistic I guess - but MANIACALLY ambitious. To live in London you have to be, again, somewhat artistic, but either in love with London’s history, or be FROM there (I'm both) – ambition, on the other hand, would be trickier to act out.
I got off to a bad start with Wayne Sleep, the popular spinning dancer of ROYAL BALLET and CATS fame. Because of the Paris job, I had to start rehearsals a day later, a fact which my agent (ah, agents!..) had, I was told, informed the Sleep entourage of and they, I was told, were fine with it.
I showed up on day 2 of rehearsals to ,"Where the hell were you?!" - somebody hadn’t told somebody, and Wayne must have had an instant impression of me as a flake. Knowing Wayne’s temperament, it was pointless for me to try to ingratiate myself with him, and besides, there wasn’t time – too much work to do. Besides, ingratiating myself isn’t my thing. Thus began a very LONG year for me…
Why he hired me in the first place I'll never know; as I've mentioned before he's always been scurrilous about my dancing, but this time he did hire me so I took the gig. I tried so hard to please him by just doing it all to my best, etc etc, but he didn’t seem to want to like me.
He was very generous, giving us all nice features within the show; mine being a gorgeous little love song and dance to a broom, much like in SOPHISTICATED LADIES, but to the song "Just The Two Of Us" and choreographed beautifully by Wayne.. The show opened, I think in Chichester to medium reviews for the show as a whole, but lovely for individual performances within the group; in my case for this nice number that he'd let me have. The same thing in the next gig and the next. During the fourth week - we were in Eastbourne - Wayne asked to go for a walk with me so that we could talk. I didn't dare to pre-judge him. He took me to the front of the theatre, where a sign was up amongst all the photos of the show, with a nice quote saying something like "Jon Peterson, delightful as...blah blah..." He pointed to the quote and said to me, "You see that quote?" I clenched my buttocks and replied to the affirmative, "Make the most of it because it's the last time you're going to read it". He gave an explanation about how the number just wasn't working and so it had to go. I couldn't listen to what he was saying to me - in fact I was so hurt that I barely heard anything he ever said to me again. I spent the next 9 months as the dancer with no solo in the show, staying with it only because of my love and respect for the incredible Andy Norman - also in the cast - with whom I shared a dressing room for the whole tour and who (Andy, being 40 at the time, and a seasoned performer - well, I think one of the most talented performers to have come out of the West End Theatre scene) underook my education as to how to maneuver my way through people you come up against in show-biz. He tried to show me how to deal with Wayne with class and wit, whereas I dealt with Wayne with silence and avoidance.
Andy is a force to be reckoned with. He sets the stage alight with his magnetic presence. His dancing style and technique are unrivalled. As a person, he is one of the greatest wits of his generation, generous and loyal to his friends like no other I have known. When he feels an injustice has taken place to an artist he will make it his cause and get himself into trouble for it too - glorious, riotous trouble! Andy was well able to hold his own against Wayne. My own immature approach of trying to be as far away from Wayne as possible at any given time, achieved nothing.

Many mishaps and riotous happenings took place during the run. At Chichester I couldn't get the brake to work on the portable ballet-barre-on-wheels that I had to bring on whilst tapping. I vainly and frantically thrashed about at this bloody thing at the stage-right side of this 3/4-thrust stage, finally giving up as the music ran out and I had to be on stage right in three seconds to begin the number. As I reached my stage-right destination and began the number, I just glanced over to the ballet-barre across the other side of the stage,to see it gracefully roll down and over the edge and land on top of a cowering, terrrifed audience in the front row.
Another time, I think perhaps in Eastbourne, Andy and I were in the dressing-room in intermission, having a wonderful time, laughing and howling, when we wondered why the intermission had gone on for so long. We opened act 2, playing the two ladies in TWO LADIES (Act 2 was a medley of Wayne Sleeps greatest triumphs; one of which he considered to be his portrayal of the Emcee in CABARET...unless you happened to see it...) and so we thought it might behue us to just check to see if the tannoy was working. I fiddled with the volume. It had been turned off and Wayne was in the middle of the number - ALONE! - we shrieked and ran down to the stage, too late to do anhything but watch from the wings as Wayne finished himself off in public. (something he was doing every night anyway!)
Wayne was so afraid of Andy that I didn't get into trouble for this.

It alarmed me that being unprofessional could make me so very happy!

Another time - again during TWO LADIES - my dress came unstuck. It just got in the way hanging off me, so I stepped out of it and continued the number absolutely naked except for a teeny dance belt and a pair of high heels. Wayne was furious, but the audience (and Andy and I) HOWLED and Andy, again, stood up to Wayne, who backed down.

The show toured for almost a year around the UK, playing for a short time in the West End at the Dominion Theatre. Before coming to London, the show played a Gala performance for Princess Diana at the Royalty Theatre, now known as the Peacock Theatre. I was beside myself to meet her after the show and we all stood in a line while she chatted with each of us. I must say though, that what we spoke about made no sense at all; a sort of surreal, meaningless garble on her part and a befuddled, choking series of grunts on mine, as I wracked my brains trying to work out what on earth she was talking about!

When Diana died I mourned not understanding what she said to me. If only I’d said “Pardon?”

I declined the oppurtunity to extend my contract for a month and play Germany with the show. Instead, I took myself off to New York for a couple of weeks, staying with my mate Marcia Madeira, (the lighting designer of 42nd STREET). I paid the usual wide-eyed homage to all the wonderful Broadway shows and wished, tearfully that I could be a part of it, believing, ridiculously, that Broadway was where I should be performing.

What a twit!

The year ended for me with a gig as a dancer on the Paul Daniels Christmas show for the BBC. I remember one tricky number with brooms, or canes or sticks - who cares? - but we had to do that thing where you hold the stick with both hands and jump over it. Well, I could do it in rehearsals....suffice to say that we did about seven takes before giving up and if you see it, there I go, whack! - as the camera very quickly cuts away...

There followed six months of very little work.

As an addendum to the night when Andy and I missed our cue in TWO LADIES in Chichester: Last year, meeting Andy for lunch on one of my visits home to London, we were laughing about our many exploits over the years, and he confessed to me that he had deliberately turned off the tannoy that night, with the full intention of keeping me occupied and making us both miss the cue.
...ANDY NORMAN IS MY IDOL!

1990. - Running from commitment...

A weird year.
For six months I busied myself with decorating my house, doing as many classes as I could afford to and having an affair.
In June I performed in a huge benefit performance of HELLO DOLLY! at the London Palladium. It was a concert version of the show, with each number being performed by a different, legendary Dolly. It was spectacular. Many great names were there and Carol Channing was the main attraction; coming on towards the end of the show for the title number. For this, we did the original choreography and I think I was "Lose some weight...". Carol was enchanting to us all and her magic made us all perform magically right along with her. The other highlight of the night was BEFORE THE PARADE PASSES BY, performed by Chita Rivera and a military drum band. She began the number centre-stage in a spotlight, wearing a skirt of golden strips and a black top and sang, as it was in the show; slow and contemplative. Then the drums started. Chita clapped her hands, the lights changed and Geoff Garrett and myself entered from either side of the stage and joined Chita for a beautiful, thrilling Fosse trio. It brought the house down.
Before the number began that night, Chita and I were alone in the wing, waiting to go on and she turned to me and said, "Why am I so nervous? - Now, let me think. What would Liza do?" At that moment I knew I had made it to heaven.
When I got home that night there were ten messages on my machine from people who had seen the show and were beside themselves. It's silly really, but this was one of the highlights of my career for it the utter joy I felt that night.
It was this - and my broken heart, after my silly affair - that spurred me on to just run away from everything and clear my head. So, answering an ad in THE STAGE, I went, in August, to Monte Carlo, to sing at the Casino in the Cabaret Room.
This sounds glamorous and it was, but what it consisted of was performing magic tricks, singing Rocky Horror and James Bond medleys and performing a Mary Poppins medley while chopping showgirls in half...I loved it. Barry Collins was my boss, who was very kind to me. The crew and wardrobe liked me (and laughed non-stop at me) because I tried so hard to speak nothing but French with them, no matter how confused I became! The wardrobe lady would ply me with wonderful espressos that were strong enough to fuel a jumbo jet. One night I was out there in my white suit, crooning FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, when the caffeine in me ejected a stream of blood from my nose which cascaded all the way down my white suit. Ever the professional - and being a bit of a luvvy - I valiantly carried on. I was heroic. Barry rushed round backstage and even offered to go on for me. "No" I bravely said, "I must go on!" - Of course, I loved it, being the old ham that I am.
The girls were all early twenties and horny. They went out every night and had a ball, as they should in Monte Carlo. One night one of the girls turned up for the show BLIND DRUNK! - She went on though, and teetered around the stage, crashing into the set and tripping about like Phylis Diller. It was wonderful. She got into big trouble, but they didn't fire her. I'm glad about that because she was very talented and normally the most professional of the girls. It was just her time for learning that lesson.
I, on the other hand, treated the whole 4 month visit as a kind of monastic retreat. I had a very old rambling apartment up a hill in neighbouring Beausoleil; a little French village outside the Monte Carlo border. Every night at one am, I would walk home from the show, through the glamour of Monte Carlo and up the many, many steps to the contrasting ambience of the quiet, ancient, working-mans' village of Beausoleil. Each night I would walk past the bakers shop and look down at the basement to see them busily making tomorrow's bread. I would drown in pleasure at the aroma that drifted up into the deserted street. I would stand alone on the balcony of the apartment, which overlooked the rooftops of the village and the sea beyond, as late-summer thunderstorms raged and lightning lit up the evening skies. I re-connected with an old friend from the Royal Ballet School, Claire Bayliss, who was working at the Ballets de Monte Carlo, with whom we shared rehearsal space. I hardly ever went out at night, I didn't get laid like everyone else. I prayed a lot and asked a lot of questions about myself, about the path I was on and the messy relationship I had just stumbled through. Monte Carlo was, for me, a time of healing and renewal. It holds a magical memory for me.
They begged me to stay there when the show ended. I could do the next show and the next. I had to wrench myself away. But the emotional pull of spending Christmas with my family was too much (as it is now) and so I went home.

As an addendum to the thrill of working with Chita and how much it meant to me...I have since worked with her at a Johnnie Mercer concert here in New York at the Rainbow and Starts, and come face-to-face with her backstage at the 2006 Drama Desk Awards, for which we were both nominated. Both times, I've said hello, she's given me a quizzical look and I've bowed my head and run away.

I think I'm too shy to be in showbusiness.

1991. - Working with Lionel Bart & doing SOPHISTICATED LADIES

This year felt like a form of pay-off for last year, though that kind of thinking leads only to the crappy, self-destructive behaviour that most actors end up buying into; of getting validation as a human being of any relevence only through the amount of work you do, how remedial it is and how high profile. All of that is crap,but a little bit of all of us goes there. It’s funny, but a big part of me lives only for the day when I can get a cottage in the English countryside and put it all behind me.
The National Youth Theatre were to reprise their highly successful remounting of Lionel Bart's BLITZ! to be put up at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle before a possible transfer to the West End. I auditioned doggedly for the role of Georgie Locke, put my heart and soul into getting it, as you do when you know it's your role. I didn't get it. I had just gotten over the mourning process for this newest oppurtunity lost, turning down Stephen Schwartz's new show CHILDREN OF EDEN and ANYTHING GOES (Elaine Paige scared me – well,I’d heard so many stories…) when the phone rang and BLITZ! was mine - as is my wont, the actor they wanted turned it down and they came to me. I've never been able to master the art of auditioning...though it should be so easier now, as most casting directors (these people are a recent disease, meaning that today you can’t be seen by a director until they have granted you the papal seal of approval) are not particularly bright and are extremely susceptable to flattery - I just can't get all that going when I need to. At auditions, my confidence goes out of the window, along with my charm, my bowels and my voice!
So, back to BLITZ!...We rehearsed at the National Youth Theatre Studios in Holloway and it was a blast! It was directed by Ed Wilson, who as an actor, found fame on TV in WHEN THE BOAT COMES IN. He was witty, underplayed and coaxed us with such a friendly amiability that the work just flowed. Lionel Bart was right there all through rehearsals; very frail, but congenial and coming up with wonderful insights into the characters he had created. In MacDonalds one lunchtime, he told me of his love for Judy Garland's great talent and how thrilled he still was, that she had recorded his score of MAGGIE MAY. I found out later that he wanted me at the auditions but hated me through the rehearsals; only at opening night did he see, he told me, what talent I had - because my nerves and lack of belief in myself plagued me on this, as they always do until the show is mine and no longer belongs to the director or the author. But Lionel understood that.
Diane Langton was Mrs. Blitztein. We became instant friends and she mothered me rotten. I was paralysed with awe for her at first; she being the object of one of my many fixations when I was fourteen and she was Diana in A CHORUS LINE at Drury Lane. But Diane is too down to earth for any of that crap and the whole rehearsal process and run of the show in Newcastle pivoted on her powerful, emotion-driven performance and caring, equally emotion-driven demeanour offstage too. My dream is to see her and Lenora Nemetz perform together one day. Hmmm, now that's an idea....
Diane would regail us with many hysterical tales of theatre life, such as how Bob Fosse tried desperately to seduce her when she was in A CHORUS LINE. Funnily enough, Lenora has similar stories too from her days in CABARET on Broadway in the late sixties. David Toguri was the choreographer. He and Diane were great mates from their days as dancers together in 1960's London. David choreographed so many things, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW comes immediately to mind. I found in David an instant friend and supporter. He took me under his wing. He actually thought I might amount to something and he took pains to explain to me certain neccessities for a successful career in this strange business; that talent wasn't enough and would get me nowhere if I didn't adopt a business-like strategy of publicity, managers, etc etc....planning. He expected the show to transfer to London and he ordered me to save nothing of the money I would earn on the show but to plough it into all of these tools. He really opened my eyes and I swear I would have actually taken his advice, given to me, as it was, with such genuine affection But sadly the backers pulled out, as they too often do, and David, already fighting a "touch of cancer" as he called it, passed on in 1997, leaving the business with one less good guy. How many can it afford to lose?...
Immediatey after BLITZ! ended, I auditioned for the UK premier of SOPHISTICATED LADIES. This was another of my coveted shows and I was beside myself when I got it. I went into rehearsals for the show at the Library Theatre in Manchester with the firm belief that we were going to repeat the power of the Broadway production nine years earlier. Gillian Gregory was to co-choreograph. Oh boy! - we couldn't fail.
We failed.
We did have some wonderful talent in the show, with Sarah Weymouth, Rebecca Thornhill, Sergio Covino, Dollie Henry, and Janie Dee, there was also an element of the typical West End mediocrity elsewhere in the cast. Dollie and I were joint dance captains on the pre-West End tour and while at first trying to keep the show maintained and the discipline high by having fun, but intense rehearsals regularly, we met such apathy and reluctance from some people in the cast that I eventually resigned from the post of dance captain and Dollie, though staying on in that capacity, resorted to screaming! - which I, of course, loved. When one poor lump moaned that he wanted a lift taken out of the choreography because he had a pain that affected his candida (did you ever?) Dollie screamed, "Pain? What do YOU know about pain? I've had a baby out of my
C * * T!" She was perfect - and so talented too. She played the Judith Jameson role. Yes, she was too young - we all were. You see, artists of true merit rarely survive to be “that age” in musical theatre in London - they get progressively frozen out. I think West End Theatre managers and producers have a passion for great musical theatre, just no sense of, well, SPUNK.
So, the tour plundered through the British Isles, with drama after drama, culminating, right at the end, with the lead actor (playing the Gregory Hines role) walking out and leaving the producers in a fix, because none of the guys in the show who were the right colour to cover for him could actually sing well enough. So, for the last 3 weeks of the tour, all of his stuff onstage was split between us all and bits were cut here and there. It was left to me, the little white runt who did the love song with a broom (which they later cut – it seems me and brooms were not to be a match...) to sing the title song at the end of the show. Ridiculous, ridiculous. But it was either me or Janie Dee - and they couldn't cut EVERYTHING!!!...

…..naturally, of course, I was gorgeous!

1992. - SOPHISTICATED LADIES hits London - and London hits back. Returning to CATS

After a Christmas break which found me, as had become my new “thing”, flying to New York for a little inspiration, we began rehearsals in early January for the West End opening of SOPHISTICATED LADIES. This was a fun rehearsal period, although we were out in Putney and it was cold and foggy. There were one or two cast changes; Sarah Weymouth was gone (I missed her, such a doll) and Jacqui Dankworth (Cleo Laine and John Dankworth's daughter) replaced her. We had some new co-producers on board too; Frank and Woji Gero.
For some reason, all these two new producers did was to meddle and get in the way. They seemed to act in contradiction to the machinations of a musical and I remember at one point during the run they called a meeting onstage and chastised the entire company because some cast members had missed shows because of injury. They said that actors in their other show, "Liaisons Dangereux" didn't miss as many shows. This caused the cast to a near-revolt mentality; ours was a very tough show and injuries do happen. Granted, some of the cast would opt for missing shows when others would choose to work through. I had never missed a show in the twelve months up to that point, working through a very painful hamstring injury – it was a matter of judgement. However, calling a meeting and lambasting us all was definitely an unwise move – and besides, he looked like a gangster and nobody in the cast wanted to trust him anyway. It was fun to dislike this man. We turned on them, right there on the stage, like a pack of wild dogs. We were magnificent. Frank and Woji seemed to merge back into the shadows for the rest of the run, but apparently still remained active. Things changed. My solo (again a love song to a broom) was cut. Of course this was a personal attack, but it also affected the balance of the show. I resolved not to get eaten up by it - and actions speak louder than words anyway - so I calmly took that time off with my ham-string injury, (ok, two days, but it was a statement!) and, because their action had actually broken the wording of my contract, I quit.
A lot of scurrying took place on their part and I was invited to dinner with the Geros. I went, of course, and ate as much very expensive food as I could shove down my throat. To this day I can't think of producers without considering a potentially fabulous meal...
Three weeks later, the show closed after a run of three months at the Globe Theatre (now the Gielgud). After beginning this show with so much hope and delight twelve months earlier, I was now just relieved. What did I miss most about SOPHISTICATED LADIES? - the hookers who waited around the stage door of the Globe Theatre. After establishing that I wasn't there looking for affection, they turned out to be so sweet and would always have a friendly word as we each trundled along for our work...

Serendipity grabbed me just as we received our notice. I was mooching down Brewer Street and ran into Chrissie Cartwright, who was in charge of CATS. Would I ever consider returning to the show? - WOULD I? - I grabbed this oppurtunity. I had to re-audition, of course, as everybody did in order to return to the show, but I got through that and in April came "home" to the New London Theatre and to my old role of Skimbleshanks, The Railway Cat. Rebecca Thornhill joined me from the Globe Theatre, as Demeter. My old buddy Luke Baxter was Mr. Mistofolees and he and I shared a dressing room....this time for TWO years!
Two years…I didn't care. I was so blissfully happy being back in my favourite show. Luke and I were BEST buddies and our on-stage relationship flew. Every show was exciting and at some point would end in us both fighting fits of laughter - never (or rarely) in an unprofessional way, I hasten to add! It was just joy. Joy at being there. Grateful for these good times and determined not to let them go by without a celebration. Every show was a celebration.
I happily saw the seasons come and go in CATS.
It was one of the most wonderful and most appreciated gifts that I have recieved in my life. The show gave me artistic satisfaction, challenge, camaraderie, money, sometimes great sex and a sense of pride in my work. Gillian Lynne taught me so much - it's the job I'm most proud of and to people in our business who deride the show I say that perhaps they simply weren't good enough to meet it at the highest level; that's where you have to be at as you tackle this unique piece of theatre.

1993. - CATS - and proud of it! (Plus a little Michael Ball)...

During this year of solid, dependable work, I grabbed the opportunity to sell my house in Hither Green and buy a cute little flat in Highgate. It was a small, two-bedroom flat on Milton Road. I took in a lodger, one of the dancers in the show, Beata Alfoldi, who was from Australia, and spent the year happily performing, decorating, and settling into a life in Highgate, which is one of the loveliest London areas, with park, the Heath, beautiful Victorian Houses and Highgate Village with its coffee shops and its air of wilted gentility. Home was just a short bus-ride from the West End too, which was a huge novelty for me. Up to then I had battled through nothing less that an hour's journey to and from wherever I was living at the time. The only down side of moving to Highgate was that I no longer read a book-a-week!
This was a period of security for me. The one year of my working life that I felt truly content.
In December, I got two weeks leave from CATS and joined Michael Ball's Christmas Tour, as one of his backing singers. It was a fun gig, three boys, three girls, we got to wear nice clothes and keep them, we travelled around in a Winnebago and observed - but never got to speak to - a strange woman who shadows him all the time. What is her name?....no idea! She was a famous something or other in the sixties and I understand that there is some sort of relationship situation between her and the said Ball. I wasn't sure if she was a mute or not, she may also have had very bad eyes, but never did she say a word that might give a hint that she knew we were there. She was the life and soul of the party - except she wasn't at the party!
From doing this little gig, I know the backing vocals to such gems as YOU WERE ALWAYS ON MY MIND and SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN. I know this will be invaluable and for this I will be forever grateful to Michael Ball.

1994. - WHOOP-DEE-DOO! and SHE LOVES ME

April saw me leaving CATS and going right into rehearsals for a new, hysterical revue called WHOOP-DEE-DOO! at the Kings Head in Islington. This show was still running off-Broadway at the time and was a delight. A brilliant, very camp revue with ingenious songs, our "name" on this project was wonderful Christopher Biggins, who took the show and ran with it. His comedy talents are unrivalled and working with him was a joy. Chris turned the entire process into a glorious social event. He was kind and motherly to us all, would hold parties at his house in Hackney, introduce us to his glittering "mates" like Barbara Windsor, with whom I immediately fell in love, and he created an atmosphere perfect for great work to flourish. The show was directed by Phil George, who had directed the New York company, as well as the FORBIDDEN BROADWAY shows. Phil George is a VERY clever guy. With a wit as sharp as a pin, he knows exactly what will land with an audience and all we had to do was relax and let him take us for a wonderful ride.
In the show, we were, among a multitude of camp - vegetables dressed as soldiers - and one banana - (THE NEW RECRUIT IS A FRUIT)...Flies buzzing around fly-paper (STUCK ON YOU)...Winsome fairies (THESE DAYS IT'S TOUGH TO BE A FAIRY)... It was a riotous romp. I sang, dressed as a nerdy teenager, a love song to my idol (ELIZABETH TAYLOR-hilton wilding todd fisher burton burton warner fortensky)...
We became the toast of the fringe - and particularly the gay scene - that spring and summer. I also made a new life-long friend in Earl Grey, who played many roles in the show including a subrban mother (..."My son's not in the theatre. He's in STARLIGHT EXPRESS...) and his was the eleven o'clock number where he became Judy Garland. Every night he would come off to rapturous applause while we, getting ready for the finale, would be in the dressing room scurrying around, getting into our beehives and black bin-liner skirts (LESS IS MORE...). Every night, Earl would fall into the dressing room, his head giddy with success. One night, instead of our usual, "Well done Earl", "That was great Earl", and other supportive drones, we all arranged to completely ignore him. Backs were turned, lipstick earnestly applied and dead-silence reigned. After a few seconds, during which time Earl visibly deflated, a voice penetrated the silence, "Been on yet?"...
...Oh, the badinage.
It was a very tight group, camaraderie ran high and it was, as Earl and I often say, "one of those little bubbles of happiness".

During this period, I did Ruthie Henshall's one-woman concert at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. Stephen Mear choreographed and it was a lot of fun. I knew Stephen from my first time in CATS and enjoyed working with him on this concert very much also. I thought Ruthie handled the pressure of that day very well and I was impressed that she did the afternoon tech rehearsal full-out, vocally, before the concert that night. At that point I was having doubts about my own vocal stamina and was impressed by everybody else who opened their mouths. I had been training with Ian Adam for about six years, on and off, and I was beginning to think that his technique wasn't working for me.
I got the role of the Bus-Boy in SHE LOVES ME at the Savoy Theatre on the Strand, again starring Ruthie. It was a weird audition, at Dance Works. Rob Marshall taught us the routine, which we duly performed for him. He walked right up to me and said, "I'll take you". It was the easiest audition I ever got! Where was the battle? The mental torment?
We rehearsed in Clapham, which I love. My role consisted of the eleven o'clock number in Act 1, with the wonderful David Alder as the Head Waiter in a very refined restaurant which, no matter how hard David, (as Head Waiter) tried, would reveal its underlying seamier side, which I, as the bewildered bus-boy, would be confronted with as I roamed the room haplessly trying to do my job, eventually setting fire to the menu and going basically crazy, in a most tasteful, Fokine way!...For the rest of the show, David and I stayed in our dressing-room, entertaining the cast with a constant flow of tea and cakes. It was heaven. Our dressing-room was the place people came to for a cozy chat and a cuppa. David and I would lean out of the window to the alley below and scream at the public like old fish-wives, squeal at the carcasses of freshly-caught mice that would appear in little traps dotted around the dressing-room.
There was scandal, of course...Ruthie and her leading man, John Gordan Sinclair hooked up very publicly and we all agreed that it was very good for the show and for their public visibility. I loved John and admired his comic talents, but I think the weight of his situation began to take its toll and the strain began to show backstage.
Ruthie glowed in the show. She was beautiful and gave a first-rate performance. Not terribly popular with the girls in the show, perhaps because, being so on the up-and-up, she feared that being too affable to civilians might damage her as yet unchallenged march forward to...to what?
She was always nice to me, especially on the days when she realised I was there.

Favourite memories....slipping out into the alley with David Alder, where he would nightly entice me to join him to, "...light a fire to the goddess Nicotena".

1995. - NOEL COWARD'S CAVALCADE ACROSS THE UK

I waited until the Olivier Awards had come and gone and, having by that time been with the show for eight months, I handed in my notice. I think eight months is quite enough to titter a lot and eat cakes. However, I fondly come to remember very little about the show except that.

I briefly zoomed off to Tokyo to do an Industrial, becoming re-united with a quite wonderful girl by the name of Alexandra Spanswick Smith. An INCREDIBLY talented dancer, breathtakingly beautiful and with a certifiable disregard for any form of authority and pretence. We hit it off at once. Her answer to any situation in life, whether glorious or full of despair, was to laugh, laugh, laugh. Everything made Alex laugh. This was no good at all for her career. She never penetrated that elite set of performers hired for the big stuff - choreographers and the like were wary of her lack of pomp. It always saddened me as her talents onstage (and to my eternal delight, off-stage) easily surpassed those of all the other dancers, and indeed those of all the choreographers too! - and Alex couldn't have cared less!

Flying back to London I developed a devastating case of food poisoning and spent three days on my parents' living-room floor by the fire, on my return.

A brief two-week return to SHE LOVES ME followed. I'm not sure of the ins and outs, but for some reason they weren't happy with my replacement - my best buddy Luke Baxter - and wanted me to do it for a while, as poor old Lukey sat out front and watched. Luke is one of the most accomplished performers in London and it was silly for them to react like this - I didn't understand how they could discern one ham from another! But I went back anyway - two weeks money is two weeks money! The funny thing was, I couldn't remember a step and had to re-learn it myself!

That Spring I began rehearsals for a huge (as in 100 extras!) revival of Noel Coward's CAVALCADE, directed by Dan Crawford, who ran the Kings Head in Islington where we had done WHOOP.... We rehearsed somewhere in Kent. Gabrielle Drake and Jeremy Clyde were the headliners and I played their youngest son, Joey Marriot, a role originated by Sir John Mills in 1933.
It's a charming play, but VERY period and consequently a quandry how to mount it and have the audience swallow the medicine without gagging. Dan tried to put on the play with utmost integrity to Mr. Coward, staging it as if we were actually watching this play that spanned 1899 to 1933 in the year in which it was written.
It just didn't seem to work - more, I think because of the production's deliberately ambitious size, rather than the specific direction of the actors. Every town we played, 100 locals were hired to swell the stage to PT Barnum proportions. Naturally it was impossible to rehearse all these people - amateurs all, but some with the badge of honour of belonging to the local amateur dramatics company. This contingent - some of them I've no doubt acclaimed leading players in their own world, overacted and hammed it up at the back of the stage as if they were in a French and Saunders sketch. World War One scenes became breast-beating at the Bastille!
Of course, the army (literally) of extras became a positive cattle-auction of totty for us, the red-blooded youth of the company and much fun was had by all until we reached Sadlers Wells in London at the end of the tour. For some reason, in this, the most high-profile of the venues, they saw fit to swell the ranks with extras from remand homes and out-patients wings - consequently we had to take extra care to lock up our dainties backstage and there was much walking into walls and screaming for Jesus ONSTAGE...
Gabrielle was a class act all the way, bravely going on throughout this long tour. Jeremy Clyde was visibly in shock the whole time, unsure who to trust onstage or off - suspecting us all, I think, of being tainted with the brush of the entire event.
But we had many many deep, scarring laughs - most of them ONSTAGE - and after a certain point in the tour (perhaps the fifth day) corpsing and existing in the alternative world of the outrageous became the constant sub-text of the piece.

Also, through this play I met the great Sir John Mills and his wonderful wife, having tea at their home on Denham, Buckinghamshire, where he let me hold his Oscar! (...the closest I'll ever get!) and again when they came to see us at Sadlers Wells with one of their talented daughters Juliet. I just couldn't get my thoughts around how many of my aspirations were embodied in this family. It sort of blew a little fuse in my head!

When the show finally ended in the late fall, I joined my parents in Scotland and enjoyed an extremely cozy 10 days in a remote cottage by a remote loch with no TV, just a fireplace, a bottle of ylang ylang and some sheep for amusement. Heaven.

I have to check the dates, but I think it was this Autumn that I finally got to join Annie Lennox for her song NO MORE I LOVE YOUs on TOP OF THE POPS, as one of her swans. I couldn't do the video because SHE LOVES ME wouldn't give me ONE day off - I should have just called in sick, silly arses! - anyway, one of the guys pulled out and I got to do it that one time. It was a riot. Annie Lennox was so considerate and kind and warm and I just wish she wasn't famous, we would have really hit it off. Met Bjork on set, a really sweet, fun girl, and it was extremely odd to be hanging out backstage with Mark from TAKE THAT! trying to engage in intelligent banter with this great guy, whilst in full drag....

1996. - DEFINITELY DORIS, DAMES AT SEA and A CHORUS LINE (90's-style!!)

In the spring I did a revue at the Kings Head, Islington - home of so many golden memories with WHOOP-DEE-DOO! This time it was a Doris Day revue called DEFINITELY DORIS, by a couple of writers from the USA. What could be lovelier than a 5-person revue (3 boys and 2 girls) about this wonderful woman and entertainer? - It turned out that a slow dance with the Boston strangler would have been just that lovelier thing.
It wasn't that the show was bad - it was quite sweet, with each of us pushing the plot of Miss Day's life forward by individually quoting her published sayings and thoughts, before launching into her material. It wasn't particularly strong, dramatically, however, and the writer's wife did get all the best songs...I got all the soppy stuff and I remember one rainy afternoon, I was plaintively downstage center, spotlight, delicately exuding...."I ASKED MY MOTHER, WHAT WILL I BE?.." when a slightly pissed voice cried out from the back of the house, " A POOF!", follwed by a scurrying of feet and a slamming of the door between the theatre and the adjoining pub. I spent the rest of the song trying to stem the gleeful laughter of an actor for once in complete agreement with this astute audience.
I have an abiding memory during the run of this show of having acute palpitations which worried me quite considerably. I knew something was wrong, but was in complete denial and put it out of my mind. In the rehearsal period I was also having terrible, excrutiating tooth-ache. One afternoon I could bear it no longer and walked out of rehearsal straight to my dentist's office and sat there until he performed a root-canal on me.
The one bad taste that the show left in my mouth that I can't rinse out to this day is how badly I got on with the show's Musical Director, Martin - agh! SOMETHING or other...I honestly can't remember his last name - but I'll add his name here when I remember it....anyway, we got along famously at first but by the time we opened, he was my arch enemy and I'm not sure where things went wrong. He was vindictive, completely dismissive of me and my talents and every night I would go home from the show practically in tears from some of the thing he said to me. For example, in front of the cast one day he announced, "I worry about John." When I asked the required, "Why?", he responded, "Well John, I worry what's going to become of you in this business?". Yes, I thought of him, quite understandably I think, as an absolute bastard. He was very small; that might have had something to do with it?...small people often like to bite me.

The show ran for either three or six weeks, I can't remember, and I thankfully went right away into rehearsals for DAMES AT SEA at the Ambassadors Theatre, where I was to play "Lucky".

Now, this was a good one...

With a first-rate cast, the show was so brief, but such a wonderful learning experience, working with a master (or mistress) of her craft - Kim Criswell was Mona, and her professionalism saved us from an inauspicious start, when we found that our director simply wasn't getting on with it. As time was of the essence, we bandied together and, with Kim at the helm, managed to get a hit out of a potential flop. Kim manages to expertly tread the delicate balance between diplomacy and willingness to speak out when necessary; of being 100% loving and supportive of her fellow performers (if they're good) but never taking any crap. We should all look up to her and respect this - all of it coming from love of people and the theatre. Lindsay Dolan's choreography was great and he was terrific to work with; very dry and kind. Sara Crowe was Joan to my Lucky - and, well, I could watch her all day. Her comic timing was side-splitting and she was the kindest, sweetest girl and so generous onstage, I kept wanting to just stop what we were doing and hug her.
I do remember a particularly venomous girl-swing on this show. Her husband was an actor who had always had his eye on me - and on anyone he felt threatened by for whatever reason - usually if they were good; he was DROP-DEAD gorgeous and he knew that all he needed was a wink and a grope to the right people and he'd be on his way to Hollywood...however his lovely wife would try, in the crassest, most unsubtle way, to wear "enemies" (such as me) down with little on-the-side commments like, in my case, "You're the only one letting the side down, Jonny" and (it was becoming an old party-piece by now) "What are you going to DO in the future?". I'm quite sure these two must have divorced by now, or done each other in...but I don't think either of them are tidy enough for that.

The show was part of the Covent Garden Summer Festival that year, and was such a success that they decided to continue on to an open-ended West End run. Unfortunately, they didn't have a penny for publicity - the Billboard at the front of the Ambassadors Theatre cost more than the set! - so we ran a total of three weeks. Nobody knew we were there!

But it was a lovely few weeks and from there I went into a 90's version of A CHORUS LINE at the Derby Playhouse, directed by Mark Clements. I played Paul San Marco, which was the role I'd always wanted to play, and it was a terrific production with a terrific cast. They altered some of the text, however, to bring it "up-to-date" and I think they might have done better not to mess with it. But still, the strength of the show came through and we all had such a passion for the piece. Mark Clements was a very nice, thorough director and we had a lot of fun picking Paul apart (my character). However, I'm not sure that replacing, "Robert Goulet, Robert Goulet, My GOD! Robert Goulet!" with "Patrick Swayze, Patrick Swayze, My God! Patrick Swayze" worked all that well...
In this production we had wonderful Jacqui Boatswain (we did SOPHISTICATED LADIES together - she's taller than me and we had to do the jitterbug every night with that round-the-world lift thing!) as Sheila and Josefina Gabrielle, who I shared a house with, as Maggie. We had a gorgeous landlady who smoked continuously and very elegantly, and would hold exhibitions for local artists in the living-room. The whole house was filled with art and we would often come home from the show to fabulous left-over dishes from the said exhibitions, with a note that we were to eat everything or it would be thrown away. Lilies filled the house too, and they are now my favourite flower, even though they're supposed to be only for funerals.
Revues were all excellent and lots of London people came to see us. It was nice to primp and preen after the show in front of all the people who hated us for being in it.

After this was all done with, James Gray, David Alder and I took ourselves off to Crete for a week of sun, great food and nescafe with evaporated milk on the beach (The Crete National Drink) whilst lighting a fire to the Goddess Nicotina!

At the end of the year I actually dived back into CATS for 9 weeks, playing my old faithful, 'Skimbleshanks'. It was lovely to be "home" and it would prove to be the last time. But it was a little sad to see how the role had been eroded by years of being played by people who weren't triple threats....most of his dancing had been delegated to other characters and he no longer was at the helm in the Jellicle Ball - he spent most of it on the boot! - but it suited me really, as I needed all my energy for daytime rehearsals for the "real" production of A CHORUS LINE, which was going out on a UK tour at the beginning of 1997.
It was also very cool to be able to waddle home at night; I was at this time living with James Gray in Great Ormond Street, right opposite the childrens' hospital.

1997: - A CHORUS LINE - UK Tour. My last British musical...

Rehearsals with Baayork Lee started in January, in Soho, London, while I was still doing CATS.

Baayork was the original "Connie Wong" and had the legacy of maintaining and producing all major productions of the show after Michael Bennett passed on. She's the real deal alright! - The warm-up alone before rehearsals began was boot-camp. An hour of intense cardio-stretch-technique-jogging-you-name-it. I rolled up on day one at 10am on the nose, thinking there'd be a nice display of cookies and coffee for us all, while we sat through the usual crap that they always do on day one. No - it was, "Come on John, it's 10am, get your jazz-shoes on, let's GO!" - which is actually just how I like it, but the one time I ASSUME it'll be as it usually is, it ISN'T!...
With doing CATS too, at night, for the first 3 weeks of rehearsal, I was so pooped at the end of the day that I was too tired to sleep. I had terrible insomnia and even resorted to sitting up at 3 am getting blotto on scotch to try to knock myself out. But despite all this I seemed to be fine and just kept going. Determination and denial...my drinking buddies.

Well, Baayork is the unsullied, original, A CHORUS LINE. You are being directed as Michael Bennett would direct you, with all his conceptions and intentions intact. So I just relaxed (!!) and went with the ride. I played Paul San Marco, a very challenging and exciting role and I think I did pretty good. We spent much of 1997 touring the UK with the show and having a blast. Being now in the States, I miss a lot of those wonderul British theatres. They truly are the real thing...Bradford, Birmingham, Manchester, Brighton, blah....blah...all of 'em. I miss it.

But, today, I could never go back.
I suppose, as far as they are all concerned I'm sort of dead now. It'd be a bit of an anti-climax to be resurrected and turn up at auditions again in London. No, I think this year of 1997 did mark the final chapter in that whole section of my life. Tony Blair came into power, ridding the country of years of terrible Tory corruption. This was followed by Princess Diana's death. These two very significant events both contributed to making this a year of clear endings and, yes, I suppose beginnings for me personally.
When Diana died, I wanted to do something to show her/the universe how sorry I was. All I could think of to do, was that on the day of her funeral I pinned a simple black ribbon to everybody's "One" costume, so that for the finale we all looked very dapper and respectful in our golden finale costumes with the subtle, black satin ribbon pinned to our hearts. That was a very sombre day.

1998: Planning my escape

This was a year of sticking to my guns and being focused. Luckily, I had two separate offers of employment, both in New York, so it involved me spending the year organising the logistics of getting a green card to work over there (which is now over here).

I did only one job this year - work prospects seemed particularly thin and I got terribly down about my whole existance. It's terribly hard for an actor; for my part, I put so much of my soul, my very being into my work (sometimes!!), and doing Paul in A CHORUS LINE for an entire year was completely demanding in every way, but particularly emotionally; it being such a very intense character. To say nothing of the vague expectations that were subtley put out there regarding where the show might go this time around and what it could do for my career, etc, etc - I should have seen THAT coming by this stage of the game. But always a part of you cries out for the recognition and "success" that has always been just around the corner, so that little part of me was, once again, in mourning. All I did this year was a four week cruise on the QE2 with Gillian Humphries and her merry gang, singing songs from the shows, the operettas and a mini-version of HMS Pinafore, in which I perhaps rather foolishly played Sir Joseph Porter.

But it was such a fun cruise. Very civilised and I really loved Gilllian and her sense of sophistication in her shows. We went to Mumbay, which was astonishing and I wanted to stay for months. The cruise ended in Jordan, where we were unceremoniously dumped at the port and then held hostage by some rather mean-looking soldiers until we could prove who we were. We were at the gate for a good 45 minutes, thinking that we were going to be sold off as white slaves (no such luck!), when we came up with the perfect idea to prove that we were merely innocent entertainers....we got together and serenaded them with a barbershop quartet. The meaness fell from their faces and they giggled, beamed and applauded. Hands were shaken and we were amicably shown out of the port and to our flights back to Blighty.

The rest of this year was tedium for me. I just wandered around, wishing I was anything but a washed up hoofer in London.

No worries, I was soon to be a washed up hoofer in New York...

In October, with the Green card in place, I started my move over to New York. After very little time, I learned that one of the jobs was not going to happen. I immediately wondered why the hell I was here in this very aggressive, soulless town, all alone with no damn job.

I lived in Queens, which was frustrating for me as I was still immature enough to want to be right there in Manhattan, where if I turned around at just the right moment a great gig might whisk me up as it passed. Yup, I still had much to learn. However, I must say that where I lived in Queens was indeed rather ghastly. I cater-waitered for a while, until it wore me down too much and I just decided to go home for Christmas and think about what I wanted to do with my self.

1999: - My first American gig

I arrived back in New York after a particularly cozy family Christmas, with a bad case of the flu, in the middle of a snow storm and with the demanding job of being Baayork Lee's assistant on a re-vamping of a Marx Brothers musical, the name of which thankfully escapes me, for Arena Stage in DC. I was in a bad way, but not wanting Baayork to think me a loser, I said nothing and dragged myself around like a half-dead salmon for a few weeks, doing her challenging warm-ups, working out her wonderful choreography, researching the original show in the archives and going home (I was now in my dear friend Marcia Madeira's apt on West 72nd Street) and passing out. I had managed to get an agent in New York, who had gotten me an audition for a late addition to the upcoming US National Tour of Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall's CABARET, which was then on Broadway. I got the job, as the stand-by to the Emcee, being played by Norbert Leo Butz. Now THAT is beginner's luck!
Baayork was so kind and told me that of course I had to go and do it.

Suddenly, in February, I was on a plane to LA to begin learning this amazing show - and knowing that when I landed, I would have to get into a rental car and drive myself to my apartment....I had never driven a car in the US before, I had no clue about LA and I was practically incontinent with terror - not about the damn show, but about getting into a car and turning that key!

I had never experienced such a thing as this tour before. I had just done a #1 tour in the UK of A CHORUS LINE, but we were shamefully never treated as well as this.

I was the stand-by to the Emcee, I was given a beeper and did not have to be in the theatre, once we had been open a while and things had settled down, unless I was actually on for the role. So, for the rest of 1999, I PARTIED!...I conscientiously ran through the show by myself every day, which in my mind earned me the right to do what the hell I wanted to for the rest of the day. I went sightseeing like there was no tomorrow. This was my golden opportunity to see this new country. Norbert was very tired a lot of the time, with a wife and kid on the road with him, so he was consequently out quite a bit – and I was tucking away a ton of money into the bank. In November of 1999, I got a little sure of myself financially and put the whole stash that I had earned for the year in the hands of a naïve (or crooked – I’ll never know which) broker from Prudential, who invested everything I had into things like MCI and all those big, bent corporations who crashed literally 2 months later – I lost around $40,000. Ah what the hell. It’s only money. I was having fun and making new friends, who cares?

Our first Sally Bowles on the National Tour was Teri Hatcher. At this time, she was post-Batman and Robin, or whatever it was she was in on TV, ( I don’t bloody know!) but pre-Desperate Housewives. Teri was, let me say, an extraordinary actress, and unbelievable in the role of Sally, but she was SO insecure. She had no confidence in her divine talents. The LA press crucified her (all political, of course – Teri had obviously made enemies with the worst people in that town) and, unfortunately, she took all of that very personally. She just shut down, got on with her job (brilliantly!) but it took her almost the entire six months that she was in the show to open up to cast members. She was so painfully shy. This, of course, brought out my innate passion for the underdog and I just fell HOPELESSLY in love with her. Because I was not performing a lot of the time, I would often stay in the theatre and run round to the house at certain points in the show, in order to watch Teri do certain scenes. This woman was a genius onstage. Electrifying. I would cry just looking at her, she didn’t even have to do anything to exude that certain “something extra”. By the way, when she eventually did relax enough to “join the company” as-it-were, she revealed the sensitive little angel that she truly is, and there wasn't any longer the need for singing the parody of "Don't Tell Mama" that the wardrobe guys and I made up...("Mama, thinks I'm talking to the chorus"...). I utterly adore her (from afar-it’s always safer that way, I’ve learned in life) and that she has now found this career resurgence is justice for a beautiful person who is totally dedicated to her craft and who simply feels life very deeply – which of course is how she comes to be one of the greatest actresses we have. I only wish she would do Ibsen or something on stage, just because she damn well could!

1999 was a very wonderful year for me, but very strange too; being in this new country, leaving all those years of career in London behind me without a thought - I just walked away.

But really, life is a journey and I have to keep moving along as I go through it, even if I'm moving backwards - as I very often am!

To this day I often wonder why I came to this country. It's still a weird place to me, with opinions and customs so alien to my laid-back, British demeanour. But I'm here and so I just get on with it!

2000 - As the Emcee in CABARET across the USA

Norbert Butz left the show and I took over as the Emcee. What a fun way to see the country.
During the next sixteen months we played around 60 cities across the USA. I was near to dropping for a lot of it, but I kept going like an old cumudgeon and didn't miss any performances.

I got to see most of the cities I had heard about as a kid from all those American movies...over 60 cities. I began to take note; St. Louis wasn't quite the romantic, turn-of-the-century town from "MEET ME IN ST.LOUIS"... In Richmond Virginia it was practically impossible to buy a phone-card anywhere, to call Europe, because when trying to explain that I needed to call outside the USA - to call abroad - I was told that they had never heard of a place called "abroad"...Most "downtowns" across this country were burned-out corpses of once frequented city-centres, long-since abandoned for out-of-town malls and safety from one-another; these downtowns now good only for the rotting yet still living cadavars of America's biggest legacy-it's underclass. The country amazed me over and over, for it is a breathtaking example of natural beauty and it is the ultimate example of how man can evolve into a perpetual state of whining adolescence, given a social structure with enough greed, complacency and complete lack of any common belief - other than its own entitlement to be assumed the #1 position on the planet without having to lift a finger to earn it.
America truly awed me.

I did come across some wonderful people though. No matter where you are, you will find at least a handful of independant-minded people and I clung - and still cling - to these ernestly.

Playing the bible states was such fun; as soon as my fist approached Hanz' butt in the "TWO LADIES" number, we could hear the mass "clump, clump" of theatre seats being evacuated as the red necks fled from the theatre. I was so proud to be able to help to drive these people away.

Sam Mendes came to see us in Chicago, the first time that he had ventured to see the touring production of his truly revelatory version of CABARET. He asked me, in my dressing-room after the show, if we often played theatres as vast as this (The newly refurbished Palace Theatre). When I answered that he should see the Fox theatre in Atlanta, or St. Louis, he just buried his head in his hands. I felt he might have tried to be a little more supportive. After all, we were, as a cast, frankly so much better than his New York company, and I thought he might be quite grateful to us, actually. Not quite so: In his notes after that night's performance, which he gave to the company in the house afterwards, I came out of it relatively undamaged, in fact with maybe even a little polite encouragement. This encouragement wasn't extended quite so graciously across the board. One of our principle ladies - a brilliant and HIGHLY respected actress, to whom, shall we say, he gave some very intense notes - described his fleeting visit to the show as a "drive-by shooting".

Wonderful.

But I thought he had lovely hands.

2001: More CABARET, Sept 11, and a dicky heart.

The tour culminated in a fantastic month playing in Tokyo, where we were greeted by rock star fanatacism (silently, which was very strange to us). The audiences would hardly clap at all during the show and we assumed they hated us, but at the curtain calls they stood, clapped rhythmically and steadily...and clapped...and clapped - we had to extend the calls by 5 minutes, they just wouldn't quit! - They were an enchanting audience to play for.

After Tokyo, BAM! - we were flown back to New York and, after two and a half years of giving one's very SOUL - shoved out of the bus on 45th and 8th, without even a goodbye kiss.

The next few weeks I spent almost paralysed. I'd been just as away from New York since I arrived in the USA as if I'd stayed in bleedin' London! No contacts, nobody gave a flying fumble in a farmer's fishnets!

I became very faint-hearted and did audition after audition and got no after no. My resume counted for nothing. My Englishness, however, counted for a lot - as in, "Why don't you piss off home!".

I did audition for the Broadway revival of ROCKY HORROR, which I actually got, as understudy to Riff Raff, but good God! - I couldn't sing that stuff! - it goes up to a B or something...well, in the audition, I flagelated my way through the song, (..."but not for very much lo-onger..." - ouch!) and as I hit - or rather bitch-slapped - that high, high, note, a violent jet of blood spurted from my nose, all down my clothes,my chin and my esteem. I cared so little for life at this point that I just kept singing. The damage done, I scarpered - throwing all the audition sides into the trash on 50th and Eighth as I ran for cover, and promptly thought nothing more of that days events (LIES!). They called the next day and offered me the job! - I politely said no.

I had no idea that you don't say no to Broadway shows....

I say no to whatever I want to mate, and this is why Bernard Telsey has never hired me since, poor luv.

Soon, my faint-heartedness started to manifest itself again quite literally. After being fine during my Emcee period....my heart was getting quite wobbly again and sometimes I just couldn't get out of bed. I thought I was just depressed. I was beginning to hate New York, all I could see were its over-pretentious wannabees trying to be as precocious and rude as their limited imaginations could muster. I couldn't see the joy.

Finally, I plucked up the courage to get my heart checked out. After lots of ghastly tests and scary bills, I was told that I had a hole in the heart that I had been born with. If I didn't have this repaired within the next two years I would see a substantiloa decline in my health and would be dead by around 50.

I said, "Do it tomorrow!"

2002: A CHORUS LINE again, this time in St. Louis - + CABARET on Broadway + Frustration + The 1st COHAN show

This was a year of hospitals, tests, irritation and frustration.

However, I had a wonderful time doing A CHORUS LINE for one last time, this time for the brilliant Mitzi Hamilton, who was the original inspiration for the role of "Val" and who played the role for many years, including in the original London company. Mitzi inspired and excited me in every possible way. She should be directing the RSC, she is a genius.

In this wonderful production, assembled in 2 weeks, my partner John Salvatore was "Bobby" and brought the house down with his monologue. I was "Paul" again and we played the 10,000 seat Muni in St. Louis. Amazing experience.

Right after this, I went into the Broadway company of CABARET, to replace Vance Avery temporarily, as the Emcee understudy for all the random sit-com and soap stars that came and went in that role at Studio 54 by that time in the long run.

This time around, I was too pre-occupied with my impending operation and just couldn't see the joy in being part of a long running show. But this show was unique and fascinating, because of the volume of "celebrity" traffic cast in the starring roles. I was transfixed by how a "star" would enter, acknowledge their rapturous applause, and then carry on with the scene. I stayed for barely 3 months and then took a NON-PAYING GIG that was to become, with patience and time, a wonderful, rewarding experience - the first incarnation of the George M. Cohan shows.

I was in a very reflective, self-evaluating frame of mind because of all my doctors and hospital visits, and needed to mix with hungry actors, like myself, not satisfied, fed actors, temporarily out of the cycle of hunger which was all I identified with or wanted to socialise within at that time.

Once out of CABARET, I began working on the non-paid off-Broadway gig for Chip Deffaa, a former theatre critic for the New York Post, about the life and times of George M. Cohan, entitled, "GEORGE M. COHAN - IN HIS OWN WORDS". it was a 16-man show in which I played Mr Cohan and was a fun, if slightly rambling romp through this amazing man's life. We played the Chashama Theatre off Times Square (since demolished) and we actually got a rave in the Post! The musical director was the genius Sterling Price-McKinney. He has an intrinsic understanding for the vaudeville style; just where it needs to impact the emotions and between the two of us we came up with some great arrangements and endings for a lot of the Cohan greats for Chip. This show was just the beginning of a Cohan feast for me.

2003: Laid low...

The many tests that I had been having over the last few months finally made it clear to me and to the doctors that I needed to address this heart problem and have it operated on sooner rather than later.

They had discovered that I had been born with a hole in the heart and it was now becoming symptomatic; which was a pretty good sign that serious trouble was a finite number of years away. (They told me that leave it and I would be dead by the age of 50.) So, I arranged to have the operation immediately.

A few days before the operation, I went into the studio to record some numbers for possible release on an album of works by gay writers for Chip Deffaa. I recorded about 5 songs, the fondest for me being a gorgeous arrangement by Sterling Price-McKinney (who also played) of Noel Coward's IF LOVE WERE ALL, with both verses and choruses. We did it in one take at the very end of the late night session and it worked so beautifully, I think because I thought it might be the last time I ever sang.

I went in on February 12th of 2003.

I remember them strapping me onto the operating table and as they gave me the anaesthetic, thinking if this is it, then I'm relieved. Isn't that MORBID?

However, recovery was a BITCH from that one - much worse than a pinched knee, though not, perhaps, as unpleasant as making small talk with a casting director. As soon as I came round I threw up and nearly choked on my vomit - just as if I HAD been making small talk with a casting director!....to come all that way and then have that happen would have been rather like going through seven auditions for Anthony Van Laast and then wind up actually having to do the job!

The night after the op, in the recovery room, I was perched at a 70º angle to relieve the pressure from my chest. I was high as a kite and not really sleeping and kept thinking that I was nailed to a crucifix and looking down on the earth; like that Dali painting of Jesus.

Oh, my ego...

But, even though my body was taking forever to recover, my mind wasn't taking any crap. After two weeks, I was crawling up the stairs of Chelsea Studios to wheeze my way through auditions for a production of FUNNY GIRL in Pittsburgh. I think I scared the hell out of them! I could see "litigation" in their frightened eyes.

After three weeks I was back in the emergency room with what seemed like a heart attack, but was in fact, a somewhat expected reaction to the trauma of the operation that patients often experience at that point.

After seven weeks I was back in Bikram yoga classes. I had decided that if I was going down I was going down SCREAMING. A week or so later, I tried to add a ballet barre to this, at Steps Studios. This is the point at which I had to reluctantly back off and be more realistic.

In truth, I couldn't really fight nature's natural speed of recovery and, although it came in waves, I was pretty much not able to function for over two years.

Much later this year, I was able to perform in a new 8-man show about George M. called THE GEORGE M. COHAN REVUE. This was so much fun, with most of the old cast reunited. We did it at Dannys Skylight Room on 46th street and revues were pretty good. I was in a window period of good recovery and took advantage of that.

2004: - Slowly getting back to functioning level

This is the first year of my life where I have little memory of what happened or what I did. I don't think I'm losing my mind, I just think that I'm getting less wrapped up in mentally categorising each segment of my existance.

I did one job this year, I think that's all I did....it was an old show called HAVE A HEART which I did for "Musicals Tonight" down on 14th Street. It was a lot of fun, I got to work with wonderful James Patterson, but not much more about it has stuck, I'm afraid.


I vacationed with my Mum and dad in Scotland in September, although, come to think of it, I think that was 2003! - because I was still healing and so medicated that I dropped off for 10 minute naps throughout each day.

NO idea what I did....I remember being in London with my partner John and we were watching THE WOMAN IN BLACK. Though a riveting play, I was asleep by the third scene. I woke up at intermission and exclaimed, "Oh look Johnnie, they're coming round with ice-creams, just like they do in London". "Baby", Johnnie said, "...we ARE in London!" - yes I was a bit bewildered right up until the day I decided that the drugs they had me on and were draining my pocket for, were keeping me in a semi-invalid state. So I took a month and weened myself completely off them all. Now I'm just on aspirin and much better for it!

Oh yes! - and I did do another show this year; in the summer I did a couple of months as the Emcee again in a re-construction of the Broadway version of CABARET, this time at the Westchester Broadway Theatre. Always great to do this amazing show, though driving up to Tarrytown every day from the city is a little tedious.

But the main thing is that I was back up and running and my heart was doing its job again-at least physically!

Also, with all that make-up you couldn't see the scar!

A footnote to this year: I have just remembered that I did a month's stint on the QE2, doing I think 3 diffferent shows of "songs from the shows". We rehearsed in London and then went out to Sydney, Australia, to join the ship. I had a glorious week in Sydney, exploring this magnificent city on my own. Now THIS is a town and culture that I think I'd thrive in. The people are kind, but up-front and candid. Generous and open...wonderful country, wonderful people. Not so wonderful though, were the two nellies that I was working for. They put these very lovely shows together, hired the best people they knew and then resented them for being good enough to take the shows off the page. They were too dumb to realise that you can't posess a piece beyond the writing of it. When good people get a hold of it they will make it fly - and fly it away from the creators. They were true idiots both. Well perhaps not idiots, perhaps just scared like the rest of us. I couldn't care less. I think they've both gone into real estate now anyway.

Funny, though, how it took me all these months to recall the gig at all!

2005: - The first try out of the one-man COHAN show + classes in LA + Xmas show in Westchester

My partner John went away on the HAIRSPRAY tour, so I took myself off to LA to do some fun classes for a couple of months. I enjoy LA, though the traffic is hell. I spent much of this year visiting John on the road all over the country, and working on a new Cohan show for Chip, this time a one-man show. Much of my time in LA was spent in coffee bars learning the scripts that Chip would send me.

We did the first try out in August in Milwaukee, at the annual IrishFest, in a massive tent which seated about 1000 people. I was terrified, and my heart was playing up quite badly, but I didn't say anything to Chip and we were a big hit. The audiences were reacting in a way that they hadn't done with the previous versions of the show. We all suspected that this might be the one that would fly.

Later that month we took the show to New York to try it out-to Danny's Skylight Room once again. It went down very well indeed and reviews were universally outstanding.

This all came at the same time as my receiving a Bistro Award for last year's GEORGE M. COHAN REVUE, which was a nice surprise.

Also in the fall and right up to Christmas, I did the Westchester Broadway Theatre Christmas show, called IT HAPPENED ONE CHRISTMAS EVE. Well, if it really happened one Christmas Eve, I wish someone had warned me and I'd have gotten out of the way.
They say - and in this case it's so true - that the worse the material, the more fun you have as a cast; all coming together to overcome the desperate circumstances. Well, we stuck together like GLUE to get through this one, oh boy it was a stinker! A poignant story about a boarding house spanning the same characters over 30 + years, as the festive seasons come and go and their lives take the paths that lives take, was marred only - well, not only - by the f+++ing awful choice of songs chosen to "further the plot...."White Christmas", "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like...", "Silent Night" oh, it was just AWFUL. The more touching the moment, the harder our stifled mirth. I found myself slipping into utter hysteria as the weeks went by. By the end, all control was lost and it was a case of trying to get through the day without getting fired, or arrested!

It's a shame that I spent the previous year making them love me at that theatre with CABARET, and this year probably making them vow never to have me near the place again!

Oh well, can't help that...never look back and NEVER apologise.

2006; - GEORGE M. COHAN TONIGHT! at the Irish Rep + CABARET in Ogunquit, Maine + ROCKY HORROR in Worcester Mass.

Nice busy year - just wish the money was better...

Starting the year was a jewel; our show, GEORGE M. COHAN TONIGHT! ( I call it "our show" because I love it so deeply and Chip Deffaa is generous enough to allow me my artistic input) made it to the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York, on 22nd Street.

I can't say enough words of love about Ciaran and Charlotte, who run the place. Their talent and love and dedication and generosity are what life should be all about. They re-set standards in my head; of performance, expectations and love of life and work. I have to say, for all the shits I've had to endure over the years, they more than made up for it with their constant, CONSTANT drive and openness.

I had the honor of meeting a lot of admirable people, as they came to see the show, notably Donna McKechnie and Elaine Stritch, who regailed me afterwards backstage with her anecdotes and tips on how to keep this particular show aimed forward. She completely fascinated me.

A casting director will always tell you that it is their "job" to see people in performance and to always tell them when you are doing something that is a good vehicle for you. But none of them would come to see the show. Not one. In fact one of them, who casts MARY POPPINS and...well most of the big "machine" shows, replied when asked if she'd like to attend a performance, "I've seen his work". Nice.

Of course, being true to myself, why would I care to entertain someone for 90 minutes that I would not invite to dinner?

From that moment I learned a very valuable lesson and now, I'm picky about auditioning for some of these people. Thank God I'm my own boss and have the courage and stubbornness to do my own sweet thing - it has put me in a position where, at least for now, I don't need to kiss their butts! - of course, they are welcome to kiss mine!...

My summer this year was spent in Ogunquit, Maine, recreating once again, the Mendes revival of CABARET, as the Emcee. Our Sally was once again gorgeous Andrea McCardle, who I would do anything for, she is a PISTOL and one of the greats. My beautiful Stacey Sipowicz was also in the show again, as was Penny Ann Maas and quite a few of the old National Tour and Broadway people, so it was a jolly old time had by all. BT McNicholl put us all togetheras director and it was another incredible experience, which this show could never fail to provide.

In the Fall I went to Worcester, MA, to play Frank'n'Furter in THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW. What a riot!! I definitely want to do this again - though the main fear factor is NOT falling off those high, HIGH heels, a la Naomi Campbell. Luckily, I was saved from that ordeal this time around, but every show was an unpredictable romp and a heightened, ultra-camp experience. We were all on a constant natural high, doing this and it was just pure fun. Scariest part was my first entrance, coming UP from under the stage on a trap, (as opposed to DOWN in an "elevator" as in other productions and the movie) - they didn't have a trap door at the Foothills Theatre, so they got out the electric saw, cut a hole in the middle of the stage and built one.....I was pulled up by one of the crew, with one rope, a plank and a lot of "OH F**CK!"'s from both of us! - I literally couldn't come on for laughing...sometimes I'd appear at a 45˙ angle!

After ROCKY HORROR, I went right into a month of GEORGE M. COHAN TONIGHT! at the same theatre. I think some of the Massachusetts audiences were a little confused that it was the same person who was being all song-and-dance-man-ish that had only the week before been careering around in spiked heels and a corset, trying to bed a sexy male that he had made for himself out of various cadavers.

Later in the Fall, we took the Cohan show to Rochester, NY, to the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, where I performed it in the cabaret circuit for the weeks leading down to Christmas. I had a lovely time visiting churches and museums, enjoying the wonderful art house movie theatre there and every cozy coffee bar in Rochester…..and, of course, the snow…oh, and a company car that you had to squeeze into via the passenger side because the driver’s side door was stuck shut – oh glamour!

2007: - Lots of COHAN, + "THE WORLD GOES ROUND"

This year sprang into action as soon as I got back from my annual Christmas visit home to England and the bosom...
The day after I landed back in NYC, I was off again to Rochester, NY to do another three weeks of "George M. Cohan Tonight!" at the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre. Rochester is so cozy in the winter and I loved the audiences and theatre folk alike...and, most importantly, Rochester has GREAT coffee bars!
As soon as I was done there I was off to Waterbury Connecticut, to the Seven Angels Theatre. Semina de Laurentis, who runs the theatre, is a sweetheart; so kind and accommodating, as well as astute andcanny about what works and what doesn't. the theatre was a roller-rink back in the seventies and you can still see the wheel tracks in the auditorium floor. The housing was haunted, too, which was cool! I played the COHAN show there for a month, until the end of February.
Then came a succession of one-off and short-run gigs of Cohan in places like North Brookfield, Mass, where Cohan had performed at the town hall, (They very kindly had me go there and ring the town hall bell for good luck and to evoke the spirits), and a very exciting performance at the famous ten thousand seat Garden State Arena in New Jersey where I did a one-off concert of Cohan on a beautiful sunny afternoon in June. It was thrilling to perform the show here with a band beefed up with a brass section. The show had an intermission for the first time and it seemed to work so well here; though I sweated buckets! - I was very careful of the downstage area though, as this is the venue where, not long after its opening in 1968, Judy Garland did a concert here and fell off the stage - and I can see how this might be easy to do; the stage pans way off to each side, but thins out to literally only a couple of feet in depth at one point - very precarious. I kept clear - downstage centre is where I stayed, mate! ..
There was also one very dodgy gig that we played with the Cohan show in a high school auditorium somewhere hideous in New Jersey; the biggest parking lot in the world. We got through the show and the criminal booker disappeared without paying Chip for the gig. He later openly admitted that he did it as a vendetta because I had earlier turned him down for a booking. It made me laugh so hard! - partly because I still got paid by Chip, and also because I truly love that I am being put into all these colourful (spelled properly, the English way) situations with the different places that book me. Sure beats rotting away in Mary Poppins!...and that rogue booker, well, let's just say that I'll know him when I see him...
I had a lovely few weeks playing Cohan in Stoneham, Mass. which is practically a suburb of Boston, a one-nighter at the beautiful Memorial Hall in Wilmington, Vermont, which my parents, who were in the States on vacation, came to and two separate six-week engagements at the Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs, Florida.
In between the latter two engagements, I did a month in September/October in the Kander & Ebb revue THE WORLD GOES ROUND at the Foothills Theatre, Massachusetts. I got to sing MR CELLOPHANE, SARA LEE and dodge the pimps and druggies that lurked in the stairwell, hallways and lobby of the company housing. (to be contd...)

2008: HALF A SIXPENCE (Twice!)-and SONG MAN DANCE MAN

This year began with the "Musicals Tonight!" version of "Half a Sixpence" up on West 76th Street. It was great fun- very basic, no sets, we held the scripts in our hands, even though we didn't really need them, but this is the style of the "forgotten Musicals" - kind of shows and it's a wonderful way to get to see musicals that you only hear of as sort of folk-lore. I was quite excited, because I knew that coming up for me was a full-blown version of the same show up at Godspeed Opera House, who are famous for their productions of first-class quality that often transfer to either New York or to major tours.....well!.... To start, we were all aware that it was a piece from 1966, not designed to break any new ground in the musical genre, that it was a vehicle for the incredible Tommy Steele and that America wearies of British musicals and things too, well, British, period. From that disadvantage, the plusses were that taking all that into account, the piece is charming, innocent, colorful and has some adorable and by now standard songs to enjoy...and, screw it, I was in it, Goddamn it!

The first hurdle was the intricate, INTRICATE choreography - and everything was choreographed - which, incidentally is one of the "joy" factors of going to see a traditional musical. But the volume of work to learn was massive and I ain't 22 anymore! However, Patti Columbo was an angel - and a patient one too. She was very supportive and her work was glorious to watch - not glorious to do, for me, because it had to be worked - CRANKED - into my body in rehearsal, at lunch, at dinner, in the laundromatte, in the supermarket, the car, in bed....I was doing her work in more places than I've done some of my lovers! But it went in and despite being left with sudden-onset arthritis, I'm all the better for the experience.

I must say too, that some of the dancers were fabulous, exciting and lovely people too., as were some of the actors; who couldn't swoon at the thought of working with talents and hearts as big as Donna English, or Julia Osborne? Everybody on the production team was kind and fun and so on the game. John Mercutio, the wardrobe supervisor there for years, is probably the best in the business. His generosity of spirit got me through on bad days.

...and what came of that show was a wonderful thing.
In the audience one day was a lady by the name of Mary Wright and her husband Tot, who loved the show so much that she brought her lovely Mom and we all became friends. She asked me to write a show and perform it up in Jamestown RI in November. So I did. It helped distract me from having to socialize with the toxic "Sixpence" school-gang. I wrote a show which I called "SONG MAN DANCE MAN" which is a celebration of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Charles Aznavour, Sammy Davis Jr, George M Cohan and Anthony Newley. I just wrote about what I wanted to hear - what I enjoyed about these people. funnilly enough, I discovered that even if you write something, you still have to learn it if it's you performing. But, I pulled it off and Jamestown went down like a dream! So I thought I'd just shove it on once in New York for my friends. Suddenly reviews came out that my MUM might have written! - So, I'm at this moment busily trying to make improvements and cuts and extensions - then next year maybe I'll do it some more - and some more.....

2009 - SONG MAN DANCE MAN, SOPHISTICATED LADIES and SINGIN' IN THE RAIN

2009 began with a freezing week of performing “Song Man Dance Man” at the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre in Rochester, NY.
Freezing, January and a 1980’s company car with an emergency brake that was forever “on”, was a colorful and fun way to start the year.
At this point I had Sammy Davis Jr and Charles Aznavour in the show. I dropped them both and replaced them with Bobby Darin for subsequent gigs this year, only to bring Sammy back and add Donald O’Connor for the fall season at Seven Angels theatre in Waterbury, CT. The show is in constant evolution, which keeps it and me fresh and enthusiastic.

Some more New York gigs of my show followed in the spring, with some wonderful people coming to see it at the Triad Theatre on Broadway/72nd St, including Rex Reed, who was nice enough to give me a lovely review too.

In May, I did “Sophisticated Ladies” at Gateway Playhouse in…oh God knows where that is, but it was pretty – somewhere near Fire Island they say, though I never went. I just got on a train and went to the theatre. I was playing the SAME ROLE I played in the West End EIGHTEEN years previously. Now that’s either quite some achievement, or perhaps more likely, quite some sad ageing slapper! I had a ball though, due entirely to Jennifer Byrne, who played opposite to me (we were the “Bli-Blip”/”Satin Doll” couple) and I reveled in her both offstage, cos she is a funny adorable doll, and onstage, cos she is so alarmingly talented. There were aspects being there that were less favorable, but nonetheless amusing….musicals seem to come with all sorts of intrigue and idle chatter – every word of which I hang onto and report back to my partner, who knows most of these people of old and can fill me in on why they behave that way – I need it all explained to me, if only to try to encourage me to care!
It was nice to work with Chett Walker on that show. It was a masterclass for me. His idea for “Everything But You” sounded good but sort of unattainable. I never really thought it felt as good as I hoped it would – until I saw a video of the number a few months later and thus saw it as an audience member. Chett had taken the number, stretched it out, done away with the broom and made it a tap solo/jam tap session with the band. It worked brilliantly. Looking at it I’m glad I was compliant to it at the time because the impact of the number took me by surprise as well, which gave the whole number a freshness that I might not have been able to come up with if I’d been a "so grateful”. As you get older being excited and grateful just gets in the way of being good.

The main bulk of summer I spent in Ogunquit, Maine playing Cosmo Brown in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN at the Ogunquit Playouse. It was pure joy. Great material, GREAT cast and NICE people. We got stellar reviews and it was a joy to spend another summer in this beautiful Maine seaside resort.

Right after this I took the show onto a transatlantic crossing from Southampton to New York. I have no idea what the name of the ship was but the food was great and the people were curmudgeonly...It was so great to travel from home (My Mum and Dad's house in Eastbourne), get on the ship and be dropped off at home (My apt in NYC!)...I don't know if I could do too many ships without going doolally, but that was certainly a fun thing to do.

The late Fall/Winter saw the first theatrical production of my show "Song Man Dance Man" at the Seven Angels Theatre, Waterbury, CT. Semina de Laurentis is the Artistic Director of this theatre (she was the original Sister Amnesia in "Nunsense") and she co-directed this production with me. It was incredibly well received but it proved rather too demanding for me physically - I created a MONSTER! - and I ended up in hospital for 5 days a week before we were supposed to close. This was the first time bare-knuckled determination just wasn't enough to get me through. Although if the doctors hadn't literally strapped me to the bed I'd have checked myself out and finished the run, despite the doctors' warning that if I did I could drop dead...very comforting.

As soon as I could function again I went back and completed the run after Christmas.

2010 - A break to get well and more SONG MAN...

So the year began with finishing up my run of "Song Man Dance Man" at the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury CT (The glamorous town where I saw a woman taking a dump in the street...) I got through the week this time - they were gracious enough to invite the audience to come back in january when I would be better and fit to perform again. I made damn sure I could finish the run, though I wasn't healed yet. I took a couple more months out afterwards, resting at home with my partner in Las Vegas.

When I'd had enough of that I thought I'd speed up the recovery process (or die!) by doing a nine-week teacher training course for Bikram yoga, which happened to be taking place this year in Las Vegas. It was a nine-week intensive course, where you did two classes a day in the brutal 105 degree, 40% humidity that makes this yoga beneficial. I was dreading - or apprehensive - about that aspect of the course, but in reality, the classes were a welcome escape from the craziness, the often fascinating lectures, Bollywood movies (!), but absurd behavior of some of the strange (at least they were trying to appear that way...) assistants and helpers. But I took a back seat, made no attempt to be anybody's buddy said only two words to Bikram (thank you) the whole time, just learned the stuff quietly in the corner, got what I needed and when it was over turned around and left.

Oooooh it was weird, but now I enjoy teaching people the yoga whenever I can and helping them improve their health by using yoga with weight training and discouraging them from letting anything, including Bikram yoga, take over their lives. Everything in moderation, even - and in my opinion especially - medicine...and Bikram yoga is a healing medicine. My partner is an amazing and highly respected Bikram yoga instructor and a lot of people expect me to live up to his reputation.
I soon put them straight.

I survived the training though, physically, and managed to take my show "Song Man Dance Man" out of the drawer, dust it off and take it on another ship, this time touring the Greek Isles and Italy, France and Eastern Europe. I loved the places we visited and it for a while nurtured the travel addict in me. I was born to keep moving and keep dipping in different cultures. The show went well, and it's fun doing it with a big band, but the show lounges on these ships are usually hideous, cheesy rooms where the poor audience can't see your feet - and in primarily a tap-dancing show, it's tough...

...but getting up at 5am to go up to the deserted lounge at the front of the ship, grab a cuppa tea and a croissant and watch as we sail slowly through the Autumn mists into a lush, forested, eastern European port, is an image and a feeling that will never leave me.

I then spent a week in Rome teaching yoga and sightseeing till my feet fell off!

2011 - A wonderful return to "CABARET" and "SONG MAN DANCE MAN" starts to take over...

BT Mc Nichol, who took over the running of Sam Mendes' revival of "CABARET", did me the huge favor and honor of asking me to take up the role of Emcee once again for a remounting of the show just outside NYC in Northport at the John Engeman Theatre.
It was like a dream. The cast were incredible - perhaps all in all the best yet - and all lovely too. The journey every day from the city was a bit of a challenge, but nothing compared to commuting to the Royal Ballet School when I was a kid!

The show was a mammoth success and I wish I could say more about it, but words couldn't really express how fantastic the whole experience was. The show is so special to me. It's such an important piece of theatre and to be able to be a part of it is one of the handful of things I can say I'm really proud of in my career (for want of a better word to describe my blind, often desperate stumblings from job to no job to job...).

Looking back and then at myself now, I wonder if I was as good-a-dancer as my passion for it deluded me into believing I was - or was forever on the brink of becoming - and in truth probably never did become, except perhaps in brief flashes. I think of my career as much promise but little realization - for which I blamed myself for years; what did I not to right, why could I not get good enough, what's WRONG with me? In subsequent years I've been able to put the blame on my congenital heart condition, the discovery of which did seem to explain many things, such as why despite having so much promise as a dancer, I could never go that extra yard to being truly great...my heart would never give me the horse-power, frankly.

But there are other aspects - we, as humans, judge each other instantaneously by the shape of one anothers' faces. In a second we make conclusions about people' characters, intelligence, attractiveness and ability to be any good onstage. My face belies the fire burning within. Externally, I'm a slightly unintelligent, vacuous, sissy; probably lousy in bed and a rotten actor dancer and singer. It's all there in my face. Consequently I can walk into an audition and they'll say "NEXT!" before I open my mouth. Unfortunately, show business being life in concentrated form, I can perform in front of 3000 people and the one person who will hate me will be a casting director.

...That's my charm - and I'm sticking to it!

So, back to my coming and goings...After a few weeks regrouping with my baby in Vegas I embarked on a four-week run of "Song Man Dance Man" in Ft Lauderdale, at the Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs, and in Miami Beach, at the Byron Carlisle Theatre. Thank God the show went down so strong that the show kept getting extended, until the run finally closed after thirteen weeks. It was sensational.

That's it for 2011 so far...