Thursday, 1 November 2012

Blog 116!!! Ni Hao - A Welsh dude in China!

Hey Everyone,

Happy Thursday, (and for the past three weeks too). I am in fact writing this blog on the plane back from Shanghai as it is a loooooong flight and there is a lot to write since I last blogged which was my final week of Ghost.

Ghost feels like it ended at least 4 months ago, it's not even been 4 weeks.

I don't even know where to start with this blog about my time working on Ultimate Broadway..... I suppose I should start at the beginning....

I woke early (very early) on the Monday morning, October 8th to get in a car to Heathrow Airport. I wasn't feeling too great, I had to cancel a concert in Cardiff the night before on doctors orders. I had fought like a demon to manage to get through the last week of Ghost and so he insisted I just had vocal rest.

So it wasn't ideal to be heading to do a job for three weeks where I'd be belting my man tits off the whole time, but I was on my way and was thinking positively that it'd all be fine.

The set up of the show was as follows: a huge orchestra, twenty Chinese ensemble singer dancers from Shanghai, 10 professional ensemble singer dancers mostly from London and four principals headlining,  which included myself, Ria Jones (another Welshy, woop woop!) Josh Young from America who was recently nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway and the fourth was Kerry Ellis who I'm sure most of you know from Wicked etc.

I met up with  Kerry at the airport and we flew over together, not really knowing what to expect, apart from the fact that we each had 9 songs to learn, which was a whole lot of lyrics.

We arrived Shanghai after 20 hours of travelling and it was 11am local time so our first challenge was to try our best to not sleep until that night, which is the best way to avoid jet lag! My goodness it was difficult.

We were driven to our hotel to settle in and then headed to the theatre for some costume fittings and to have a look around, basically trying to keep us busy to avoid sleeping!

The Culture Square Theatre in Shanghai is the most ridiculously impressive theatre I think I have and will ever see.
It's huge! Everywhere is just huge. The auditorium, the rehearsal spaces even the corridors are unnecessarily big. You could fit a whole herd of Elephants down some of the corridors, what's the point?!

The auditorium was designed perfectly so that no where was a bad view of the stage, it held about 1700 and the decor was incredible. Marble floors throughout - yes, in the auditorium, under the seats it was real marble, again I ask, whats's the point? (Really impressive though).
The foyer was amazing. A huge stained glass window dominated the main wall as you walk in, and by huge I mean like 50ft squared, it was beautiful and at night it was lit perfectly.

The most impressive part of the theatre though was the stage. It was enormous, and the whole thing could move backwards to let another stage raise up to replace it, exactly the same size but this one had three hydraulic circular platforms that would each revolve in different ways. Also, BOTH of those stages were removed to reveal a THIRD enormous performance space - a fountain which covered the size of the entire width and depth of the stage and shot up numerous jets of water with camp multi coloured lighting and while all that was happening in our show at the top of act two, we had a small Chinese fella doing arial acrobatics on a couple of ropes, (while I sang a song from Spiderman The Musical!)
There was also a FOURTH performance space which could be hydraulically installed (which wasn't used in our show) which is a giant ice rink!
So the theatre is camp to say the least!

The song list basically consisted of the biggest show-stoppers from the most popular musicals through the ages. Everything between Memory from Cats to Defying Gravity from Wicked. It was all about the amazing sets, incredible choreography, dazzling costumes, a phenomenal orchestra and ensemble, fronted by us four belting as many money notes as we could possibly squeeze out from within!

I am now continuing this blog from my flat on Wednesday evening as the plane landed, which was pretty bloody typical, travelling for 26 hours and then I decide to write my blog and the bloody thing goes and arrives Heathrow!

So that first day, whilst trying to stay awake, Kerry and I were introduced to the performing company, most of whom had already been there rehearsing for a week.
The amount they'd learned was insane! They were a really talented group.
I also had massive respect for the local Shanghai ensemble who learned about 10 numbers, most involved singing, and they didn't even speak English. There were literally translators there to pass on everything the creative team would ask them to do, so to learn all those English lyrics was seriously impressive! I mean, it's not as if English and Chinese are the most similar of languages!

Learning all the songs and staging had to be done within two and a half days for us principals as we were then starting to rehearse on stage with all the technical elements.
It all came together ridiculously quickly but it was hard work!

Opening night was great and then we had a four show weekend before a well deserved day off.

The days off that we had during our three weeks there were personally spent just making the most of having the opportunity to see the city. I visited most of the things that are suggested online - I experienced both the built up, impressive financial district with its huge buildings and expensive atmosphere and then enjoyed visiting little markets and tiny little side streets with stalls and little shops run by the nicest, kindest most welcoming people- which was very different to a lot of what you'll see in Shanghai.
The roads are dangerous, drivers are fearless and stupid, people will happily spit on you if you happen to walk where they have decided to hawk up a greenie and spit out in the loudest most disgusting way - and that happens indoors and out!
Parents carry children around in crotchless pants so they can go to the toilet anytime, anywhere they wish.
You'll think nothing of a Scooter racing by on the road with a family of 5 hanging on, or a mass of cages containing bunnies and budgies on the back of a tricycle, or the largest amount of chopped wood you could ever imagine one old man to handle on one little push bike.

The extremes between the wealthy residents and others who are less fortunate are hard to believe and the cultural and social differences within one city is so hard to comprehend. But everyone just gets along with their own lives no matter how big or important they may be in other people's eyes.

Everyone seems to always be busy and hard working.
The pollution there is pretty shocking. I actually felt like I was inhaling  pure oxygen when I arrived back in London, which is really saying something eh?! The atmosphere was dry often muggy and hot but the whole pace had a natural smokey haze to it and breathing felt a little uncomfortable at times!

We went to some incredible gardens and walking by the Bund river was amazing. One side feels like London and the opposite side of the water feels like you're staring at down town Manhattan, New York with all the new and modern high rise buildings!

It's an incredible city to visit and I know that personally I would never have really chosen to go there on a holiday and so I'm delighted to have had the opportunity to work over there and experience such an interesting place!

It's been crazy busy since I've been back getting a few bits and pieces sorted and catching up with friends before I head to New York tomorrow for three weeks which should be good fun!

If I don't manage to blog whilst in NYC I'll certainly pick up again when I'm back!

Keep loving your lives folks!