Show Reflections – Part 3

This is my final installment of show reflections after having seen 14 shows during my 6 weeks in Europe. It’s crazy to think this journey has come to an end, but I am so happy with the experience I’ve had. Seeing shows was one of the most important aspects of this trip for me, and I am thankful for being introduced to such a wide range of theatre. Here are my thoughts on the final two shows I saw (with the company of my mother)!

Miss Saigon

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For my mother’s sake, I felt that her West End experience should include a grandiose musical. There were so many fantastic shows I had already seen that would have been fun to introduce her to, but I figured we might as well see a show that neither of us had seen. I had heard great things about this production of Miss Saigon, so I figured we should give it a go, though it was a little ironic to see a show dealing with Americans in Vietnam War while in the UK.

For a bit of a summary, the story focuses on the relationship between Kim, a young Vietnamese girl who has been forced to prostitution after the death of her family, and an American officer, Chris. They marry, but he is unable to take Kim to America with him once the war is over, though he promises to return. Years later, the owner of the house Kim used to work for, Engineer, is bribed to hunt her down at the request of her formerly arranged fiancé. When he does find her, he discovers she had a son with Chris, and says that is their ticket to America (claiming he will be her “brother”).

I won’t give away the whole story, but that’s enough for you to know that Kim is the protagonist. The whole show really follows her story, and her needs are foremost presented, yet, at the curtain call Engineer was the last to bow. I have thought and thought about this, but I still can’t figure it out. He did have a song in Act II that was a showstopper, and while it was performed well, I honestly felt it should be cut because it broke up the momentum of the plot. It was simply about how great his life in America was going to be and eventually led to his daydream with scantily dressed women in a convertible. It had the wow-factor, but I was more interested in the story than that.

Speaking of wow-factor, the other note-worthy technical element of the show is that a helicopter flies above the stage as Chris leaves for America without Kim. Though this is a big element, it is way more deserved because it actually enhances the emotional impact of the story.

And yes, it is quite an emotional journey. I highly recommend this show, unless you’re like my roommate who doesn’t like sad things. In that case, stay away.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter

The Landor Theatre

The Landor Theatre

I’ve seen West End, a show at Regent’s Park, a show at the National Theatre, and at Shakespeare’s Globe, but I had yet to see an off-West End work. Luckily, my friends at The Phoenix Artist Club were promoting this original fairytale folk-musical, so I decided that would be the perfect ending to my theatre experience in London.

We arrived at The Landor Theatre hoping to find some yummy snacks before the show, as we had missed dinner after a lovely day at Kew Gardens. Walking past a bar area, we found our tickets at the box office in the back then continued down the hall to find an outdoor beer garden complete with a BBQ! This was much better than over-priced box office confections. My mom and I each had a roasted red pepper quesadilla topped with salad and washed down with a beer for her and a cider for me – yum!

Hut in the beer garden

Hut in the beer garden

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Back by the box office we found a staircase that led to the actual theatre entrance. Our ticket was collected (and not returned) at the door, and we learned that it was general admission seating in a folding chair black-box style set-up.

What a beautiful set!

What a beautiful set!

For such a small space, I was expecting an equally small cast, but the first number surprised me with a company of about 20 people in modern clothing, singing a hopeful song about the annual tradition of waiting to see if the statue in their square would wake. A cloaked figure took over the narration and we were taken back to a world of years past.

This original story has hints of Pinocchio and Hunchback of Notre Dame. The town clockmaker, in grieving his wife, has built a life-size doll that, to his surprise, can talk, move, and even think for herself. After losing his wife, he can’t bear the thought of losing her as well, so he is, of course, quite protective and makes her stay inside, claiming that the people out there won’t accept her.

Of course, she defies his request in search of life beyond walls. She falls in love. She is a successful seamstress. The other seamstress is jealous. Everyone learns the truth of who she is. Climatic song of exclaiming who she is and no one’s gonna bring her down (ahhh-ahhh-ahhh-ahhh). Dramatic turn of events. Dun dun dunn…..

There, that’s me being concise (trying). I do hope you have the chance to see it, as they’re hoping to make it as a West End show. The music is exciting and brought to life by a cast that exudes the joy of performing. Though I narrowed the plot down to mere sentence fragments, it isn’t what you’d expect from a fairytale musical – it’s quite dark and thought provoking, not simple at all.

I had the privilege of meeting the lead’s mom while queuing for the toilet (I’m so British now), and I learned that her daughter is a Canadian who now lives in London with her husband, whom she met while working on a cruise line. I met her after the show and mentioned I’m studying theatre at MSU, and she said she’s done some shows in Branson. We’re always told this theatre world is small, but it’s so hard to believe sometimes because the world seems so vast. It’s not.

So, as I’m fighting the sadness of leaving London, I’ll keep that in mind because you never know where life may take you.

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Recurring Events

Many of my blog posts have been about a particular event or general impressions from my surrounding environment. As I’m nearing the end of my trip (sad), I have dedicated this blog post to letting you in on two semi-regular activities of mine in London.

My Quest to Meet John Goodman

As mentioned in Show Reflections 1, I saw American Buffalo, starring John Goodman, Damian Lewis, and Tom Sturridge, my second weekend here. For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Goodman is an alumni of Missouri State (go bears), so I was especially excited for my chance to meet him at the stage door.

After the performance I saw, I met and got autographs from the other two stars, but was informed that, “Mr. Goodman has left the building.”

Since I was only a ten minute walk from the theatre, I made a point to continue to go back to try to meet him. I often scheduled my evenings around making a trip to Wyndham Theatre at 9:45. One Sunday afternoon I did some homework at a nearby coffee shop and then walked over to discover there hadn’t even been a show that day. After that, I made sure there was actually a show before venturing to the stage door.

Unfortunately, the good news you’re hoping for doesn’t exist. I tried five times, but he is a man of privacy, which I can respect. With so many things to do in London, you might think this was a waste of my time, but I don’t regret it at all. Though I didn’t meet Mr. Goodman, whilst waiting with other fans, I got to know two girls from the FSU program, a group of acting majors from Iowa State University, and a film student from China studying in England. Though these are mere passing acquaintances, those conversations are what shape an experience like this. Another bonus: I learned at least one route by heart since I walked from my flat to the theatre so many times.

**Damian Lewis and Tom Sturridge also probably think I’m a stalker now since I met them 5 times… oops.

Open Mic Nights

Another fellow bear/friend of mine who studied in London gave me some insider tips, namely open mic nights at the Phoenix Artist Club. Yes, it is a club that meets in the basement of the Phoenix Theatre. It is exclusive to members except for Thursday nights when they open up their back room to house a musical theatre lover’s dream.

You first walk in at ground level where there is a host that allows entry. Then, you walk down the stairs and pass through the bar area that has plush, red velvet seats and walls decorated with headshots and show posters. Finally, through a sliding door, you enter into the open mic room with tiny cocktail tables, booths, and airport seating in the back corner. At the front is a small stage with a piano (occupied by one of the most amazing accompanists I’ve ever seen) and a mic stand. There is a stack of music books available to use, but most people bring their own sheet music. You put your name on the list with Jo and wait your turn as one of the two alternating hosts provides transitions between performers. And I mean performers. This isn’t your average drunken karaoke where most people scream-sing. Many of the singers are fellow musical theatre majors, while others are just lovers of the craft. I was told that one of the hosts played Superman in Superman the Musical (who knew that existed?)!

I attended this open mic night every Thursday, and it became one of my favorite experiences of my trip. The first week I went with a fellow theatre major, and I was just going to soak it all in without worrying about performing, but some guy with a guitar convinced me to sing. I looked through their selection of music and decided to sing “Someone Else’s Story.” Having not warmed up at all, it was a little intimidating singing for a room full of people who actually know the difference between good and bad singing. It wasn’t my best performance, but it was still fun!

The night ends at 1 AM when the entire room that’s left joins in singing “One Day More.” I can’t think of anything more appropriate for a musical theatre club in London!

I had been telling my mom all about this place and was so excited to take her when she arrived in London. We did have a nice time, and I sang again, but unfortunately our trip was slightly tainted by a creepy man who asked for our extra chair and instead sat with us. It was fine at first, but then he was slightly too touchy and just had that general yuck factor you can’t quite pinpoint, but that gives you the heebie jeebies. Finally, he bid us farewell, but then returned with another beer about fifteen minutes later. Taking that as our cue to leave, we left early and did not get to stay for the “One Day More” experience. It wasn’t the best way to end one of my most treasured experiences in London, but I suppose it makes it easier to leave. At least now I have a lovely place to return to the next time I visit London, and hopefully George won’t be there.

Adventure Weekend

I often refer to myself as athletically challenged. Both of my brothers are athletes, and I think they sucked all of the athleticism up. Nevertheless, my flatmate convinced me to sign up to go to Preseli Venture Lodge for a weekend that included coasteering, kayaking, and hiking.

In typical Samantha fashion, I first need to mention the food. The activities, lodging, and food were all included in one price, so you’d think the food would be so-so. Wrong! Seriously, this has been some of the best food I’ve had here. Everything was homemade, and it was pure comfort food. PLUS they permanently had tea and coffee available (with biscuits, aka cookies), and the coffee was actually brewed!

Our first meal after our 5 hour train journey from London to South Wales. What a lovely view!

Our first meal after our 5 hour train journey from London to South Wales. What a lovely view!

An American favorite with a European twist: Haribo marshmallows sandwiched between a biscuit with chocolate filling. Not exactly a s'more, but close Also pictured: Coffee with a Welsh cream liquer - delicious and warm for a cozy evening by the campfire

An American favorite with a European twist: Haribo marshmallows sandwiched between a biscuit with chocolate filling. Not exactly a s’more, but close
Also pictured: Coffee with a Welsh cream liqueur – delicious and warm for a cozy evening by the campfire

Okay, so obviously I didn’t go for the food, but for adventuring! We arrived on a Friday evening, but our scheduled activities didn’t start until Saturday. So, the first adventure was us finding our way to the beach. Along the path, we found a swing attached to a tree on top of a hill, so we got a free little thrill ride with that. It was an added thrill because the hill was muddy, so stopping was a struggle. It was quite a performance to watch me get off that thing, and that experience alone made me a little nervous for the actual events to come.

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A glimpse at the flailing mess I was trying to get off....

A glimpse at the flailing mess I was trying to get off….

Then we made it to the beach, and it was breathtaking. We spent some time frolicking, sitting on rocks, and chatting with some surfers who were camping out in tents.

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On Saturday the real adventures began! Our morning activity was coasteering. Honestly, trying to put on the wetsuit and all of the other gear was nearly as difficult as the coasteering itself. It was so hard to get the wetsuit up, and when I finally did, I was told it was inside out. I left it. We also wore wetsuit socks, extra wetsuit shorts over the other one, a life jacket, helmet, and tennis shoes! All of this was referred to as our kit.

After a short bus ride, we were at the shore of the Irish Sea, and it was time to begin. I saw lots of cliffs, and I was ready to climb when all of a sudden I realized we were swimming there! I knew we’d be jumping into the water, but I thought we would otherwise be on land. It wasn’t too cold because we were so covered, but our hands weren’t. I found the best way to avoid cold hands was to hold them up, float on my back, and just kick. This was probably not the most efficient mode of travel, but it was the warmest. We would swim for a bit, find our way to some rocks, climb them, and then jump off! It was indescribably freeing, but also slightly scary. We had to jump like a pencil, rather than dive, but they told us that on our way down we could flail about or do a dance. I decided to not risk forgetting to go back to the pencil formation, so I skipped the flailing for once.

View from jumping thanks to my friend's GoPro

Chilling out in the water after jumping. Photo thanks to my friend’s GoPro

That afternoon we went kayaking. We had to put on a second wetsuit, but this time I was a pro and put it on the correct way. I must admit, I did not enjoy this as much. It was really difficult to make the kayak go straight, and just as I was starting to get the hang of it I started to get a blister on my hand from the oar. At that point, I just kind of wanted to float in my kayak. Honestly, I think coasteering was just too so great that nothing could compare.

Feeling sassy in our blue helmets, wetsuits, and windbreakers (my kayak also was blue)

Feeling sassy in our blue helmets, wetsuits, and windbreakers (my kayak also was blue)

Saturday ended with us hanging out at the lodge, enjoying the campfire, and making friends with two separate bachelor parties. It was an amazing weekend and, besides my blister, I survived!

How this weekend changed my life:

Apparently now I think I’m untouchable. Yesterday was the last day of the study away program, so my school friends and I decided to spend our final afternoon biking and enjoying Hyde Park. We discovered it would be a 30 minute walk to the park, which we didn’t want to do, but we also wanted to enjoy the beautiful weather. For cycling, you can only bike around the park and not through it, which is an activity we’ve already done. So, I had the bright idea of biking to the park and then finishing the ride there to walk around. (They have this great thing where you can rent a bike at one location and turn it in at another – only 2 pounds for 30 minutes!)

Everyone was on board with this idea, but clearly it wasn’t very well thought-out. None of us knew how to get there on our own, so I led the way whilst looking at the direction app on my phone. Did I mention we were riding on Oxford St, which is one of the busiest streets in London? Yes, not our smartest move. The bike lane shares a lane with buses, so that was a little terrifying.

Two of my friends were really hating life, but I found myself chuckling. Yes, it was scary and I won’t do that again, but it was fun because we did it! If we had gotten hurt, this story would be a lot different…. we took the tube back.