As We Will Rock You’s Musical Director Stuart Morley watches over the group of die-hard fans, Queen first-timers and musical theatre enthusiasts performing a routine from the show with cast members Lauren Varnham and Scott Monello, he asks me with pride: “How else are you going to able to stand on a West End stage?” Were it not for Get Into London Theatre, you’d be hard pushed to find another way to gain such an exclusive experience.
Standing on one of the largest stages in London at the Dominion theatre is more than exclusive, it is truly magical. Two hours prior to watching this group dance with Varnham and Monello, I’m about to make my West End stage debut alongside them, in front of a theatre with more than 2000 seats and 150 standing room places. I should add however, that the only things subjected to my dulcet tones are the 20-odd other people in the Get Into London Theatre We Will Rock You vocal workshop and the plush velvet on the, thankfully, very empty seats.
This is one of the first of several workshops taking place as part of the discount ticket scheme running until 10 February. The idea being that along with your ticket to see the show, you can take part in a free activity, whether it be a dance workshop with Mamma Mia! or a tea party with the Gruffalo.
For those shrinking in fear at the idea of donning one bejazzled glove to moon walk with the cast of Thriller Live, GILT also offers post-show Q&As and backstage tours. But, if Stuart is anything to go by, the people working in the West End today are far nicer than the depictions offered by the BBC, with Andrew Lloyd Webber bethroned while ominous music hammers away in the background. In the real world, Stuart is approachable and friendly, treading the line between fun – singing complicated vocal warm-ups in a giggling mess – and downright scary – suggesting we take it in turns to sing solo; it’s joked about but thankfully never transpires.
The group I take part with are made up of all ages and, as I find out when we sit in a semicircle to share our reasons for being there, have abilities ranging from occasional bouts of karaoke in the pub to studying musical theatre and dreaming of a life where our rehearsal with Stuart isn’t just make believe.
The best thing about the workshop is Stuart’s desire to give us an experience on par with how the professionals really do it, as fellow workshopper 46-year-old Alison agreed: “Hearing that most of the group were singers, he worked through a section of Killer Queen with us in harmony parts; giving the same sort of direction, very quickly, that he would use with the cast. In particular he was very precise about the exact intonations.”
To get us in the zone, we first huddle around his keyboard to do the vocal warm-up the cast of We Will Rock You do each night; albeit a longer version than the cast who also have to wig-on and glitter-up in a short period of time.
Stuart informs us that even a rock musical like this swaps notes with musical directors from more classical shows like Billy Elliot and even Les Misérables. Rock goes out the window for traditional scales and tongue twisters. Pop A Cat A Petal Copper-Platted Kettle sung 20 times in quick succession may not sound like something Brian May would endorse, but these kind of warm-ups are the norm, although probably result in less laughter and gurning faces than Stuart bears witness to when our motley crew attempt it.
Next Stuart hands us sheet music and we find ourselves dropping ‘t’s and exaggerating our vowels as we learn the opening to Killer Queen, again using the same technique he’d employ in the rehearsal room. We whisper it from the back of the stage to get our mouths working, learn the best way to stand to project our voices and employ every storytelling muscle in our body to imagine we’re singing to children to make them understand, everything but the reference to Moet and Chandon, caviar and cigarettes of course.
After we enthusiastically make our way through the first few pages of one Queen hit, we’re on to the next with Stuart even breaking us up into groups for harmonies – we’re almost pros now! After a few passionate rounds of I Want It All, cast members Lauren and Scott arrive to teach us how to air guitar with style.
Though our group’s ability is undeniably given a lift – not as I’d hoped by my dismal Grade 3 singing from 10 years ago, but by six musical theatre students – in just under two hours we really make some progress and, even if the seats may be empty, you can’t help but leave feeling at least a little bit like a West End star. Even if I may have mimed the high bits occasionally…
Check out Get Into London Theatre’s Facebook page to see photos from the workshop.