Just got home from a fab evening with John Barrowman.
Ok, so that might be slightly misleading. It wasn’t just me and John. Actually, I had to share him with several hundred other people. He did wave at me though.
In fact, he was doing one night only at the Harrogate International Centre, which seemed like a perfect opportunity to tick off three boxes on my “things I must do” list: (1) see a 2,000 year old time-traveller/immortal from the 51st century, (2) go to the International Centre, and (3) go out to a show.
So far everyone I’ve mentioned it to has been surprised that I would choose to go and see Mr Barrowman, which I’m thinking is because of the gay thing. I fall into none of the 3 demographics that seem to make up the majority of the audience, which were gay men (obviously), “housewives” and women of a certain age (obviously), and teenage girlies (which I was actually surprised at). In fact, I would say that teenage girls made up perhaps as much as a fifth of the audience. In many cases I would even say pre-teen. I guess it’s the Dr Who thing. (and, let’s be honest, that’s the main reason I went).
The evening didn’t get off to a particularly auspicious start. Loitering in the foyer, a slightly strange man called Robert struck up conversation. Well, I say struck up conversation, it was more a barrage of questions:
Are you looking forward to the show?
What’s your name?
What do you do?
Can I get you a drink?
Would you like to meet up for a drink after the show?. All the time about 6 inches away from me – each time I moved back, he moved forwards. I had suspicions from the start, but when he offered to buy me a drink that nailed it for me. I believe that makes the second time in my life I’ve been ‘approached’ by a man – the first time I was too drunk to remember, and I’m told I threw up on him. It’s a strategy that probably would have worked this time too. In the event I made my excuses, and was thankful to be sitting a *long* way from him… 🙂
But I digress.
It was first and foremost a musical evening. The venue is great. All the seats have a good view of the stage, and while it might have been nice to be a little bit nearer, I could see fine. The band were excellent – a drummer, mad percussionist, woodwind and sax player, bass, lead guitar (who had about 5 guitars, including one acoustic, that he switched between), a couple of keyboardists, and – slightly spookily – invisible backing singers who were obviously hidden backstage (but were credited in the program).
The turn-out was a little disappointing. I would hazard it was only about 75% capacity, but there were more than enough of us to get the atmosphere cooking.
The format tended to be songs, with short stories in between. Either autobiographical from John’s life, or comedy/interactive stuff. I have to say the musical quality was top-notch. I felt the balance could have been tweaked once or twice, but the band didn’t miss a beat. The lighting was great too – just the right atmosphere. He had four dancers (two men and two women) who were fine, but I don’t really get dancers. I can’t help but to think of Pan’s people. Interestingly, one of the keyboard players was also the conductor, and you could see him conducting (and I mean properly conducting, with down, left, right, up marking the crochets, and the swirly thumb and finger pinch thing to stop the sound. There’s probably a proper name for it) from time to time.
He also had a special guest, but I’m really embarrassed that I’ve forgotten who it was. It was Danny Boyse (or something), who won “I’d do anything” or something like that. I’m really very sorry, if you ever read this, it’s a reflection on me, not you! Anyway, this guest did 3 or 4 songs, and then a duet (“I know him so well”) towards the end.
The music choice was good too. In the main real feel good songs from pop and the shows, including one genius merging of John’s Scottish background with theatre musicals, leading to an Andrew Lloyd-Webber medley to a Scottish reel. Just brilliant.
So, the gay thing. John is overtly gay, and a big advocate of gay rights, etc. And a lot of his humour was sexual and/or gay oriented, which could easily have been a turn-off for me (as such). On the contrary though, I found that he pitched it just right. He poked fun at a lot of things, including sex and sexuality, but never descended into the crude or particularly smutty. My experience is that a lot of gay people feel they have to wear it as a badge of honour, and draw their identity from being gay. John didn’t come across like this at all. He seemed to treat his sexuality a bit like his nationality – just a part of who he is, and fair game for jokes. I suppose it helps that he isn’t at all camp (quite the opposite), so when he camps it up, it’s actually very funny.
And, assuming he was telling the truth and not just acting, for me the mark of the man came across incredibly strongly in 3 things:
- At one point his mum and dad joined him on stage (both in their 70s) to join in the dancing for a number. And were fantastically game, and clearly demonstrated a lot of love in the family.
- He has a number of rescue dogs, and is patron of a rescue dog charity. He not only issued an appeal on the charity’s behalf, but also seemed genuinely emotional when saying that the family dog had died, and dedicated a song to it. It actually sounds a bit naff in the re-telling, but at the time it came across as heartfelt.
- He repeatedly thanked us for giving him the opportunity to do what he loves to do (which is entertain), and came across as very aware of how privileged he is to do what he does
- Actually one more. At the end of the evening, I’d happened to have locked up my bike by the stage door, so was fiddling with it when he came out. There were probably 50 people wanting to see him and get autographs. While he didn’t do any (bad), he did stand up on the car and explain that he was driving to Scotland overnight for the next show, so couldn’t hang around, and that if he signed one autograph he would sign them all because that’s the sort of person he was. He added that if anyone wanted anything signed, send it in to the address on the website, and he promised it would be signed and returned (good).
In my book, all of those make me doff my hat to you, John. I have to admit that humility and genuineness would not have been attributes I would have previously associated with you, based on what I’ve seen on telly, but I am happy to have been shown to be wrong.