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16 January 2019

What makes a hit musical? The enduring appeal of Miss Saigon

We’re getting close to This is the Hour: A Musical Theatre Workshop on Sunday 27th January at The Dance Studio Leeds. As we’ve been busily preparing for this event in the GCF office, there’s been some debate about what makes a musical like Miss Saigon a ‘hit’. Umi thought that the secret lies in memorable tunes that leave you humming for days. Selina came to the conclusion that it was all about the spectacle, the ‘whole shebang’; the best musicals have the ability to transport us to a completely different world. All this begs the question – is the story really that important at all?

The appetite for a night out in the company of an epic musical with memorable, hummable music shows no sign of abating. Back in 2013, when tickets went on sale for the 25th anniversary revival of Miss Saigon, £4.4m of bookings were taken on one day, a West End box office record.

Miss Saigon is an intriguing case. Looking back to when it first premièred at the Theatre Royal in London’s Drury Lane in 1989, it seems daring to have turned the Vietnam war into a song and dance show barely 15 years after the end of hostilities. But in its broader themes – refugees and orphans of war, the morality and consequences of western intervention, forbidden and doomed love – the production has acquired a topicality that has nothing to do with Vietnam. Maybe the intricacies of story aren’t so important to musicals then, as long as it can appeal to universal themes.

Written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr., the production benefits from an enduring collection of music that does what great musicals do: a balance of rousing choral numbers (“Morning of the Dragon”, “This is the Hour”, “Miss Saigon”) and haunting and emotive solo numbers (“American Dream”, “Movie in my Mind”).

Miss Saigon really does have the ‘whole shebang’. Audiences will forever be wowed by the life-size helicopter that miraculously descends from the rafters and appears on stage. The powerful, terrorizing machine is a deafening, airborne apocalypse and the show’s most theatrical moment. We’re left to wonder, just how did they do that?!

West End performer, Nigel Wong, who will be leading our workshop, starred in Miss Saigon at the Drury Lane Theatre from 1995-96. He starred as ‘the commissar’ as well as in the ensemble, and also covered the role of the Engineer. When asked what he thought made Miss Saigon a hit, Nigel said that the story WAS important, and that the vital ingredient was a good connection between the story and the music. He also said that, as a performer, it was crucial that a role could be adapted to the actor; there must be a flexibility to allow both the performer and role to shine through.

What do you think makes a ‘hit’ musical? The debate rages on in the GCF office. In the meantime, why not join Nigel for This is the Hour: A Musical Theatre Workshop. The workshop will give attendees an insight into how a musical comes together, the different genres within musical theatre, and the skills require to be a musical theatre performer.

Please note: this workshop is open to all levels, including complete beginners (16 yrs +).

WORKSHOP DETAILS:

WHEN: Sunday 27th January 2019, 11am – 1.30pm.
WHERE: Dance Studio Leeds, Mabgate Mills, Leeds, LS9 7SW.
COST: £25
Click here to book your place. Presented by the Dance Studio Leeds and Geraldine Connor Foundation.

20 December 2018

Documenting the life of Geraldine Connor

Archive placement student, Millie Clift, is doing a brilliant job digging through Geraldine’s archives here at GCF. We asked her to tell us about what she’s uncovered and how she’s been getting on.

When I first started my placement with the Geraldine Connor Foundation I had no prior knowledge of Geraldine’s career, but I was quickly made aware of her outstanding production, Carnival Messiah. The success which it achieved and the support which she and Carnival Messiah had throughout its time amazed me. I had always known that performance, dance and music had an astonishing impact on people, but it wasn’t until I started reading about Geraldine and her life’s work beyond Carnival Messiah that I realised how much one person could do through the arts to inspire others.

Geraldine Connor © Diane Howse

Carnival Messiah has been described as the pinnacle of Geraldine Connor’s career, and this cannot be denied. However, I am trying to look beyond this production, into all the other amazing work which Geraldine did. What I didn’t realise was how much there would be. From academic brilliance, receiving her PhD from the University of Leeds, to being to first female Steelband arranger for the Panorama competitions; from helping to develop a degree course in Multicultural Music at the City of Leeds College of Music to singing on the original recording of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’; from co-ordinating Yorkshire Black Arts Week in 1994 to becoming a senior lecturer at Bretton Hall, University College of Leeds; not to mention all of her contributions to numerous productions at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and elsewhere, it appears that there is no part of the creative arts which she did not touch.

In order to acknowledge the full range of projects which Geraldine accomplished in her lifetime, I have been visiting several different archives. Particularly, the West Yorkshire Playhouse archive in the Brotherton Special Collections at Leeds University and the George Padmore Institute which is located in Finsbury Park, London. Most of her work on productions is kept within the Brotherton Special Collections, so if you are interested, this is the place to go! The George Padmore Institute is also somewhere which is well worth a visit; founded in 1991 it is a research centre which houses materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe (https://www.georgepadmoreinstitute.org/). It is also connected to the New Beacon Books shop, which has specialised in African and Caribbean Literature since 1966.

Photograph taken from https://www.newbeaconbooks.com/

These archives have told me a lot about Geraldine’s life, but I am sure this is only the tip of the iceberg and that there is much more which the Foundation and I can learn. If you have any stories of your time with Geraldine, or information on projects which Geraldine was involved with, I would love to hear from you. Please get in touch at info@gcfoundation.co.uk.

12 September 2018

Ultiverse Performance Residency

Calling all students and recent graduates looking to gain experience in a professional arts project…

Visual artist, Akeelah Bertram, is looking for performing arts students and recent graduates to take part in a performance residency next week to help develop her immersive installation, Ultiverse. Akeelah and her team are particularly looking for vocalists who can sing in different languages.

This is a fantastic opportunity to learn from professional artists working in a variety of art forms. This residency will take place between 17th-21st September at The Tetley, Leeds.

If you would like to be involved, please email either Akeelah at akeelahbertram@gmail.com or GCF Director, Selina, at selina@gcfoundation.co.uk to find out more, discuss your availability next week. A fee of £30 will paid to you for each session you attend next week.

Ultiverse, Akeelah Bertram

Ultiverse will run at Light Night Leeds 2018 on Friday 5th October, 6-10pm at the Tetley, Leeds. There will also be scheduled performances on the hour from 6–10pm with GCF Creative Associate Artists, Zodwa Nyoni and Akeim Toussaint Buck; composer Aron Kyne and vocalist Thabo Mkwananzi.

10 May 2018

Congratulations Khadijah!

Many congratulations to our Creative Associate Artist, Khadijah Ibrahiim, on being successfully shortlisted for The Yorkshire Women of Achievement Awards in the Arts Category!

Established by Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice, the annual event recognises women who have made an outstanding contribution in Yorkshire across eight categories: Business, Education, Young Achiever, Sport, Jane Tomlinson Courage Award, Community Impact Award, Arts, and Science & Technology.

Khadijah Ibrahiim
Khadijah Ibrahiim, photo credit to Jonathan Turner

Khadijah was born in Leeds of Jamaican parentage. She is a literary activist, live artist, theatre maker, producer, and artistic director of Leeds Young Authors. Hailed as one of Yorkshire’s most prolific poets by BBC Radio, she has appeared on many international stages. Her poetry collection, ‘Another Crossing’, was published by Peepal Tree Press and premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2014. She is heavily involved with the Geraldine Connor Foundation and is also a project producer for our Windrush project, Sorrel & Black Cake.

The awards will take place at the Royal Armouries on Friday 18th May. We wish Khadijah the very best of luck!

26 April 2018

Share your story

Photographer and GCF Creative Associate Artist, Tim Smith, is bringing his fantastic exhibition, Island to Island – Journeys through the Caribbean, to Leeds Central Library in July this year. In the meantime, he needs your help!

Island Life, Tim Smith
The Renegades Steel Orchestra on the road as part of the 1967 Trinidad Carnival. Photo by Derek Smith.

Tim is looking for community groups and individuals to share their stories and memories of the Caribbean and the region’s relationship with Leeds. Some of the stories collected will then be used as part of the summer exhibition.

If you would like to share your story and contribute to this exciting exhibition, please get in touch with Tim, who’ll be delighted to hear from you. You can email him at timsmithphotos@btinternet.com.

Photographer, Tim Smith.
Photographer, Tim Smith.

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