The New Theatre in Oxford has been home to our Annie Get Your Gun family this past week. A very hot and tiring week, smitten by some illness and injury that left everyone working harder than ever. However on Wednesday we were expecting some very special guests and the adrenalin of that knowledge alone was enough to keep us going. Now, there are few things I will ever become tongue-tied over. Let's face it, I can talk. I like to talk, heck I LOVE to talk! But once in a while a moment will happen in my life that leaves me utterly lost for words. Unable to speak. Geeking out, if you will.
Generally these moments happen for me when I meet not actors, as one might expect, but writers. Persons whose novels, films, plays have shaped me, formed me, challenged and inspired me. They are the celebrities of my daily life. For me, meeting an actor, even a very famous one, is more like meeting a colleague I simply haven't had the chance to work with yet. We're in the same field and whilst I admire and respect them, I also have an automatic connection and understanding. Writers, and by extension composers, are a whole other ball game, and it appears to extend to their immediate family as well!
The Wednesday began with a few excitable press interviews before the matinee, causing me to forego my usual ritualistic matinee bacon sandwich. Not necessarily a bad thing as I've been overindulging somewhat recently, though it probably would have helped calm my fluttering butterflies for our expected visitors. Bert Fink and Andy Chan from the London office of R&H Theatricals Europe were revisiting the production (R&H – aka, Rodgers & Hammerstein - looks after the Irving Berlin musicals as licensing agents) and bringing with them Ted Chapin and Bruce Pomahac, the President and Director of Music respectively of Rodgers and Hammerstein (New York)! If this itself weren't enough to set my nerd alert to high beam, they were also bringing two extra-special guests with them - Linda Emmet and Emily Fletcher, a daughter and a grand-daughter of Irving Berlin, songwriter extraordinaire.
Now on paper this sounds like a lovely treat of a visit, but in reality it was a delicious mixture of heady excitement and nerve-shattering fear! Irving Berlin was an astonishing songwriter, and singing his songs every night is an utter privilege. From the elegance of his lyrics, the soaring sweep of his melodies, the overwhelming beauty of his orchestral score - each moment is joyous. When Berlin passed away in 1989 he left behind him a legacy that helped to shape musical history. I grew up watching the movies that he scored - the films that proved instrumental in my wanting to become an actress one day if possible and the songs that gave me the fundamental need to sing. To finally be singing as Annie Oakley in his show is a dream come true, and whilst I have always known I would never meet the man himself, meeting his family hit me more powerfully than I thought possible.
After the show, Linda and Emily joined the company and team from R&H onstage to say a few words. There was a hushed silence as we listened to the kind words of congratulation and approval from the unassuming, sprightly and witty Linda. Shaking her hand with my own trembling one, I felt completely humbled and utterly unable to form even the most basic of sentences. To be trusted with this role in general is pretty incredible, to perform it in front of the family to whom Annie effectively belongs, and to meet with their approval is somewhat overwhelming. As I returned to my dressing room afterwards, shaking my head in happy disbelief, I greeted my wiggy and dresser with the immortal words 'I just met Irving Berlin's family', before promptly bursting into tears! This is as near as I could ever possibly come to getting the nod from Berlin himself, and when I look back on this moment in years to come, my smile in our group photograph will speak volumes. Like so many others, I thank you for the music Irving Berlin, you helped to make me who I am and for that I am eternally grateful.