Craig Revel Horwood praises my songwriting. “Janine got a standing ovation Tom, did you know? Your song is so emotional and it really suits her voice”. We’re backstage at Miss Saigon and last night there was a charity concert here to a packed house at the Theatre Royal. Janine Desiderio is the female lead. “Yes, she’s talking about releasing it as a single”.
I love working in the West End. I spend my mornings roller skating in Regent’s Park, afternoons songwriting in my Bloomsbury flat, then come to work skating backwards through the Covent Garden traffic listening to Stevie Wonder on my Sony Walkman. It must be the late 80s.
Everyone who works backstage in the theatre has a story like, “I’m just here for three months to save for the last payment of my floating bar in Antigua” or, in my case, “I’m just here for three months until my music publishing deal is actually signed”. It’s always three months. I’ve been here for three years. Tonight I’m going to get injured and my union is going to win me a £15K payout. I’m going to buy a HUGE Apple computer and become a graphic designer with an office in Paddington. But that’s another story.
Craig is the show’s dance captain and he’s often dressed in tailored G.I. fatigues. His whole team of soldier boys are dressed like rough, macho, Vietnam fighters. On my first night of pulling ropes I’m impressed at how all ten of them turn up early for their opening dance, while the women, dressed in lingerie-whore-chic, power through their raunchy routine on stage to, “The Heat Is On In Saigon”. Their early arrival is soon explained as the guys, knowing ALL of the women’s moves, dance along with them step-perfect in the wings. Camp doesn’t get a look in. This is Salvador Dali meets Hieronymus Bosch at Club 54 darling. Fab-U-Lous.
Phantom of The Opera, Cats, Les Miserables, I soon learn every show has their backstage show within a show. Collectively, we’re a city within a city. During those three ‘pay packet’ years I learn everything I know about team building. I can tell you now, it has everything to do with ‘slammer nights’, when everyone backstage does a tequila slammer between cues, and nothing to do with Myers-Briggs questionnaires. When I say ‘city within a city’ we have our own laws, police our own behaviour, cover for each other with unquestioning loyalty, and our motto is, of course, ‘the show must go on’. We can only do those slammer nights because we are super-skilled and telepathically connected.
I prepare to pull back the black curtain so that Craig, at the next orchestra stab, can rush on stage and do something manly. “Do you ever see Green?” he says. “Come over to the bar and let’s have a chat later. We all love your work with Scritti but it became clear to the entire cast last night that you’re more than just a drummer”.