Every director has a bucket list of shows they want to do, right? I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On The Road is a show I have wanted to do for many, many years.
When I first came to London in the 1980s having been studying music in Leicester, I worked front of house at the Cambridge Theatre to earn a bit of extra money. Whilst I was there, one of the shows playing at the theatre was The Rink. The Kander and Ebb show starred Diane Langton and I immediately went to Dress Circle Theatre shop in search of the cast recording. These were the days before the Internet! Whilst browsing through Diane’s back catalogue I found the cast recording of I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road, which played at the Apollo Theatre in 1981. I played that CD over and over. I was immediately struck by the originality of the piece both in structure and in its social and political commentary.
To a young actor wanting to be in the business, I devoured any piece of theatre that I felt was different or unique. I’m Getting My Act Together.. is now considered, unofficially, the first feminist musical. This title is not one that sits comfortably with the writers, Gretchen Cryer or Nancy Ford. Their aim was not to create a mould but to present a theme in a way that was accessible and easy to digest. This ‘ease’ is for me the overriding joy of this show. The piece takes a look at a forty-year-old divorcee, Heather, taking stock of her life and future goals after a successful singing career.
“As an adult, I now understand the pain and elation that growing up can bring. But the moment life changes direction, the confusion of the past becomes clearer.”
Heather and her two friends, Cheryl and Alice, write sketches and songs to shine a light on the lives of women not only in the music industry but in life. Presenting these new songs and sketches to her past boyfriend and long term agent, Joe, Heather demonstrates the suppressive inequalities of life from her perspective.
The expectations of her parents, particularly her father, on their daughter to ‘settle down and be a wife and be happy’ are played out in the number ‘Smile’… ‘if you smile in just the right way you’ll make a pretty wife and someone will take care of you for all your pretty life’. The resulting divorce in Heather’s life dramatised in the sketch ‘Smile’ highlights the painful demise of her marriage and the sham marriage of her own parents.
The drama within the musical not only focuses on Heather but also on Joe her agent. Joe is a man, a man that he thought he knew how to be. He’s modern, looks after himself and has a new younger wife. Throughout the musical the sketches written by Heather only drive home how stuck Joe is in his desire to be a ‘new man’. His marriage to a younger woman is falling apart, despite him giving her everything he thinks she wants. He believes that ‘all the women in my life have gone berserk‘ he says.
As an adult, I now understand the pain and elation that growing up can bring. But the moment life changes direction, the confusion of the past becomes clearer.
This show will make you laugh and cry; it’s really great for the soul. We have assembled the most amazing cast. The score is memorable and timeless. The themes of love, relationships, friendships, the roles of men and women in society are still as relevant today as when Diane sang the wonderful “Natural High” or “Old Friend” 35 years ago. It’s a real treat for me to direct and it will be a real treat for London audiences this July.
I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking it On the Road runs at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre from 6 to 23 July 2016. Follow @MyTheatreMates on Twitter for details on our competition to win a pair of tickets to the show.