Today was our big rehearsal day, with almost everyone involved in the show. We woke up at 9:30am (we didn’t set the alarm – heavenly!) and met the rest of the American contingent in the hotel lobby at noon.

We took the Circle Line train to Kensington Station and walked the block or two to Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall. As we walked, we met up with some singers wearing royal blue Sing Live polo shirts – they saw our green shirts (the home color for Sing Live Orlando – each Sing Live group has a specific home color polo shirt that we sometimes wear for concerts but it also helps to differentiate us during a group rehearsal) and said hi. As we continued on our walk to the Town Ball, we passed another man, Keith, who said hi – he was someone who has stopped to talk to us when we went to the Gospel rehearsal in Leeds. He wasn’t singing in the Royal Albert Hall concert but his wife was.

We had very much overestimated how long it would take to get there, so we got there very early and hung out in the courtyard. Other groups slowly arrived as well and every once in a while I could hear someone chatting about “the Americans” being here…3.5 years after we’ve started and we’re still a novelty, LOL!  John motioned us over to him because he just discovered there was an establishment called  “Trotters” in the distance. We all laughed because Trotters is the name of that bar in which he hangs out a lot at home. He was very excited and went to check it out but it turned out to be just a children’s clothing store…poor John! Linda (she is the co-founder of Sing Live UK, along with John) stopped by briefly to chat with us, which was nice.

We started queuing up to get inside and at 1pm sharp they finally opened the door. We were under strict obligation to not use cell phones, cameras or recording equipment during the rehearsal. Fair enough, understood and accepted (lots of reasons – copyrighted material, creating a distraction, use of the celebrities’ images, etc. – although it didn’t stop some of the celebrities from taking pictures and video of each other and of us, LOL!).  I didn’t mind not using a camera and never record anything related to Sing Live anyway, but I usually use my cell phone to take notes for my blog – however they didn’t say anything about keeping notes, just not to use electronic equipment, so I kept a notepad with me. We also had been told to not reveal anything about the upcoming show (the songs, special guests, etc.), which was another reason why I didn’t post this blog until after the fact (plus there had been NO time…from Saturday onward we were VERY busy!).

They had volunteers on hand to check us in and once that was done, we went into the auditorium to sit in our singing sections. I found the Soprano 2 area and sat down in front of Irene, a sweet lady I had met at the last RAH concert in Sept. ’09 (I was the shortest 2nd Sop back then – actually, not surprisingly, I’m the shortest Sing Live singer, period – 4’9″ Nettie was next to me that time and Irene, a virtual giant at 4’11” and change, was next to her).

It took an hour or so to seat all of us, during which time I made a stop at the loo (I’ve always been one to pick up on accents and the longer I stay in England, the more I find myself talking like them, not only in what words I use, but also with a slight English accent. I even sing with an accent when I’m around the Brits – it’s very contagious, LOL!) and bought a concert brochure. The brochure was done well, but alas, Joe and my last names were once again spelled incorrectly, the same (wrong) way it had been done all trip.  All the other misspellings had been on travel information – plane tickets and hotel reservations – so we had thought perhaps the mistake had laid with the travel agent. But now we suspected otherwise. We weren’t the only ones, though. Marcia’s last name was spelled with an L instead of a D but since everything else for her travel has been spelled correctly, she knew it was an issue with whoever did the brochure layout. One of the stars of the show had it worst of all though – his name had been omitted, period.

We began the rehearsal at precisely 2pm, with a warm up.

At 2:10pm, the producer of The Night of 1000 Voices, Hugh Wooldridge, was introduced and came onstage. He thanked us all for being there, told us how wonderful the show was going to be, typical stuff you would expect and then asked each Sing Live group to cheer when their names were called. He was happiest to see Northern Ireland because few, if any of their ranks had been able to come across for the rehearsals that Sing Live UK had and, because we had come across the pond, the 9 of us from the US. He then made us do some quick “fast stands”, “slow stands”, “fast sits” and “slow sits” that we would need during the course of the concert. During one of the stands, he looked at me and said, “Oh yes, I see you are standing up”, LOL! (considering that “I am standing up” is “my line” and I stole it from another short Brit [Davy Jones, of the Monkees] years and years ago, I was both pleased and not surprised at the comment).

2:15pm: Mark Warman, our main conductor (and Musical Director of the show) was introduced, as well as Andy Vinter, the piano player would not only play for us for the rehearsal, but who would be the pianist in the concert, as well. Mark was really a trip – he was very professional and knew what he wanted, but he still had that sense of dry English humor and he let it out in good doses, which made him all that much more likable. He’s also conducted Sing Live UK in past productions of The Night of 1000 Voices so he was very aware of the nuances that non-professional choirs need to help make them sound their best (the latter was true for both of the guest conductors, too).

Philip Quast was introduced next. As an American who has lived under a rock I wasn’t familiar with his work but his winning three Olivier Awards was impressive. What a voice! At this point in the rehearsal, Philip sang ‘Anthem’, from “Chess”, with us (he sang the melody, we were the backup ‘Oooohs’ and ‘Ahhhhs’ for the second half) as Hugh reminded us how to sit (fast vs slow), to make sure to overpronounce everything and, to help reflect the feeling of the song, to smile and show joy and pride on our faces.

Many more of the celebrities (or stand-ins; some of the stars were still in matinees on the West End during this rehearsal) were then introduced: Tabitha Webb, Leo Andrew, Toni Bibb, David Michael Johnson (a.k.a. DMJ), Ceri-Lyn Cissone, Charlotte Harwood, Ken Nichols and Lee Hornsby (he was the one whose name was mistakenly omitted from the program and Hugh publicly apologized to him for it). I may not be 100% on the spellings, especially of the stand-ins, since I was writing them phonetically. If I made a mistake, or if there are official websites for any of the stars that I missed, please let me know so I can make corrections.

We next sung ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,’ a very dark and sinister-sounding song from “Sweeney Todd”. We were directed on how to sound menacing (funny how I did such a good job of that!), as well as how (fast) and when to sit (the whole “when and how to sit” thing was something of a recurring theme during the rehearsal, LOL!).

Adam Pascal was next introduced – finally, someone I had heard of, LOL! Although we hadn’t seen him in Rent on Broadway (we saw it many years after it opened and he was already gone), we had seen him in Aida and I was also very familiar with his voice from listening to the Broadway station on Sirius/XM satellite radio. Once he was settled, he sang ‘Pity the Child’ from “Chess” (baseball cap on head and Starbucks in hand, LOL!), with us as background towards the end. We mainly had to work on getting the beat right and the rhythm of the notes.

Most of the cast was there by that time, so we then did what would be the first song of the show after the Overture, ‘Another Op’nin’, Another Show’, from “Kiss Me, Kate”. We were reminded of how fast our stand needed to be when the chorus chimed in, and how animated we needed to be throughout the song. Oh, and make sure our choreographed fist in the air at the end didn’t look like a Naziesque ‘sieg heil’, LOL!

We next worked on ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So,’ from “Porgy and Bess,” which was sung by DMJ. Our role was to copy his vocal nuances and rhythms, which he could (and did!) change at will (so one time we might sing a quick and straight “It ain’t necessarily so” and the next time we may sing, “It aint (pause) necessa (pause) rily so-o-o-o-o” with a downward swing on the last “o”). It was a little more challenging but definitely made the song that much more interesting.

“West Side Story’s” ‘The Tonight Quintet’ was a song many people in Sing Live companies had done in past concerts so it was familiar to me and some, but not all of the others. We were told to really act out our parts as Sharks and Jets; to show our hatred for each other when we were and were not singing. Sits and stands were rehearsed as well (of course) and it probably would’ve been almost perfect if the conductor hadn’t forgotten that the chorus sings from the very beginning of the song, LOL!

Host Aled Jones was supposed to sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (from “Carousel”) during the concert but for some reason, that was changed so that Ken Nichols was scheduled to sing it instead. His deep, deep voice just ROCKED that song, to the extent that a few people got teary-eyed when they heard it. Hugh directed us to act like a “mighty chorus” for this song, with an emphasis on the word ‘never’. And Mark, not wanting the song to sound like a dirge, reminded us that, “When I tell you to go faster, one of us is right,” LOL!

With a promise that we would have a pee break in 6 minutes, we next sang ‘Being Alive,’ from “Company.” Once again we were told when and how to sit, as well as a reminder to pronounce (also a recurring theme).

‘Sunday,’ from “Sunday in the Park with George” was next – we had some arm and hand choreography for this song so we practiced it a few times, along with, of course, reminders of when and how to stand.

At this time we had a 15 minute break. It’s amazing how fast one can run downstairs, stand on line for the Ladies’ Room, have a wee, scarf down half a sandwich and get back in your seat with minutes to spare!

When we got back and settled, we were introduced to Cathy Gilman, the Chief Executive of Night of 1000 Voices. She was very nice and thanked us for all of the hard work we’ve done.

Back to rehearsing! ‘Nobody’s Side,’ from “Chess” was to be sung by Kerry Ellis but since she wasn’t there, we had a stand-in. We were told to sing with an American accent, with was easy enough for 9 of us in the chorus (11 actually…one Sing Live UK member, Larry, is originally from New Jersey but has been in the UK for years; another, Valerie, was a Sing Live Orlando member before she moved to London 2 years ago), but for most of the others, not so much. It was even humorously suggested by Hugh that if anyone had trouble with it, to “ask one of ‘the Americans.'” I had 3 ladies from Liverpool next to me and I had to teach them how to say “no-bah-dee” instead of “no-boo-dee”, LOL!

There were 3 songs that were to be sung from “Evita” but we were only involved in one of them: ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.’ Besides humming in one part and singing in another, we had to cheer for her (and I mean CHEER – scream, whistle, stamp our feet, stand on chairs if we felt like it, etc.) and we were directed to really show the love.

At this point Hugh chatted a little about tomorrow, the big concert day. He told us the day would be grueling but we were still expected to, essentially, ‘behave’ (my words, not his) and do what we were told to do. He said we should feel welcome, even if no one specifically told us “welcome.” In other words, “it’s a concert day, everyone will be busy, don’t interrupt us, do what you’re told and we appreciate what you’re doing but we won’t tell you then so we’re telling you now.” Typical concert day, LOL!

Once again, back to rehearsals! ‘Superstar’ was going to be sung by DMJ and conducted by David Firman, Musical Director for the original production of “Jesus Christ Superstar”. We were told to enjoy the song and bounce around, until we got to a certain point when we had to stay still. Made sense. However my strongest memory of rehearsing this song was Hugh’s use of the word “Boogie,” which used with a British “Boo,” as opposed to an American “Buh.” The Liverpool ladies said that “Boo-gee” was dancing (well, dahncing, LOL!) but “Buh-gee” (as I pronounced it) was what got picked from your nose. I said we call those “Boogers” (Buh-gers). They said a “Buh-ger” was a bratty child. Yep, we are definitely two countries separated by a common language. Can I offer you some jelly for pudding? (Psst! In American that’s “Jello for dessert”. What we call jelly they call marmalade. And they don’t seem to HAVE our equivalent of “pudding” in the UK)

Adam Pascal and many of the others came back on stage to sing ‘Will I?’ and ‘Seasons of Love’, from “Rent.” We did some background chorus stuff for that song and for once we did EVERYTHING right! NO corrections!

The next few songs were to be conducted by Stuart Morley, Musical Director of “We Will Rock You” on the West End. During ‘No One But You’ we were told to sing like we were singing to a ghost, I have no notes written down for ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ and for ‘We Are the Champions’ we were read an email written by Brian May (lead guitarist of Queen, special guest star and, at that time, a very well-kept secret) regarding some orchestral and chorus changes to the song.

‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight,’ from “The Lion King,” was the last song added to the play list and was the encore/last song. We were told to sing it as if it was the ‘goodnight’ to everyone that it was.

‘Rhythm of Life’ was sung only by Sing Live, with dancers in front of us, including Tiffany Graves, who was currently co-starring as Helene in “Sweet Charity” on the West End. I know that I was the most nervous about this song because according to the notes we had been given, it had a LOT of choreography. And whereas we were sent a video for reference for the RAH ’09 concert and had lots of rehearsals based on that video, this year all we were ever given were notes that were extraordinarily difficult to decipher and convert to actual arm/body movement. I’m sure the notes made perfect sense to whoever wrote them, because that person had the choreo in his/her head. But for someone who had never seen the movements, well, let’s just say there is a (sanctioned) video of the members of Sing Live USA members who were going to England doing their interpretation of said notes that will never, ever see the light of day and it was pretty sad. Even after learning the choreo during the rehearsal, which, granted, apparently had been changed and decreased, I still felt very unprepared, simply because I had never been given the opportunity to see the movements before that day. Seriously, how difficult would it have been to videotape the choreo and its various changes and post them somewhere for us to see prior to the rehearsal on the day before the concert? Although I managed to get the gist during the rehearsal, I really felt like we had been given the short end of the stick, which caused disquietude that could have been easily avoided if our needs had been considered – and although it certainly didn’t ruin the trip, I was not at all comfortable or happy with those feelings.

We next sang, ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’, from “Les Miserables,” with reminders of when to sing, when to stand and how to look like you’re marching when you’re not, LOL!

Time was quickly running out. The celebrities were allowed to leave and we were given a quick pep talk to remind us to pace ourselves and to have fun. At this point and we focused on the numbers we were to do without them (or at least could rehearse without them because our parts were more than just background).

Steve Roberts, Music Director of Sing Live UK, conducted us in ‘The Time Warp,’ from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The choreography was nearly identical to how we learned it last year, which was a huge relief. Learning the one or two changes was easy and it was a pleasure to sing under Steve’s direction again.

Finally we sang ‘Jerusalem,’ a traditional English patriotic-type song that I can only equate with “America the Beautiful” or “God Bless America” over here…the kind of song that nearly everyone over a certain childhood age knows….unless you’re not from that country, LOL! We actually only quickly did the last part, where we went onto harmony, since it was nearly 6pm and our piano player was going to have to leave.

The decision was made to not sing ‘Happy Birthday’ (to The Night of 1000 Voices) during the rehearsal. And with that, we were done.

When rehearsals were over, we walked back to the tube station. Just about everyone else from our group took the train but Joe, Darlene and I walked over to the Whole Foods, which was just a few blocks away. Joe has discovered it on our last trip to England, when he wasn’t yet singing in the chorus and therefore has nothing to do on Rehearsal Saturday, so he wandered and had found the Whole Foods. It was a huge store, 3 stories tall and for every familiar item they had (in-house “365” brand goods, Kind bars, Tropicana orange juice, etc.), there was something we had never seen (pick-your-own eggs [chicken – white, brown or blue, quail or ostrich], piles of for sale pastries that were just out in the open, etc.). We didn’t buy anything but it sure was fun to look!

We went back to the hotel after that and as we approached, I again bumped into friend Keith! He is apparently the “bump into person” of the trip (last year it was Caroline). Anyway, we made a quick stop in our room (which they had actually made up today!) and then met up with Darlene again, in search of dinner.

On that “Rehearsal Saturday when he has nothing to do” last year, Joe discovered a restaurant that he really enjoyed, called Med Kitchen. It was nearby and the menu looked pretty good online, so off we went. As it turned out, there were 2 other Sing Live groups there – one was one of the Brit Basses (and his wife) that sat near Joe and the other was a group of a half dozen or so ladies from Liverpool, one of whom I had met on the Alaska. cruise last year. Anyway, I had goat cheese salad followed by roasted chicken, Joe had French onion soup and then lamb stew, and Darlene had the same salad as me, followed by the rigatoni. I also introduced Darlene to the wonderful world of Banoffee pie for dessert, while Joe enjoyed a cup of coffee.

We went back to the room and while we were there, Darlene ordered a ticket to see Avenue Q with us for Monday (we had found a £20 Facebook Friend/Fan special that had gotten us 3rd row and she decided she wanted to see it too so we used the special link).

I pretty much fell into bed after that; we had been told that Sunday was going to be long, brutal but exhilarating day so I wanted to get as much sleep as I could. Goodnight!

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