This weekend sees the 60th anniversary of the camp-fest that is the Eurovision Song Contest.
Vienna has re-phased its traffic lights in anticipation for a competition which started way back in 1956 when Europe was just a group of countries making cheese and squabbling over Poland. Since then, Europe has opened it’s arms to allow countries like Azerbaijan, Israel and anyone else with enough money to take part. This year, it’s Australia.
Eurovision is unashamedly camp: Last year’s winner was Austria’s Conchita Wurst – part drag queen part bearded sausage. Before that we had Jedward singing about lipstick and Russia’s dancing grandmothers creating a decoy while the rest of the family invaded Ukraine. The West End has a long standing love affair with all this nonsense…so just how many West End performers have stepped up to “take one for their country”?
1992 – One Step out of Time
In 1992 Michael finished 2nd with the UK entry “One Step out of Time”. The song implored his former lover to tell him “just what he had done wrong?” Well, whatever it was he would had to drag it out of them. Later, Michael returned the favour by dragging himself up as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. Before that, he’d wowed us in Les Miserables (original cast, Marius), Phantom, Sweeney Todd and Aspects of Love.
Sally Ann Triplett
1980 – Love Enough For Two
1982 – One Step Further
Star of the National Theatre’s Anything Goes, Sally Ann Triplett has represented the UK twice – first in 1980 as part of Prima Donna with Lance Aston (brother of Jay Aston, who performed with Bucks Fizz). The song was called “Love Enough for Two”. Sadly it wasn’t, and she finished 3rd. Her second attempt was even less successful – 7th place with Bardo’s “One Step Further”. Triplett continued to champion pop socks/cardigan combos as West End favourite Miss Berta in Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques.
Maynard Williams (Ryder)
1986 – Runner In The Night
Maynard Williams was a true long-runner, appearing in the original West End Cast of Joseph and then spending an incredible 8 years in Starlight Express as Greaseball, Elektra and Poppa. The song “Runner in the Night” was, unsurprisingly, about a man “running in the night” – to a woman he had previously left, hoping he was not too late. He was. The song finished seventh.
1994 – Lonely Symphony (We Will Be Free)
Tony Award winner Frances Ruffelle is the daughter of Sylvia Young (of Theatre School fame). Like Maynard Williams, she appeared in Starlight Express and, like Michael Ball, Frances was another of the original cast of Les Miz. After her defeat, Frances didn’t stay lonely for long, going on to star as Roxie Hart in the West End production of Chicago and being mum to Eliza Doolittle.
1979 – Bad Old Days
1981 – Making Your Mind Up
Cheryl is a bona fide West End star having played The Mum in Footloose back in 2006. Versatile Cheryl has recently been seen in a national tour of Happy Days: The Musical – playing The Mum. While a West End transfer of Happy Days remains improbable, there are lots of other shows coming up with Mums in them, so we’re keeping everything crossed.
Miss Baker was originally a member of an entirely different group – the UK’s 1979 entry, Coco. Their song, “Bad Old Days” was (until then) the UK’s lowest scoring entry, finishing in 11th Place. http://www.cherylbaker.net/
2009 – It’s My Time
Who can forget Jade Ewen walking into that violinist? In Eurovision: Your Country Needs You, Andrew Lloyd Webber joined forces with Diane Warren, and decided to write a song for Europe. To be fair, he gave it a pretty good go and with there being no other entries, his song was selected. Jade was chosen from literally several other contestants to sing the song, called “It’s My Time”. It wasn’t, and Jade came 5th. She went on to appear in Regents Park Open Air Theatre’s Porgy & Bess.
2011 – I can
Blue’s unfortunately named 2011 entry proved a boast too far, but that didn’t stop Anthony Costa appearing in Blood Brothers or Duncan James enjoying spells as Warner Huntington III in Legally Blonde and Billy Flynn in Chicago. James is now probably more famous for taking his top off at any and every opportunity – this summer he starts the UK tour of Priscilla Queen of the Desert playing Tick.
Band member Anthony Costa first tried to represent the UK in 2006 as a soloist, placing second in the heat behind Daz Sampson. No doubt at some point if they all run out of money again they will reform and have another go…
Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson
1959 – Sing Little Birdie
Pearl and Teddy Johnson followed up their first attempt to win Eurovision by having another go…but the following year it was Teddy’s own brother, Bryan, who went on to represent the United Kingdom also coming second with “Looking High, High, High”. Pearl and Teddy got their own back though, appearing in the Shaftesbury Theatre’s 1987 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies with Diana Rigg and Julia Mackenzie.
1968 – Congratulations
1973 – Power to all our Friends
Although Sir Cliff didn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of Cheryl Baker by actually winning Eurovision, he did have a jolly good go. Rumour has it that he would have won in ’68 but for a communist plot by General Franco’s communist regime. He also had a bash at acting (Cliff, not General Franco), appearing in Time at the Dominion Theatre and, a decade later, Heathcliff – which toured the UK.
The New Seekers
1972 – Beg, Steal or Borrow
Most famous for their 1971 hit “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”, the New Seekers included the wonderful Lyn Paul. If you were lucky, many years later you’ll have seen Lyn in Blood Brothers as Mrs Johnstone or as Josie James in the Boy George musical Taboo. Lyn also appeared in Footloose, but it’s for Blood Brothers that we’ll best remember her.
1991 – Message to Your Heart
Sam Janus (now Samantha Womack aka Ronnie in Eastenders) tried to send a “Message to Your Heart” in 1991. Her tries were in vain, finishing in 10th place. Since then, Samantha has since appeared in the West End in Guys and Dolls and South Pacific at the Barbican.
1993 – Better the Devil You know
In the West End, Sonia replaced Debbie Gibson in Grease. Anyone who remembers Debbie Gibson in Grease may recall what a relief that was.
2004 – Hold on to our Love
This Fame Academy student sang Hold on to our Love. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t enough to beat the song that won – or indeed the song that came 15th. In the West End, James featured in the Billy Joel/Twla Tharp show Movin’ Out. The show played at the Victoria Palace Theatre and was fortunately a great deal better than Hold on to our Love…
West End Eurovision
Okay – so you get the point? There’s an awful lot of toing and froing between West End Theatre and the Eurovision Song Contest. Back in 2008 following a whirlwind romance, a lovely bouncing baby was born…in the form of West End Eurovision. The contest saw the casts from dozens of West End shows competing against one another to raise money for the MAD Trust http://www.madtrust.org.uk/ If you think Eurovision is camp, just check out West End Eurovision on youtube!
While it may be a little to the south of Theatreland, no Eurovision blog would be complete without a nod to the greatest of all winning songs, Waterloo. ABBA won way back in 1974 when the UK hosted the contest in rainbow-coloured Brighton. Benny and Bjorn went on to form a highly successful threesome with Sir Tim Rice and in the process wrote “Chess”.
In more recent years, Benny & Bjorn have seen their quite wonderful (and equally complicated) Kristina fran Duvemala translated into English and one of these days a producer with enough money and chutzpa will risk a West End Production….until then at least we have Mamma Mia to remind us all just quite what brilliant song writers the boys were…..and what great things can occur when the West End meets Eurovision!
The 2015 contest will be shown this Saturday, 23rd May to a global audience.