September 12, 2018

Leave It To Legendary London

TOMMY FREAKIN' STEELE.

MAGNIFICENT GLENN MILLER.

YES, I AM SHOUTING FROM THE TOP OF MY LUNGS BECAUSE IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCES OF MY LIFE.


Let me try to calm down and explain it better to you.

I traveled to London for a long weekend to spend time with Marc's sister, Alex, and her husband, Cory, who are currently living near Cambridge.

I realize Cambridge is not that close to London.

But with a few expensive train rides, anything is possible!

There were four parts to this weekend, all of which could stand on their own as great moments. I'll take you through the three others before I get to gushing about Tommy Steele and Glenn Miller. [OMG. Focusing.]

Honorable Mention... Tea!

My adorable and delicious tea picnic came from B Bakery (also known as "Brigit's Bakery") in Covent Garden. It was August, I wanted to walk around, and the picnic was a fantastic idea. Until it started raining and never stopped. I did have an umbrella, and I did find a covered door stoop, and I did enjoy my tea time, much to the amusement of the British people passing by.


I could have totally let the rain ruin my tea picnic, but instead, I just accepted it as London luck. I mean, how many other opportunities will I really have to spread clotted cream and strawberry jam onto a scone outside in the middle of a downpour?

Third Place... Wine!

Alex and I got to meet up with Michael, one of the Vilas' "umpteenth umpth cousins" (there are hundreds of them, and this one, we think, is a 4th cousin). Michael has lived in London for years, and he suggested we meet at Terroirs.


We enjoyed some great wine, of course, but then also the very creative and tasty share plates while catching up on each other's news and stories. Food in London is always impressive and Terroirs follows that standard excellently.

Second Place... Church!

Somewhat spiritually incorrect, but this is just the honest truth (and at least it's ranked ahead of wine, haha). Plus, Pastor Tim Chaddick is still young and not quite as limited edition as the winner of this blog post. Back story: when I was in college north of Los Angeles, my friends' and my favorite church to road trip to was Reality LA in Hollywood.


Pastor Tim is a very gifted speaker and communicator, and he always just lays the truth down in a direct and transparent way. His Easter sermon circa 2008 is still the best sermon I've ever heard. Anyway, Tim Chaddick and his family have ended up at Reality London, and I knew it was time to wrap a Sunday into a trip to visit Alex and Cory. It was everything Reality LA had been ten years ago and more, embellished with British accents and expat friendliness.


GRAND CHAMPION OF ALL TIME... Theatre!

I will NOT apologize for FREAKING OUT. I planned this weekend around seeing Alex and Cory, having at least one tea time, going to Reality, and taking in some random theatre show. I had just been on a high from seeing Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again!, and thought Mamma Mia! might be a fun idea. Thought about Aladdin, pretended Hamilton was an available option, and Alex just told me straight up: "Christy, pick whatever you want because I probably won't be that into it anyway."

I'll take a carte blanche no matter how it comes! I went through the listings once again, and I read, "Tommy Steele in The Glenn Miller Story." You might be asking, "Who's Tommy Steele?" but I was asking, "Who's Glenn Miller?"

Because, people, Tommy Steele is in two of my favorite old movie musicals ever: The Happiest Millionaire and Finian's Rainbow. One involves frozen crocodile pets and the other a magical pot of gold. Both are perfect.

After I figured out who Glenn Miller was and that his entire genre of big band and swing music is exactly part of my journey of discovering my most adored kind of music, my next question was, "Wait. How is Tommy Steele still alive?!"

He's 81 years old and still performing live on the West End. See what I mean by limited edition?

Plus, his run of The Glenn Miller Story was already scheduled and planned to last just seven weeks in London.

And 9-year-old little Christy Swagerty who remembered Tommy Steele's hilarious Irish butler and leprechaun movie parts already had plans to be in England that weekend.


If you can try to imagine even half of what I was feeling during this show, then you'll know it was overwhelming. Tommy Steele appeared on stage and my eyes filled with tears. It was being in the presence of a legend. His dynamic spirit and contagious energy filled the entire London Coliseum and he interacted with the audience and costars alike with ease, grace, and generosity. His enormous smile radiated all 81 years of loving to make people laugh and sing. Also of note was how funny it was to see such an old man "running" (more like trotting) across the stage during various numbers. But Tommy Steele could hack it!

Besides Tommy Steele's magnanimity, the production itself was awesome, of course. The stage was set with lighted arches that could become any color to fit the scene and number. The choreography included both tap and swing dancing, all wrapped into perfectly selected vintage costumes, tuned expertly to Glenn Miller classics like "Chattanooga Choo Choo," "Moonlight Serenade," "Pennsylvania 6-5000," and my personal favorite, "In the Mood." Pleasantly surprising was the inclusion of very famous "At Last," which turns out was written for one of Glenn Miller's films, Sun Valley Serenade (that I made Marc watch with me after I returned home).


Never mind the fact that Glenn Miller died during World War II at the all-too-soon age of just 40 years old and Tommy Steele was acting as a man half his age. If anything, it made it a little bit sillier and more nostalgic. Apparently, Tommy Steele was inspired by Glenn Miller's music on the radio as a child and was thrilled to play this part on the stage because it was all of his favorite music!

During the intermission, the people sitting in our row said to us as we walked by, "Aren't you two a little too young for this show?" After we responded with laughter and that I liked the music, etc., the second question came quickly, "And...you're American?!" One of my beloved pastimes: being different and a tad bit confusing for people to figure out.

I held it mostly together until the end, then Glenn Miller's character died and was shown playing his music in heaven while his grieving wife looked on. At that point I was a mess of tears, dancing, and sob-singing. Granted, this is not a sad show; it's a definitely happy show with happy songs and happy dancing that just happens to have a sad ending. However, ever the entertainer, Tommy Steele resurrected for the encore like a true champ, performing three more songs with the audience to sing along. It's impossible to feel sad when shout-singing and jazz-hand-dancing to "Sing Sing Sing" with thousands of strangers and the one and only Tommy Steele.

This theatre experience ranks even above my first shows of Phantom of the Opera and Jersey Boys. It was such an unbelievable and overwhelming combination of the music, the Tommy Steele, the story, the dancing, the singing, the old movies, being in London again, summer nights, and all the depth and memories that naturally accompany each of those things. I felt my mind and emotions being stretched in all sorts of wonderful directions, and, ultimately, it was phenomenal because I loved and learned in every minute of it.

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