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JENNIFER ELLISON'S COCK-EYED EXCUSE

11-10-2006

Think you've seen it all before? So did Terry Wills until he went to watch Jennifer Ellison in Chicago last week...

Is there a difference between a football fan and a theatre lover when it comes to appreciating the trials and tribulations surrounding their particular passion?

At face value that probably sounds a nonsensical question but a recent experience of mine, when visiting the Alexandra Theatre to see the highly rated musical 'Chicago' left me feeling very disappointed even before the curtain rose to the sounds of the show stopping 'All that Jazz"

Where's the comparison? Well on the football front most supporters, after paying out for a very expensive ticket, anticipate seeing the leading players giving their all for 90 plus minutes even though at the end of the game it could mean disaster for their team and a sorry journey home bemoaning their fate.

Of course there is a perverse side to this train of thought. For instance if 'your' team is struggling to face the likes of a Wayne Rooney and knowing the havoc he could impart on your team, you wouldn't be that disappointed if an announcement was made that he wouldn't be playing for whatever reason!

This of course is sometimes inevitable. Players are prone to injury, sometimessuffering even in the pre-match warm-up. That's part and parcel of the game and if it happens you simply have to grin and bear it.

But surely visiting the Theatre you shouldn't beexperiencing a similar disappointment?

Not unless the artist is indisposed at the last minute,giving the understudy an opportunity to 'strut her stuff'?

So to the crux of the matter. The touring production of the hit musical 'Chicago' starring the very popular Jennifer Ellison. Who it was proclaimed was 'Too Hot To Handle'.

A very attractive young lady who over the years has risen from being a 'Soap Star' in Brookside, moving on to appearing in the film adaptation of 'Phantom of the Opera' and who recenly wowed viewers in a reality television cooking programme.

The publicity machine was put into overdrive. Interviews on television and radio. Reams of print in local newspapers and 'Whats On' magazines all stressing that this was a demanding role with Jennifer herself admitting that performingeight times a week was hard-although she really enjoyed the experience and was looking forward to playing the leading of Roxie Hart for Birmingham audiences.

Regulars fully understand that that some productions stress that at certain performances the leading role will be taken by another named artist. Not that they state which performances - that would discourage advance bookings from those who hand over cash or plastic 'money' and who anticipate seeing the 'Star' in action.

Anyway, this wasn't one of those shows, so confident in the knowledge that she would be playing every performanceI confidently booked an expensive seat. But when I entered the theatre there was an announcement a minute before 'curtain up' that the role of Roxie Hart would be played by the understudy.

Murmurs of disappointment from the audience. "Why wasn't Jennifer Ellison performing? Had she been taken ill. Or was there another plausible reason for her absence"?

But the show must go on and during the interval when chatting to a member of the staff, expressing disappointment at her non appearance he stated that they were only notified of her absence 30 minutes before the performance began.

Curious as to know the reason, after the final Saturday performance,I went along to the theatre to obtain souvenir autographs and photographs of the cast and enquired from a fellow cast member why Miss Ellison had missed her Tuesday performance.

"Had she been taken ill"?

"Oh Tuesday. She was away doing a promotional feature"

"Who for" I enquired curiously. (Aware that at times performers do miss shows to fulfil pre-arranged TV dates etc)

The answer?... "It was for Specsavers!"

Specsavers!????? Now pardon me but isn't that cheating the public? Audiences paying out ticket prices ranging from £19.50 up o £32.50 ,confident in the knowledge they wouldbe 'certain' of seeing the first choice cast unless there was a valid reason for a non-appearance?!

As I've already mentioned,it wouldn't be in a theatre's interest to announce the leading lady would be missing specific dates but after hearing it stated she WOULD be starring at every performanceI can't help feel this is really cheating the public bearing in mind they must have surely been aware she would be missing this show. And was there more than one performance like this?

As to the production itself while Jennifer Ellison was 'missing', her understudy was impressive and deserved the plaudits from a packed audience as the obligatory applause blended with the Orchestra's reprisal of 'All that Jazz'.

Back to the comparison linking football to the theatre. In the former if a player commits a misdemeanour he can be 'awarded a yellow card. Sometimes justified, sometimes not. It's all matter of interpretation.

So in this case should the Alexandra or Jennifer Ellison be given the theatrical equivalent of a caution?

For me the answer is simple and very much to the point.

"She shouldn't have gone to Specsavers"! And after hearing this excuse, if there was such a thing as a 'theatre referee' in attendance, as opposed to a footballing 'Man in Black', I would have been screaming for him to delve into a pocket and at least administer a "booking"..

Jennifer Ellison - unlike a few refs I can think of - should not have been visiting an Opticians when she should have been 'Razzle Dazzling' the audience at the Alexandra Theatre.

TERRY WILLS.

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