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Little Women.

September 4, 2013

“I’ve seen bigger feet on a hamster,” is possibly the strangest critique of an actress’s performance that I’ve ever heard. It came from somebody who got a close up view of Charlotte Wakefield paddling in the stage front trough at “The Sound of Music” last month.

Now, I’m not sure if the comment was well-intended, fetishistic or creepy (in a “should maybe wear padlocked wellies for the rest of the run” way). Certainly, I know from experience that occasional commenting on a lady’s choice of manicure polish elicits a favourable response, but I think I can honestly say any I’ve always kept any commenting on digits to above the knee.

Still, the person got me thinking. In opera, the old joke about the sign in the lift at the Royal Opera House saying it is “licensed to carry 8 persons” (to which a wit adds “or one opera singer”) rings about true. Those torsos expand to accommodate the lungs required to belt arias.

Men in musical theatre are usually tall and share a similarly expanded diaphragm – Wakefield’s co-star, Michael Xavier, Michael Ball, Colm Wilkinson, Declan Bennett, Michael Crawford et al (and oddly, almost all called Michael…).

And yet…the ladies – I’m thinking Bernadette Peters, Elaine Paige, Linzi Hateley, Kerry Ellis, Leas’ Salonga and Michele, Francis Ruffelle, Lisa O’Hare, Ruthie Henshall, Stephanie Fearon, Idina Menzel, Victoria Hamilton Barritt and now Charlotte Wakefield, well, the souvenir brochures of their shows feature basically ‘life size’ photos of them… and yet all produce amazing vocal performances with voices that ring out pure and clear to the chandelier of the biggest auditorium.

Does musical theatre school encourage ladies to find their inner Tardis? Does art imitate life with the smaller person making more noise to be heard? Or do directors just prefer really small women so that they can hire the costumes from Mothercare rather than Angel and Berman and thus take advantage of VAT free child size clothing?

I’m not complaining – I’m always in awe of those who can sing in public without getting arrested (don’t ask) and I own albums by all the above who have released them. Just curious, well, almost as curious as that “Fiddler on the Hoof”….

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