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Theatrical full circle for Spice Girls

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Next to his repurposed Soviet-epoch Czech motorbike, extensive facial jewellery and Tom of Finland coffee table books, my former neighbour in London took the greatest pride in his complete collection of Spice Girls dolls.

Until the day he died, Darren stoically resisted the urge to break the seals. Geri, Victoria, Emma, Mels B and C remained intact and untouched to the end.

If whoever he bequeathed the famous five to echoed Darren’s restraint, that heir is sitting today on a goldmine. For, as anyone not in cryogenic hibernation knows, Spicemania is about to be resuscitated and with it the value of any associated merchandise.

The back catalogue of music and fans, plus the additional ingredients of Judy Craymer and Jennifer Saunders doesn’t of course make Viva Forever failure proof but places it infinitesimally close.

I, for one, shouldn’t begrudge that because I know from experience that the Spice Girls represent invaluable marketing for The Stage and what it does.

Granted, you could throw a spotlight on any congregation of celebrities and likely land on someone who got their break from an advert in this publication. Only this week on page 44 of the newspaper Nick Smurthwaite reminds us that David Frost got into television on the back of a favourable review here

The Stage actually played a part in the choice of Frost to host TW3. The show’s producer, Ned Sherrin, had read a review by Peter Hepple in this publication of Frost’s cabaret act at the Blue Room in London’s Berkeley Street. By day, Frost was a reporter for Associated Rediffusion, by night a stand-up comedian.

After seeing him onstage, Sherrin invited the clean-cut young Cambridge graduate to lunch with himself and the writer Antony Jay the next day. The three sketched out the show that became TW3 –  part cutting-edge political satire, part sophisticated musical revue.

(so much, then, for the old adage about the three most useless things…).

No alumnus however has matched Geri and co for their enthusiastic and unsolicited promotion of The Stage. In part that’s because, as pop stars, the Spice Girls touched a demographic (and in a quantity) that most actors outside Hollywood will never reach.

Yet, unusually for their era, the Spices were unashamedly showbiz. Talent shows, notably X Factor, have obscured the fact that, for a long period since the early 60s, the entertainment tag was the kiss of death for serious chart toppers.

When you think of some of the artistic crimes committed in between, perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing but by the 1990s a revision of the status quo was overdue.

Certainly the Spice Girls were well suited to be the agents of change: Emma Bunton came out of the Sylvia Young stable, the then Victoria Adams was a graduate of Laine Theatre Arts college and Gerri Halliwell had been a presenter on Turkish TV. Since then, former Blackpool performer Melanie Brown has taken to the Hollywood circuit and recently Melanie Chisholm (ex-Bird College) won plaudits for her roles in Blood Brothers and Jesus Christ Superstar.

I’ve seen them live just once – 15 years ago on ITV’s An Evening with Elton John when they performed with their host.

The memorable bit though was their ad-libbing before the singing, when they took the opportunity onstage to mercilessly rib American magician David Copperfield for blanking them in the lift to the studio. If ever the time had come to make himself truly disappear, Copperfield’s rictus grin suggested it was then.

As Judy Craymer implied in a recent interview the Spice Girls’ theatrical involvement is less a matter of signing up for fame’s last chance saloon, more a case of returning full circle.

* Belated thanks to TheatreCraft stalwart Suzy Humphries (another unsung heroine) for her comments to my last blog and not least for reminding us all of the enormous, and understated, contribution of Arnold Crook.