Sunday, December 13

I wake fairly early this morning, and as we have no commitments for a few hours I let Liz sleep on while I set to writing two days worth of blog posts.

After completing the first day I decide that coffee is needed, so get dressed to make my way to the front desk where the coffee machine is kept.

At this hour I am in a rather dishevelled state, so am grateful to discover that the breakfast buffet (including a pot of freshly brewed coffee) is being laid out in our building. I am filling two cups when the lady who is responsible for the breakfast suddenly notices me and cries out: ‘Wow! It’s you! I saw your show last night.  Oh, my!  All of those characters! How do you do it?’  It is difficult to maintain decorum when the bags under one’s eyes are so heavy that they would attract excess baggage charges, and one’s hair is sticking out horizontally.  I try to be as suave and grateful as I can, but probably fail.

Back in the room I finish writing, and we get ready to return downstairs for breakfast. A Joseph Ambler breakfast buffet is a wonderful thing, and we both enjoy a plate of fresh fruit, before embarking on scrambled eggs and bacon.

We need to be on the road at 10am, so we finish packing and load the car up ready for the next leg of our adventure. As I check out there is a lady fussing over the Christmas decorations and I ask her if she is responsible for dressing the entire inn, to which she answers yes.  I tell her what an amazing job she has done: her face lights up with one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen.  As I leave I say ‘Merry Christmas’, to which she replies ‘Straight back at ya!’

It is another warm spring-like day, and the drive is easy. At one intersection we are sat behind a fire truck, and we talk about how perfectly – well – American the large utilitarian vehicles are here: fire trucks, school busses, Mac and Peterbilt tractor units are all so chunky and purposeful.  Liz says that it is as if the designer took his childhood Tonka Toy and made it for real – and that is exactly how this fire tender looks.

Within an hour we are dropping down the steep hill towards Bethlehem and passing the classic golden arches of a McDonalds restaurant that looks as if it hasn’t changed since the 1950s.

Our destination is the Historic Hotel Bethlehem, which is a major social hub in the self-styled Christmas City. The lobby is packed as we arrive, with a huge, elegantly attired crowd enjoying a lavish brunch.  As we drag our cases through the throng, a musical duo (piano and violin) are playing ‘The Streets of London’, which seems very apt for our arrival.

It is only 11.15 and not surprisingly our room is not ready, so we decide to sit in the bar and have a cup of coffee before heading to the theatre.

As is often the case on tour, our eating times will be a bit of a lottery, but now Liz is here she takes much more care of my dietary needs than I do alone, and insists we get something to eat before the first show. We decide to go to the café in the Moravian Bookstore (which sponsors my events here).  As soon as we walk through the door we bump into Lisa Girard who has been running my shows for 5 years or so.  Liz has been to Bethlehem on a few occasions and Lisa is delighted to see her back again this year.  As we all chat I notice a slim wooden stool that is part of a Crabtree and Evelyn display which would be perfect on my set.

Our plans for lunch have to change when Lisa tells us that the café has been replaced by a bar specialising in mead – probably not the perfect preparation for a show. Lisa directs us to another café a few doors away.

As we walk up the street the air is filled with a wonderful cacophony of festive sounds: piped Christmas music is playing through speakers carefully hidden among the twinkling branches of the trees; on a street corner a trumpeter plays and there is the clop of horses’ hooves as they pull open carriages.  I have mentioned a few times that I have struggled to feel Christmassy on this trip, due to the unseasonably warm weather, but Bethlehem is doing its best to remedy that (even though the temperature is close to 70)

Having bought a couple of sandwiches and some fruit we walk to the theatre, which is part of the Moravian College, where we are greeted by our old friend Blair, who looks after the technical side of my shows.

Lisa is on the stage putting furniture in place, and making sure that the fireplace has a genuine, working, fake-fire on the hearth.

I tentatively bring up the issue of the musical opening, but Blair can easily play my CD through the sound system, and there is a central aisle down which I can make my entrance, which should prove very atmospheric. Blair can’t control the lighting from his desk, so Lisa will be stationed in the wings to bring the stage lights up when the fourth ‘bong’ has sounded.

The only stools in the hall are metal, and rather unsuitable, so I mention to Lisa the one I’d spotted earlier: she goes to the book store to fetch it and we go back to the hotel, which is only a five minute walk. I get a few things that I need from my bag, before going back to the theatre and Liz stays at the hotel, as our room is almost ready and she can check in for us.

Back in my dressing room I get changed and mooch around for a bit, until Liz returns and we chat with Lisa backstage. I am performing in the Foy Hall, which is where the music faculty gives their orchestral concerts. Behind the scenes there is a large gong, which I wish I could include in the show (J Arthur Rank presents…..BONNNNGGGGGG!!!!).  There is a huge base drum as well as a glockenspiel and xylophone – the possibilities are endless.

The audience starts to arrive, and it is a big one – around three hundred, and they will fill the whole lower tier of the concert hall, which will make for a good atmosphere. Gradually the hall fills up and 1 o’clock approaches.

I am always introduced here by Kristy, who works at the book store, and as usual she is dressed in a spectacular Victorian dress. Lisa goes to her lighting post in the wings, I go to the back of the hall and Kristy gets nervous.

Kristy’s introduction is well written and delivered: she has taken our standard welcome remarks and made them very much her own – it is a good start to the show. The houselights dim to nothing, and so do the stage lights.  The music starts and I try to make my way down the steep steps through the audience to stage level, without falling flat on my face.  As I get to the stage the lights come up – maybe we need to re-think that for this evening.

The audience are wonderful, and give the show energy, creating a strong performance which, in turn, enthuses the audience even more: it is whatever the opposite of a vicious circle is.

The routine is slightly different in Bethlehem, as the signing session is back in the Book store, so I change at the theatre, before walking back through the streets again. There is quite a line waiting for me, but Lisa runs the session with military precision: making sure that every book is open to the correct page, and that photographs are taken with a minimum of delay.  The result of all this efficiency is that the last book is signed after only about half an hour.

Liz has been browsing in the shop, and together we walk to the hotel, where I can relax for a couple of hours. We put the TV on and try to find Christmas films to watch, finally settling on Santa Claus 3: The Escape Claus.  While we are watching I suddenly become aware of music from outside, and we look out of our window to see crowds gathering around The Central Moravian Church ready for Vespers.  In the bell tower, high above the street, a trombone ensemble are playing carols.  It is beautiful.  We leave the window open (having nearly dropped the metal fly screen onto the roof below), and let the sounds of Bethlehem float in to our room:  as well as the music, there is a deep throaty rumble of a Harley Davidson and the evocative hooting of a train heading for some distant destination.

My rest time passes all too quickly and after a long hot soak in a bath, I get ready for the evening show.

Blair is involved in the Vespers service, so the sound and lighting is being looked after by Chris this evening. We discuss the opening, and get the light levels set to create the eerie atmosphere that we are looking for, but without sending me plummeting onto the stage as I trip in the dark.

The corridor behind the auditorium is lined with lockers in which the students can store their musical instruments: small narrow ones for trumpets and violins, and large wide ones for tubas and euphoniums. One locker is unlocked and slightly open: Liz and I peer in, to see what instrument it holds and find a Darth Vader mask and a rubber chicken: there really is nothing more to be said about the state of modern music.

The evening audience is smaller than this afternoon’s, but just as enthusiastic and I am determined to put on a good show for them (having rather let the corresponding audience down this time last year). It is a fine balancing act, as it is so easy to overstep the mark and try too hard, which is what happened twelve months ago.  I am pleased with my efforts and the audience seems happy too,

After taking the applause I change, and Liz helps me to pack everything up before taking the costume and my bag to the hotel, while I return to the store for the signing ‘hour’. The line is shorter this evening and with Lisa’s help I finish in good time.  I sign a few copies for the shop’s stock, and then say my goodbyes to Lisa and the team, before rejoining Liz in our room.

I change, and we go to the bar for some dinner. Many of the audience are dining there too, and one very kind gentleman offers to buy us both a glass of wine, which is so nice of him.

We order fish and chips and sit, revelling in the history and the elegance of this beautiful old hotel, lined with photographs of the famous folk who have dined here. The Christmas decorations are amazing with a massive nativity scene about the front door, and two huge Christmas trees decorated in all in white (including large glass baubles with moving stars projected from within).  It is everything that a hotel should be and we both love being here.

Sadly our stay is only for one night, for tomorrow we have an early alarm call. We return to our room and find that ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is playing again, so we watch it in bed, before turning the lights off and falling asleep.



Moravian Book Shop:

Moravian College: