MUSIC INTERVIEW: Acclaimed Welsh singer song writer Judith Owen and her husband, ‘Spinal Tap’/'Simpsons’/'SNL’ star Harry Shearer, have been staging Christmas sing-along shows for a number of years now, and not only are they fun, but they also raise money for charity.
The first one took place in California in 2005, but the whole thing snowballed (note my timely seasonal use of the word snowballed there) and they now take it all over the place on tour.
Luckily for Londoners, in a few days time the couple are bringing it to the Leicester Square Theatre. So, eager to find out a bit more about the shows, we sent some questions over to Judith… and she answered them.
TW: Your holiday sing along tradition began as a family affair. What inspired you to make it more public?
JO: People started hearing about the annual show, I guess the word got out, and before we knew it we had people calling in October to see if they were on the list!
When the folks at Walt Disney Concert Hall asked if we’d like to stage it there, I jumped at the chance, so we could include as many people as possible and raise some money. Katrina had hit New Orleans in the August, so we had work to do.
Basically it went from being 200 people (crammed into our house) to 2000 people in one year! We’ve been raising money for NOLA ever since, though this year we’re giving the proceeds to the Philippines Relief.
TW: How many years have you been staging it, and do you see yourself continuing indefinitely?
JO: Since 2005, and we’ll continue as long as people want to have fun and support good causes.
TW: Do you have different guests for every show you do, or do you have regulars who keep coming back?
JO: Home-grown guests to keep the costs down. Over the years we’ve really developed our core ‘family’ in every city. Of course, it’s always a crazy scene getting new talent, which I try to do every year, to keep it fresh for the audience (who really do plan for this every year!).
TW: What made you decide to bring the show all the way to London?
JO: Well I’m from here, so how could I not? We got to do it a couple of times at the Purcell, SouthBank, which was wonderful and very high-end. I think this year will be much more ‘adult’ and equally comedy and music.
And talent-wise it’s just the best being here… I’d say that London, LA and New Orleans are incredible shows.
TW: Who and what can we expect from this year’s London show? How did you get people involved?
JO: Where to start! Rob Brydon (how the hell did we get him!), Jacqui Dankworth, Maureen Lipman, Alex Lowe, Danny Thompson, Kiki Dee, Charlie Wood, Alice Russell.
How did I get all them you may ask…? Begging, mostly!
TW: What are your favourite holiday songs?
JO: The ones you can harmonise on… ‘White Christmas’, ‘Silent Night’, ‘Santa Claus is Coming To Town’, honestly, I was brought up singing around the piano… all very Welsh… so it’s group singing all the way for me!
Otherwise it’s got to be the Spinal Tap classic ‘Christmas with the Devil’, which Harry and I do together. And of course no show would be complete without Harry’s interpretation of Jill Sobule’s Chanukah standard ‘Jesus was a Dreidel spinner’!
TW: Do you have any other traditions?
JO: YES!!!! ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’… it began in Disney Hall, when I wanted to the audience to throw themselves into the fun and not feel like they were “behaving in church”!
So I divided the audience in to twelve sections and then had them sing and mime their verse. It got really clever and outrageously rude in about three rounds! Now it’s an annual highlight and people come ready and work out their moves in advance! Needless to say, the prizes for best singing/mime, are an incentive (I hunt down the crappiest Christmas gifts on the face of the planet).
TW: The proceeds of the show go to charity – can you tell us about the organisation you support?
JO: We support the Musicians Clinic of New Orleans (sadly most of the musicians there cannot afford insurance and post Katrina has left a blight of physical and mental health issues), but this year all London proceeds will go to The International Red Cross Philippine Relief Fund.
TW: Have you ever released a recording of one of your holiday shows? Would you?
JO: I have just recorded ‘White Christmas’ with the fabulous Julia Fordham. It’s out now, and again all proceeds go to Red Cross Philippine Relief Fund. In addition, we made a video with the hilarious Jennifer Coolidge guesting (Chris Guest films, ‘Legally Blonde’, ’2 Broke Girls’). It’s a laugh riot and without sounding too syrupy, it feels great to create something entertaining that also raises some money. That IS meant to be the Christmas spirit after all… ISN’T IT? Just like putting down the Xbox and singing round the piano? I feel a comfy sweater moment coming on!
Harry Shearer and Judith Owen’s Holiday Sing-Along is on at Leicester Square Theatre on Saturday 30 Nov. See this page for info and tickets. Judith’s charity single is on sale now and you can get it here (iTunes), for example, or here (Amazon).
LINKS: www.nomaf.org | www.redcross.org.uk | www.judithowen.net | harryshearer.com | www.leicestersquaretheatre.com
Sections: Comedy - Interviews - Music | Tags: Harry Shearer, Holiday Sing-Along, Judith Owen, Leicester Square Theatre