It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Zing! is a wildly entertaining autobiography by Colin Copperfield.
Colin started in showbiz aged 14 and has spent his life as an actor, dancer, singer and songwriter – including 25 years in the vocal group Wall Street Crash.
He spent 3 years on cruise ships, 6 years on shows in London’s West End, including Jesus Christ Superstar and The Who’s Tommy, and he appeared in over 900 TV shows in 26 countries.
He appeared in three Royal Command Performances and on five albums and eleven singles.
He told me: “I’ve recently finished composing the musical Paradise Lane, fingers and eyes crossed coming to a theatre near you soon.”
He was born in Forest Gate in the East End of London.
“I had a bit of a tough upbringing. I’m 72 now… Now I write songs for other artists and I’m a dance teacher specialising in tap, modern and ballet. I also work as personal fitness trainer.”
Obviously I had to talk to him.
JOHN: So… Jesus Christ Superstar in the West End.
COLIN: It was just one of those flukes of showbusiness. I was around 28. I was doing singing telegrams to pay the rent.
Superstar needed rock singers for the stage production.
They couldn’t make rock singers out of the traditional people in showbusiness – they were all My Boy Bill singers. They needed rock singers so, when they started, they auditioned people who sang in bands, like I did. But most of the people who sang in bands had no theatre discipline. They could sing on television but couldn’t do theatre.
There was a big problem getting enough good suitable singers. So we very often used to do Jesus Christ Superstar – this is a top West End show remember – with seven disciples.
We had lots of Japanese tourists coming in and you could see them looking confused. Surely there were 12 disciples???
We – truly – sometimes used to dress the girls with short hair up as boys to sit round the Last Supper table, because you really HAD to have 12 disciples at the Last Supper.
At some points we were all round the table and we’d all link up hands and have to stretch a bit: different arm lengths.
JOHN: It must almost be relaxing performing in a successful, long-running West End show, though…
COLIN: Well, when I was in Jesus Christ Superstar, I was really busy. I was also working at the Stork Club in Piccadilly Circus – doing the midnight show and the 2 o’clock in the morning show. And I was also doing a television show at Teddington Studios with Tommy Steele.
I was doing the Tommy Steele show all day, which was really hard; we were tap-dancing down this staircase all day. Guys were breaking their legs going up and down. I only got the gig because of one of my friends, who was a proper dancer. I went along and it was quite a long rehearsal period – a 2-month rehearsal period – and then we filmed at Teddington.
I was doing that during the day and Jesus Christ Superstar at night and then I was working at the Stork Club after that. So I was a bit tired. I was getting about 2 or 3 hours kip a night.
Anyway, one night I’d been tap-dancing during the day in Teddington and then I got to Superstar in the West End.
It was a Saturday night performance – I was knackered.
Just before the interval, they did this song called Gethsemane – everyone’s asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus sings this very long song.
It went on for about eight minutes about how he was going to be denied and all that.
At the end of it, Jesus sings (COLIN SINGS) “…before I change my mind…” – then BLACKOUT.
So, there’s a blackout and we all clear the stage – Interval – the audience buy their ice creams. Then, at the beginning of the second half – BLACKOUT – we all come back into our sleeping positions – Jesus is standing there.
So, at the end of the first half, I had got onto the floor; it was a really warm floor; perspex squares; I’m slunk down; Jesus is singing; I’ve fallen asleep. BLACKOUT. Peter and John have gone. Jesus has gone.
But I’m still fast asleep on the stage.
They were about to lower the iron curtain; all the lights are up and somebody saw me lying there, more or less under the iron curtain.
“Colin! Colin! Colin!!!”…
They had to send the stage hands on to wake me up.
All the audience have seen this. So, at the beginning of the Second Act… BLACKOUT… and, as the lights came up, the whole audience stands up and starts clapping and shouting “Bravo!” just as Jesus is about to be denied. Literally, a standing ovation.
I was in Jesus Christ Superstar for three years. I was in it three times.
JOHN: Three times?
COLIN: I had been in Superstar for about a year, then left to do a show at the Ambassadors Theatre – Let The Good Stones Roll, about the Rolling Stones. I played Keith Richards. That was on for about 8 months.
Then I went to do another show called Leave Him to Heaven at the New London Theatre with Anita Dobson. That came off and I was meeting a mate of mine in town for a drink near the Palace Theatre where Jesus Christ Superstar was still on.
As I passed the Palace Theatre, suddenly Peter Gardner, the company manager, appeared out of nowhere and rushed over:
“Colin! Colin! You gotta come over, darling. We’ve got nobody to play Peter and Simon Zealotes!”
“Peter,” I said, “I’m going to meet my mate for a drink. I haven’t been in this show for a year.”
“Darling! You’ll remember it, darling! You’ll remember it! Come in! Come in! Go up to the wardrobe department!”
I went in. I went up. New people. Nobody I knew.
So I go on stage. It’s the Saturday Matinee and I’m on stage with this cast of 35 people I’ve never met in my life. They are all thinking: Who is this bloke?
I was on stage, singing all the relevant songs. And, at the end of it, bless their hearts, the whole company did the Who’s Best (EXPLAINED IN THE COMMENTS SECTION BELOW) and the whole company turned to me. I didn’t know ANYbody.
I never ever took time off when I was in the West End but, another night, I got Hong Kong flu. Loads of people were off sick. I think some theatres even went dark. I was living in Islington (north London), lying there ‘dying’ in my bed and Peter Gardner phones up:
“Treas, treas” – he called everybody ‘treas’ as in ‘treasure’ – “you gotta come in, darling. We’ve got nobody to play Peter, Simon or Herod and…”
I said: “Peter, I’ve got a temperature of 104, otherwise I’d be in there. You know that.”
“No, darling, you gotta come in…”
“Anyway,” I said, “I can’t play four parts, because they overlap!”
He said: “Oh, no no no. We’ll work round that, darling.”
JOHN: We’ll kill Jesus early?
COLIN: “We’ll change the story a bit… We’ll send a car for you. You’ve got to come in, darling. We’re in terrible trouble.”
So I get in this car and I really was feeling like I’m dying.
I got to the theatre and they put me in the first costume and threw me on to the stage. Then they put me into the next costume to play Herod. Then off into the next one… And I have very little memory of the whole thing. I was nearly dead when I did it! Four roles! They had a cab waiting to take me home and I slept maybe for three days.
JOHN: They were able to change your face by putting on different wigs?
COLIN: All of that, but I don’t think it was fooling anybody: Hold on, that short bloke was just playing Herod… Why is he playing the High Priest now? I guess people thought it must have some deep theatrical meaning.
Anyway, one night I played four parts in the same play in the West End, with a temperature of 104.
with the dustman, the buskers and Dean Martin
3 responses to “Colin Copperfield (1st of 3) – Behind the quirky scenes of Jesus Christ Superstar”
” the whole company did the Who’s Best”
I’d love to know what this means! Googling gives me one result: this page!
Colin Copperfield explains: “The Who’s Best is a term used by theatricals regarding what ‘non theatricals’ refer to as The Curtain Call.
“All the performers wait off stage in a state of eager anticipation as to the volume of applause they will receive when they enter onto the boards (stage), walk with confidence to the front of the stage – known to theatricals as ‘ down stage front’ – scan the entire theatre usually starting with The Gods (the cheapest seats at the very top of the theatre where you can’t actually see the ants on the stage one thousand six hundred metres below and all you get in the way of entertainment is a severe altitude nose bleed)… and…
“…when the performer has completed scanning/crawling to the audience he/she will bow to them and – this is the important bit – hopefully receive more applause than the performers before or after them and so be considered ‘The Best’ performer.”
Thanks so much for your prompt reply!