WHEN I was little I wanted to be Lena Zavaroni – the closest I got was singing into my hairbrush in front of the mirror.
But Lena went all the way…to the White House to sing for President Gerald Ford, HRH The Queen and with Hollywood royalty Frank Sinatra.
My generation grew up with the soundtrack of the 1970s, power cuts, strikes. three television channels – and “Ma’s He’s Making Eyes at Me” was part of this soundtrack.
It is difficult to describe today the sensation that Lena caused in front of 18 million viewers at only 10 years old, and above all her talent, too often eclipsed by the tragic events that followed.
I was delighted to learn that Tim Whitnall, who had written Morecambe (my comedy hero) had written a play about Lena’s story and had gone to the Beacon, not sure what to expect.
It was a tough watch at times.
We all think we know so much about Lena Zavaroni – this piece tells us what we didn’t know.
The journey to Opportunity Knocks and how behind the scenes – it was all happening.
The play was written through the eyes of Lena’s father, Victor, portrayed with sensitivity by Alan McHugh.
He looks back on a life of regrets, of opportunities he had but failed to curb the relentless roller coaster of showbiz spiraling out of control.
But he and his wife Hilda, amateur musicians/singers in their hometown of Rothesay, were no match for ruthless agent Dorothy Solomon, nailed perfectly by Helen Logan.
She persuaded them to allow her to take Lena to London to stay with her as she groomed her for stardom.
It seems unimaginable to me that my 10-year-old son, Peter, was around the same age as Lena when she left home and family.
But Victor and Hilda thought they were doing their best for their daughter, giving her the chances they never had.
You also couldn’t help but feel for Hilda, Julie Coombe who gave us laughs and pathos, as she battled her own demons.
Erin Armstrong is outstanding as Lena, capturing her bubbly personality, wonderful voice, and stage presence.
Jon Culshaw is compelling as Hughie Green trades in the show’s “most sincerely” fake host model as a sober narrator.
Little was known about anorexia nervosa at the time – it was casually nicknamed “the disease of thinness”, but was in fact a starvation, deeply destructive psychological disorder.
Even the doctors who knew what it was didn’t know how to treat it and anything mental health related at that time – unlike those ‘woke’ times was shrouded in stigma and shame.
Some people may think that Lena was a child star whose singing style fell out of fashion, causing her star to wane.
It’s not true – who knows what she might have accomplished if she hadn’t gotten sick. Thanks to Erin, the fabulous cast, Tim Whitnall and the Beacon, we got a glimpse of the future that was so cruelly taken from it.
The show is on tour next year – don’t miss it.