On the bus I take to work each morning there's a sign that reads "it's easy to spot ticket inspectors, they look just like you". I doubt that many transport enforcers finish their look, like I do on cold days, with a blanket filched from Virgin Atlantic wrapped around their knees, but the point is that they are among us, concealed in plain sight. Just like fans of musicals.
A friend of mine, who I shan't name because I value my kneecaps, got me thinking about it. A nice chap, bit of a lad, into his footie and clever American novels, has been avidly awaiting the release of Les Miserables at the cinema (less than two weeks to go. But he's already got his tickets). The trailers have been watched and rewatched. The book has been downloaded. The soundtrack, I'm afraid to say, has been leaking out of his headphones. Oh all right, I've been egging him on a bit too. Humming "Do you hear the people sing?" to set him off, showing him YouTube videos of "Master of the House". I don't love it in the way he clearly does, but I saw it as a 13-year-old, and all its po-faced, non-ironic bombast and epic songs appealed to me then and have left a certain fondness behind.
Similarly, you wouldn't know a musicals refusenik if they passed you in the street. A colleague on the arts desk who I assumed would like a bit of the old jazz hands (a spot of Starlight, a dash of Joseph) flinched at their names. My husband went one further. "Do you fancy going to see Les Miserables?" I asked, fairly sure that his answer would be no, but he went one better. "I'd rather DIE. Wait, I'd rather have my head chopped off. That would be more appropriate". The fuss he made about avoiding the trailer for the film version of Mamma Mia would make you think it was a Greek tragedy set over six hours sung in the original language. You might imagine someone with this developed a sense of drama would love a bit of misery theatre with songs thrown in, but no. He can't even cope with movie musicals: he lasted five minutes in Sweeney Todd.
He's a militant musical-theatre atheist. I'm ... agnostic. Is there a Jesus Christ Superstar? I don't know. I haven't seen it because I always thought that songs and stigmata were unhappy bedfellows. But I love a bit of Joseph. And I suppose there's a fair bit of slaying in that. I also had a teenage flirtation with The Rocky Horror Show. I say flirtation, I could probably still recite the entire script, plus songs, off by heart. That's more of a long-term relationship. This production particularly draws my husband's ire. I think it's because he got it out on video once thinking it was going to be a slasher flick. I can see you'd be a bit perplexed when the action unfolded. Actually, I suppose in this instance you probably can spot its fans – they're unlikely to look like you unless you're a six-foot bloke in a basque or a girl with Bride of Frank-N-Furter hair.