Harry Gabriel is one of those unsung heroes in theatreland: the stage door keeper. Part surrogate parent, part nurse, part firm friend, they are the conduit between front and back of house, cast and crew, performer and fan.
In forty years at the Shaftesbury Theatre, “Uncle Harry” has seen a lot. The first production he saw staged in his space was Hello Dolly in 1980, and he’s now a familiar face for those performing in &Juliet.
Giles Terera has pulled together a concert which is a truly lovely celebration of this most enduring of backstage theatre people through song, dance, and happy memories.
He has assembled a starry cast including David Bedella (still with the devil’s eye on the 40th anniversary cake), Jason Pennycooke (dancing to that most potent of stories of adversity, Mr Bojangles), Beverley Knight, Clive Rowe (in great form celebrating life), and more.
Fellow octogenarians (Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench, Chita Rivera) send messages of love, with Sharon D Clarke and Susie McKenna, Eddie Izzard, Amanda Holden and others remembering Harry’s kindness and positivity to them when they worked at the theatre.
This is what theatre is. A family business, an evolving and huge family, but nevertheless one of support and strength. Harry seems a lovely man, well-liked and treasured by those he looks after. He’s “still goin’ strong” to quote the title song of the first show under his watch.
You can see this as a celebration both of a West End employee, well-loved, who has a smile for everyone, and a loving showcase of songs from shows across the years. It seemed appropriate, somehow, to end with the perennial “Seasons of Love” from Rent.
Hello, Harry! is available on the OfficialLondonTheatre YouTube channel, and is raising money for Cancer Research UK, Black Lives Matter, and The Black Curriculum.
Photo credit: Ryan Eddleston