I first saw La La Land with my parents. We’d picked up a copy on DVD from Primark (it was on a stand in that bit where you queue up to pay, next to the multi-packs of face-wipes and cheap socks), got in a load of snacks and some wine, and screened it on the big telly in the front room.
A life-long fan of musicals, I laughed and blubbed through the whole thing, marvelling at the colours, the outfits and the dreamy narrative. I swooned over mooning Ryan Gosling and fan-girled over wide-eyed Emma Stone, and felt simultaneously heart-broken and lifted by the film’s conclusion. My Dad, however, nodded off.
But as La La Land in Concert, taking place at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, gets underway, it’s clear there’s absolutely no chance of anyone dropping off. Not only are you surrounded by a couple of thousand people in one of the city’s most stunning (seriously, that organ though) spaces, but the sheer scale of the screen and audio is impossible to ignore.
My friend Danielle and I have been psyching each other up all week, sending over-excited WhatsApp messages and tagging each other in La La Land GIFs. Having walked away with six Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Song and Best Original Score, the film was a box office smash.
The movie is visually stunning and, as I didn’t get to see it at the cinema, it was brilliant to watch it on a big screen. But this time it was the music that impressed me the most. Sure, I fell in love with the characters and the story all over again (the part where Mia starts talking about failure and not being good enough to follow her dreams gets me every single time) but this time around, I found the music emotive – not just the big songs like City of Stars and Audition, but all the clever little nuances like the sound of the traffic and the sprawl of Los Angeles – which is testament to the power of watching a live ensemble. I hadn’t paid much heed to the film’s score, composed by Justin Hurwitz, during the first viewing, but it’s difficult to ignore as a 60-piece orchestra reverberates through the hall.
I’d previously seen the BBC Philharmonic orchestra at the Bridgewater as part of BBC Radio 3’s Sounds of Shakespeare, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed that performance (I’d even attended a Q&A beforehand with the composers which I found utterly fascinating) but I’ve always thought I wasn’t a fan of classical musical or orchestral tracks. I like tunes with words and guitars.
But then came the soundtrack to This is England ’90, which is where I first heard what was to become one of my favourite pieces of music, Underwood by Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi and violinist Daniel Hope. And then, via Spotify, I began to find other instrumental tracks like Dardust’s Sunset on M. and Her Joy Was Complete and the entire Atlas: Space album, both by Sleeping at Last, and I realised that I loved it. I can safely add Mia and Sebastian’s Theme from the La La Land soundtrack to this list.
What I love most about La La Land, and musicals in general, is the way the story manages to get something out of each member of the audience. Some people cry at the sad bits, others dance about to the upbeat parts (the lady in the row in front was having a whale of a time) and everyone laughs when things get funny.
As The End is played by the orchestra and the credits roll on the screen, I turn to Danielle and see that she’s wiping away a tear. I’ve managed not to weep like a new-born this time around as I’m preoccupied by the fact that I’ve left my favourite coat in the bar (thanks to the lovely staff at The Bridgewater for keeping it safe during the show) but there’s a moment when the camera pans to Mia’s face in the crowd as she watches Sebastian play and then comes the whole alternative narrative of ‘what could have been’ where I get that familiar lump in my throat.
As I meander through Piccadilly Gardens on my way home, I realise I’m humming City of Stars pretty loudly as I walk by the fountain which is illuminated in purple and blue light, and I half-expect everyone around me to burst into song and dance.
Oh, how I wish life was like a musical. But alas, it’s not, and my night ended with a train journey back to Stockport to the soundtrack of a group of drunk young girls chattering after an evening on the fizz.
To find out what’s going on at The Bridgewater Hall, visit the website.
The La La Land Live UK tour will be running through Bristol, York and Birmingham, before heading to Dublin.