June 19, 2011
Written for The Public Reviews
Sophie-Louise Dann has had a varied musical theatre career, with Forbidden Broadway, 42nd Street and Anything Goes all on her CV, as well as extensive concert and opera work. We chatted about her latest role as diva Diana Divane in new West End gem Lend Me a Tenor.
It’s a fast-paced farce set in the glamorous Thirties in Cleveland, Ohio, where at the opera house there is a great anticipation for a fantastic production of Verdi’s Otello, starring Tito Merelli, who is the biggest star of the day – like Pavarotti, but in the Thirties. Things start to go wrong for Henry Saunders, the general manager, because Tito Merelli is missing. Saunders is on the brink of bankruptcy so if Tito doesn’t turn up, the whole world goes upside down. Throw into the mix my character, Diana Divane, the diva of the opera house, who sees this opportunity as her step up the ladder. Max (played by Damien Humbley) has to step into the shoes of Tito Merelli, with much high jinks and shenanigans involving the drug Phenobarbitol and wine, and lots of chaos ensues.
And the play was a farce originally, with a score written for this production?
The play was a hit in 1986, written by Ken Ludwig. It actually played at the same theatre we’re at now – it was then called the Globe, it’s now the Gielgud – so it’s sort of come back home. I have to say, Brad Carroll’s score is brand new but it sounds like a Gershwin or Berlin classic. What our show invokes is the glamour and the ostentation of the Thirties in America. It’s a feelgood show. It looks beautiful – I get to wear the most glamorous frocks you’ve ever seen, as well as some rather naughty underwear! I have a knockout number in Act 2, May I Have a Moment, which is the song you wait a lifetime to sing. It’s a spoof on lots of operatic arias, so if there are any opera lovers out there, I think they’re going to love it too.
It had its first run at the Theatre Royal Plymouth, with much the same cast. Did you know at that time it was going to do so well?
I’ve worked with the director, Ian Talbot, many times during my career. First of all at Regent’s Park, as an actress, and then at the D’Oyly Carte as an opera singer. We’ve sort of followed each other, and it was lovely when this came along because he thought I was right for the part, and I’ve been thrilled to be involved with the project from page to stage. Nothing is certain in this climate, but I think the passion, as well as the monetary investment, in this show is tangible. It’s a fantastic company; I know it’s a cliché but we’re like a big family. I think that’s key element with farce, because it needs to have a rhythm, it needs team work. That’s actually led from the top with our wonderful Matthew Kelly.
“My absolute joy that I have is being able
to do something original, to put my stamp on something”
Has it been fun working with Matthew?
If I weren’t married to my husband, I’d be touting for Matthew Kelly. He is absolutely the most wonderful, lovely, happy, committed… there are too many adjectives. I can’t praise him enough. The ideal colleague.
You’ve also done Forbidden Broadway in the past – how much fun was that?
Oh my goodness – so much fun. I was lucky enough to do it twice, and it was incredible. That, for me, is everything I’m about. It’s fast-paced, it’s funny and I also love doing cabaret. So to be in such an intimate space with all those fast changes and wisecracks is just brilliant.
What was your favourite show to parody?
I had a favourite character – I loved Julie Andrews. It was quite clever because we spoofed Mary Poppins. I think that was my favourite, in my heart of hearts.
You also appeared in the film version of Phantom of the Opera. That must have been exciting.
I certainly did. I think it’s a sort of blink-and-you’ll-miss-me appearance! But again, dream frocks, and just being involved in the whole process of making a movie is something special. Because of course I’m theatre and concert and opera-based, it was amazing to be on set and see it all happen.
The Stage has compared you to performers like Kristin Chenoweth and Liza Minnelli. Do you think it’s rare for women to be great singers and funny too?
I think it’s a real gift that I’ve been given. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with directors who work to my strengths. It’s tough out there, but if you can find your niche – I think you have to believe in yourself and speak to your gut, play to your strengths. I’m constantly humbled by the comparisons, but it’s absolutely lovely if that’s what people think. I absolutely adore comedy. I’ll tell you what it is, it’s working with a live audience, because what they give you, you can feed off. Just to come on every night and do my number in the show – it’s all the little nuances, and people pick up on different things. It’s fantastic to play every night; I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
“It’s tough out there, but if you can find your niche –
I think you have to believe in yourself and play to your strengths”
What’s next for you after Lend Me a Tenor?
Hopefully we’ll be there for a while, so I’m committed to this project for the moment, and we’ll see what happens thereafter. I do lovely concert work with the BBC Concert Orchestra and Radio 2, so hopefully it’s more of the same. I’m always happy to sing beautiful classics. I wear a lot of hats, and it’s just nice when I’ve got one on for a bit, and I can go, ‘this is me.’
What musical theatre roles would you love to play?
I’m a bit of a different animal; my absolute joy that I have is being able to do something original, to put my stamp on something. There are musicals of the Fifties that have wonderful scores. One was recently revived, Bells Are Ringing, which a friend of mine played, AJ Casey. All the hard hitters like Evita or Piaf, that’s not what I’m about – I’m a real comedy girl. Just great new material, bring it on.