I’m not sure whether I absolutely love this or want to burst out in hysterical laughter. Mark Evans and Siobhan Dillon sound pretty good (albeit with some muted production on this version of the track), but the bit where they try to merge the Ghost storyline with a betrayed-ex-themed pop song is a bit funny.

Anyway, good on them for doing a bit of out-of-the-box promotion. As I was saying about Wicked, I think West End shows could stand to do some fresher and more innovative multimedia marketing – stuff like this is a great way to get attention. I haven’t been back to see Ghost since my visit in previews, but I hope to soon. A great day for musical geekery!

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When I reviewed Ghost after it came to London back in June, I wrote that I couldn’t imagine a new cast post-Levy/Fleeshman. Well, it’s happened; a press release today announced that Wicked‘s Mark Evans and How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? finalist Siobhan Dillon will replace Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy as doomed couple Sam and Molly. Thankfully, my favourite member of the cast, Sharon D. Clarke, stays on as loveably batty medium Oda Mae Brown. Having seen Evans command the stage in last year’s Oklahoma! tour and Dillon shine most recently in the Soho Theatre’s EX, I’m actually quite excited about this casting choice. While both are a little more glossy than Levy and the Fleesh, I’m sure they can be roughed up a bit to fit in with this gritty, New York-y production.

As the year draws to a close, I would like to applaud Ghost for bringing a little magic into the West End in a time of tired concepts and cartoonish musicals. It has been slated by some for reproducing Bruce Joel Rubin’s 80s screenplay on the stage, but the illusions are innovative, the music interesting in its rock-pop quality and the emotion of the narrative perhaps even more raw than in the movie. Yes there’s a chorus that didn’t entirely agree with me and a few rogue musical numbers which didn’t enhance the story, but the central plot is mesmerising and Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman’s chemistry explosive.

The new cast will appear from 13 January 2012, with performances now booking until next October. It could be that Ghost is just commercial enough to stay afloat, despite its new score and ambitious staging – and I hope to be back there to see it succeed.

Ghost is at the Piccadilly Theatre (ghostthemusical.com)

How to give good interview

November 11, 2011

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most over the past year is getting involved in great, fresh theatre website The Public Reviews, especially interviewing for them. I started out pretty much winging it; my first actor interview was with Phantom & Les Mis actor Earl Carpenter and luckily he was a perfect subject – great fun, full of enthusiasm for his work and not taking himself too seriously. Over the months that followed, I learned good interview technique partly through my journalism postgraduate course, and partly just by doing. I made countless notes on what to do and what to avoid, honed my research and preparation pre-interview, tried to go for original questions and have a clear idea of what I wanted to get out of the time slot available. But only so much of what you control at your end of the dictaphone goes towards the final product – a great interviewee is what makes an interview sparkle. One of my most-viewed articles on this blog, to this day, is my Rebecca Caine interview; the star soprano was witty, frank and completely open to different subjects – everything you need for a great read.

Unless you’re a big Hollywood star, chances are you don’t get prepped on your interviews too much. But some people seem to have a natural rapport with the press; frankness with a little splash of personal revelation is often all it takes to make a killer interview. I’m always surprised by celebrity interviews that are run despite the star clearly despising the process and giving nothing away. We’ve all read one (look out for the writer commenting on the subject’s behaviour on the day rather than quoting them – usually means not enough useable quotes) – Keira Knightley is a repeat offender, as Mr & Ms Miserable Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.

Until you’re Madonna or the Dalai Lama there’s no way all of the questions are going to be on your terms, so why not suck it up and just answer with as much or as little revelation as you can? The best interviews I’ve done have been with people who are relaxed, open and like to talk; now and again you get someone with a chip on their shoulder who comes across badly, but at least they’re coming across as something. People read interviews to learn something, not to have the same persona and quotes reiterated. One pet hate of mine is the American ‘I’m so blessed’ culture of gushing while saying, well, nothing.

Last month I got to interview a personal idol of mine, Idina Menzel. I was lucky enough to do this because she was about to do a phenomenal gig at the Royal Albert Hall, and I was nervous she would only want to talk on a very superficial level about the gig and the new season of Glee. The musical diva soon reassured me with her open, chatty nature, and despite sounding tired (she has a two-year-old and about three full-time jobs, so she’s forgiven) she happily mingled her personal life with her professional information from the beginning, saving me the awkward job of testing the waters with a tentative personal question. Idina got me thinking about what makes a great interviewee, and I think it comes down to a few basic things:

>> Positivity

Americans are always better at this, but talking in the affirmative comes across far better on the page or screen than our apologetic British neuroses. If someone’s enjoying their job, you get great answers from them because they’re just bursting to share.

>> Intelligence

Actors generally have a bad record for intellect, but stage actors are very often knowledgable and analytical about their work and the industry in general. This is ideal, but you also want the balance between relatable chat about their personal perspective, and lofty talk about the state of modern theatre. Thoughtfulness is as important as academic intelligence when it comes to a good answer.

>> Humility

Most people will never be asked about themselves and have those words published. People who don’t do many interviews (especially directors and producers) are often great subjects because they’re insanely flattered to be asked. I remember always being nervous about interviewing people, until somebody pointed out to me that people love talking about themselves. Love it. So there’s hardly anything to lose in an  interview situation.  Of course there are the minority who buy into their own hype and get bored of ‘doing press’, but the savvy ones will learn to love promotion and use it to their advantage.

>> It’s good to (actually) talk

I often get asked about email interviews, and quite frankly, it’s not something I believe in. If you give someone the time and the blank page to talk about themselves, you’ll no doubt get a carefully manicured, PR-approved account of things – which may as well just be a copied-and-pasted press release. If someone who essentially could do with the exposure insists on email questions, I’ll usually say no – if you’re promoting something, it’s not hard to share a few thoughts via a 20-minute phone call (see again the Madonna/Dalai Lama exception).

>> Trust

Interviewers don’t want the interview to go badly. They pretty much have everything crossed for the opposite occuring. So if you go in there suspicious and guarded, the result will be an uncomfortable, stilted interview. Unless they work for a trashy rag (no names) or a brand that trades on sleazy gossip, they won’t be after the skeletons in your closet – just a nice, neat insight into your life and work.

>> Be aware (and beware)

If you are less than gracious, be prepared to see that in print. Maybe not explicitly, maybe not in expletives, but journalists are a crafty bunch. They can edit your words to ensure a certain overall tone – if you haven’t already set yourself up for that. An interview is a short blast of you; if you’re having a bad day you may want to be honest about it or simply reschedule because, especially in the age of the internet, that blast may be around for quite some time.

West End bleak?

December 7, 2010

An odd, but fascinating column from The Stage’s Mark Shenton today, on the current titans of the West End, and what he sees as possible lack of a ‘new generation’ of  musical theatre stars. Shenton shows his distinct taste very honestly, listing Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone and Angela Lansbury as shining beacons of Broadway, and pondering our dearth of high-class British equivalents. Firstly, as part of the new generation of theatregoers, these vintage ladies are just not my style. I grew up listening to the likes of the Les Mis original cast, and LuPone and her ilk have a certain camp, self-indulgent tone to their voices that just feels dated now. There is a new rawness in musical theatre, and this should be celebrated. Those warbling wonders were perfect for the original Chicago line-ups (Chita Rivera), and now for classic material like A Little Night Music (Peters and Lansbury), but I don’t think we need new versions of them, especially not in the West End. That is one part of musical theatre history, this is another.

Unfortunately, a large part of this new era is its ‘stunt casting’ (much bemoaned on WEG, so apologies) – producers’ seemingly compulsory casting of at least one ‘face’ from reality TV, soaps or the charts to bring in a wider range of punters. I wish I could say these are all multi-talented folk who simply started off in a less desirable medium, but I have sat through too many shows with one weedy weak link with insufficient breath control and high-school acting (*Jonas*). Sorry, must have slipped while typing there. Apart from anything else, celebrity status is just distracting; you want to be affected by that character, not by how Gareth Gates is playing them. So in this sense I’d say this is a bleak moment for musical theatre talent. The trained, the dedicated and the naturally spine-tingling are being edged out by people for whom fame was  more important than the work they chose. Snobbish perhaps, but WEG’s theatre experience has definitely gone downhill in the past five years or so (although it isn’t entirely new; I remember going as a very small person to see Jason Donovan as Joseph.)

Kerry Ellis

Frequently-smiley, rock'n'rolling Kerry Ellis

When Jason Robert Brown came to London for a two-night gig, it spoke volumes that he hadn’t invited any West End talent to sing his brilliant material. Having said that, if I were asked to cast a JRB-worthy line-up, I’m not entirely sure who I’d pick either. However, I disagree that there are no exciting talents treading our boards; Shenton suggests Kerry Ellis is “carefully positioning herself as” a leading lady, but I would say she’s already there. This smacks of individual dislike, as no one who has seen Ellis sing can deny she is luminous, nuanced and spectacular in range – all leading lady qualities. Anyone remember the sinking feeling when this year’s Over the Rainbow introduced five top ‘leading lady’ mentors, including Tamzin Outhwaite (who later performed incredibly flatly on the show) and Melanie C? Only Ruthie Henshall and Ellis (the new Henshall, really) were really worthy of that title. Sheridan Smith is a tough one; I’ve always admired her as an actress, she is a great TV personality, and she has brought a fresh charm to our Legally Blonde. But her singing is just not up to it, for me. Incidentally, Smith’s understudy Amy Lennox is tremendously talented, but without the Two Pints of Lager and Gavin and Stacey background, it would seem her resume was not starry enough. Let’s not forget that Kerry Ellis first gained admiration as the oft-sickly Martine McCutcheon‘s reliable understudy in My Fair Lady, and some of the best Elphabas I have seen in Wicked were first or second covers (Cassidy Janson and Ashleigh Gray were both stunning.) So we do have leading lady potential in the West End – it’s just not being used enough.

West End Live 2010

The inimitable Julie Atherton

After reading Shenton’s column, I sat and tried to think of those West End Stars who have truly impressed me over the past few years. Julie Atherton, who he has the decency to credit, is someone whose wit, intelligence and power vocals make her a unique presence in our theatre landscape; not to mention her choice of new writing and smaller projects in recent years. John Owen-Jones was probably my favourite performance of the year in the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary tour, played with such fervour and sung with such emotion that it made a well-worn role seem new. Of the reality show darlings, I think Samantha Barks has (excuse the brand) the elusive X factor they all profess to seek, and in terms of leading men Oliver Tompsett has always had that extra charisma, although he is only really associated with Fiyero at this point. Katie Rowley Jones really shone in Sister Act, giving even powerhouse Patina Miller a run for her money. Gemma Sutton, who I saw in the Oklahoma tour this year, also has real potential with her subtle acting and songbird soprano. But while I can list those who I’ve enjoyed in the past few years, I agree that only a handful have been goosebump-inducing. Come on WestEnders; up your game for 2011.

Dream Roles

November 30, 2010

West End Geek asked four aspiring actors and singers which part they’d most love to land…

Emily Griffiths, 23

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

“It would have to be Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady because I’ve loved the role from such a young age; everything about the era, the music, the clothes – not to mention the accent! It has always felt to me to be the ultimate ugly duckling story but with that George Bernard Shaw satirical edge.”

 

 

 

 

 

Garry Mannion, 32

Guildford School of Acting

“If currently in West End – Raoul in Phantom of the Opera. Still a powerful show that draws in the crowds. If anything, Billy Bigelow in Carousel – a great legit part with a heart-wrenching storyline. Rodgers & Hammerstein at their best!”

 


 

 

 

 

 

Marika Visser, 20

Trinity Laban

“I have a lot of roles that I aspire to play. I would die happy if I had the opportunity to play Lilli Van essi in Kiss Me Kate. I can relate to her character and I never tire of putting Cole Porter on repeat. If someone out there decides to produce it…please hire me?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Coxon, 21
Mountview

“My dream roles would be Galileo in We Will Rock You or Chris in Miss Saigon – anything thats a good sing!”

Encore! / Refund!

November 19, 2010

ENCORE!

Julie Atherton’s album No Space for Air – this continues to receive plenty of Twitter love. Personally WEG is loving        I Never Saw Blue Like That.

The Public Reviews who have asked me to do an interview and three reviews for them in the next few weeks just off of the back of this little blog. Look out for them!

Kerry Ellis guesting on Alfie Boe’s new album, apparently with a rendition of Come What May… the odd couple thing sort of works for me.

Budget theatre on the big screen – you won’t get the goosebumps of live theatre, but in a recession it’s the more the merrier.

The We Will Rock You tour. I’ve never been much inspired to go and see this questionable Queenfest, but I may well stroll down to Wales Millenium Centre when it comes to Cardiff next spring.

The West End Whingers. They’re controversial, camp and crochety, but also a damn good read. Along with TPR, they’re changing the face of theatre criticism for the better – and I for one am sick of reading the opinions of old white guys who already hate musicals.

REFUND!

Yet more oversharing from the Dorothys:

@LaurenSamuels88 I was just sick in my mouth on stage…had to swallow it to risk embarrassment. Definitely turned a funny colour…Egypt belly go please!!

Chronic name-droppers… it’s nice that you know talented people, but maybe put some energy into your day job as well.

Panto. It may be a great chance to see your favourite stars at your local theatre, but the cheesiness, audience participation and predictability of panto just leaves me cold. I hope to have my mind changed this winter!

Pricey programmes. I like knowing who’s who, but £3.50 or £5 for a big glossy pile of nothing? If they could be made more like mini-magazines with fascinating facts and quirky interviews with the cast, as well as some behind the scenes insight, they might be worth the cash. Millions of ads and waffle about the theatre’s history are not items to be treasured.

Pushy mums. Sophie ‘Over the Rainbow’ Evans on Welsh TV last night: ‘my mum first noticed I had something special…. my mum first saw the ad for the show…’ Obviously it pays off, but it makes me a little sad. No one knows they want to be a singer at the age of three.

West End shake-up

November 15, 2010

Some of the biggest shows in recent years have been revivals of vintage theatre – Hair, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and Oliver!, to name a few. Smaller venues and tours have also breathed life into some classics; the Donmar’s production of Passion, for instance, and the brilliant Oklahoma tour that I saw earlier this year. But many people’s favourite shows are the obscure, the unperformed and the forgotten. At the weekend I saw a beautiful amateur production of Stephen Schwartz’s Children of Eden, and although the narrative reasons it wasn’t long-running were clear, it contained some of the loveliest music I have heard for a long time in theatre.

If you could produce a revival, what would you bring back? I have always wanted to see RENT done properly here, and though it would be suited to a small venue and short run, a London cast of Songs for a New World would be wonderful. I saw Miss Saigon when I was about 11 and was firmly bitten by the theatre bug. I think it’s a truly underrated musical and the stunning score and ambitious staging are well worth a take two. I’m not sure we needed The Wizard of Oz ‘back’ this year, but I can see how it’s a solid cash cow in troubled times. Comment with the shows you’d put on in your dream West End….