Quite a cool video on the Time Out website talking to the Wicked cast backstage at the Apollo Victoria – lots of facts and PR snuck in, but interesting to any fans of the show, plus nice to see the actors au naturel in the theatre.

Watch the video here (I can’t embed it as it’s Time Out‘s content)

Always love seeing them greenify (I tried it one Halloween – see my Twitter profile pic) and I never knew that Elphaba has a green spotlight as well as her painted hue. I can never understand, though, why they always use that same footage from the German tour production or whatever it is that they use on all the ads and trailers – it’s not even the original cast. You’ve made millions, Wicked HQ – splash out on some footage of your own production!

Makes me want to see it again, for the (whisper it) fourth time. Rachel Tucker is definitely one of the best green girls out there.

On Monday 19 March, Les Misérables, Love Never Dies and Phantom of the Opera star Ramin Karimloo held a small, secret gig to thank a sample of his loyal fans. The evening was an informal mix of tracks from his soon-to-be-released album, Ramin, and personal favourites, with a Greenday song and a folky hymn thrown in for good measure. WEG was lucky enough to be there and, having recently interviewed the actor for theatre website The Public Reviews, caught up with him afterwards (although he ended up quizzing me almost as much as I did him!) Here’s Ramin on nerves, song choices and hitting the road on tour in May….

Did you enjoy the gig?

I had a great time, I’m a bit tired… It hit me today, I thought I had it all together but then this morning I was like, oh crap, it’s tonight. You know, putting my own songs out there again. Some of them we orchestrated to give more of the album feel. But it went well.

Do you think everyone showed up?

I think so, I had two lovely friends help me run the door. Those who couldn’t come I think let me know.

How did you arrange the guestlist?

I basically said, anyone who has pre-ordered [the album], tell me when you pre-ordered it and your name. I put them all in the month that they ordered them, and then took 20 per cent from each one. I had to be fair – I didn’t want to make people think that just because people bought it in October they support me more. I thought it was fair. The venue was over capacity.

How did you choose the songs?

We did an album launch a few weeks ago, so I used the same album songs from that so the band didn’t have to rehearse more – because I did this off my own back. The rest was rehearsed by email sometimes! I would send them a song, have them give it a try… the drummer had never heard them until tonight, so he was just going with it. I wanted to see how the set flowed without any musical theatre. The one song we were arguing about was Bring Him Home; my guitarist Steve Young (who is Darren Hayes’ guitarist) loves to play it on classical guitar, but it would have just felt weird to do Bring Him Home then and there.

It is your night off as well! We loved the Muse cover (Guiding Light).

Great, well that’s on the album. How did you find the country stuff?

Really good – amazing work on the banjo.

Yeah, I love bluegrass and folk. I also thought that hymn would be fun to do. I enjoy it but my band are all professional musicians who play for people like KT Tunstall – they’ll be with me on tour.

What are you looking forward to most about being on the road?

It’s just about being a songwriter and a musician, and finding myself – I’m not a character for once. It will be interesting to see the Ramin that starts it and the Ramin who finishes. Tonight, I was surprised how comfortable I felt. When I did this for industry folks, I was so stiff. I think people when they come to see this stuff, they want to see the artists enjoying their own music. It’s not about performing a character, it’s like, ‘I would do this whether you were here or not’. I felt relaxed, I didn’t feel any nerves really.  Did you enjoy it?

I really enjoyed it, the band were so slick – I thought it was going to feel more impromptu than this.

Did it look like I could play the piano?

Yes!

Good, because when I was in rehearsal I was like, I wanna try the piano. But then up there, with the words…!

How do you feel about wrapping up Les Mis at the end of next week?

I need it, man, I need a break. I am tired. But I’m leaving wanting more.

Do you think you would go back to it?

I hope so – if they’ll have me and I had the time to do it, that would be great.

Thanks for inviting me, and good luck on tour!

Photography: Anne Stern

Were you at Ramin’s Thank You Gig? Share your thoughts on it in the comments box below…

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)

I was lucky enough to go along to the Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary concert last month, where I was romanced all over again by one of my earliest favourite musicals. Whether you’re largely pro- or anti-Lloyd Webber, you can’t deny the brilliance of the piece as a whole. Its (allegedly filched) arias and duets soar with gothic romance, its dashing goodie and twisted baddie are almost equally fanciable, Christine wears some stonking lingerie – in the movie version, at least – and don’t even get me started on the mist, gondolas and rogue chandeliers. The DVD of the Royal Albert Hall concert that marked the show’s quarter-century is released today and, WEG that I am, I’ve already bought my copy.

The 25th anniversary was as opulent and gaudy as the Opera Populaire should be – see my review here – although it lost a little of its haunting, wistful quality with all the projections and pyrotechnics. Still, it was worth any amount of Vegas-style pomp to see the chemistry explosion that is Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess. Their voices were endlessly impressive, their performances intense and dedicated – this was the Ramin and Sierra show. I’d still rather see the Christine and Phantom show, but you can catch that at Her Majesty’s six nights a week. Incidentally, Karimloo is set to don his convict’s beard and move to Les Mis, and I’ll certainly be booking. Is he too hot to age 20 years and die over the course of an evening? Only time will tell, but he’ll certainly sing the roof off while attempting it.

If you love the music of Phantom, you’ll want to see this daring, fully-staged version. The four tenors’ version of The Music of the Night (featuring Colm Wilkinson, Anthony Warlow, John Owen-Jones and Peter Jöback) at the end was also gorgeous – although you’ll have to grit your teeth through Sarah Brightman’s part-hilarious, part-disturbing appearance. It was sort of Mariah Carey meets Bride of Chucky, via that Whitney Houston appearance on the X Factor. And all with that same 80s hair.

JOJ struggles to find the most aurally forgiving side of Brightman

Anyway, some fabulous performances and a sumptuous budget make a fitting celebration of Phantom, and while I don’t think they quite topped the Les Misérables 25th anniversary in terms of emotion and tribute, they certainly had a better casting team. Still shuddering at the thought of Jonas. Enjoy the DVD and let me know your thoughts!

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 meets Live Lounge

October 21, 2011

I’ve blogged before about the wonderful Interval Productions, who produce cabarets and gigs to showcase those ‘in-between’ performers who are working their way into the industry. Their shows tend to be raw, sexy, funny and not too polished – and you might just spot a future star. Now Interval are trying something new, inspired by Radio 1’s Live Lounge – West End Unplugged, on October 30th.

West End Unplugged will mix in new talent and recognised performers such as Paul Spicer and Helena Blackman, performing mostly pop with a dash of our beloved musical theatre in a sultry evening gig at the Leicester Square Theatre. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing a different side of musical theatre performers; all of the song interpretation but with  a more relaxed vibe. Definitely complementing a smooth cocktail of some sort. Another exciting thing about West End Unplugged is the return of the Ensembelles – Interval’s Greek chorus-esque tribe of backing singers, who both accompany soloists and perform cheeky, harmonised group numbers of their own. I’ve seen a video of their rehearsals, and it’s sounding spine-tingling. This gig is rumoured to involve pop mashups, so Glee fans should come on down.

Interval also launched a competition when they announced this gig (now closed), asking from YouTube ‘auditions’ from would-be performers, one of which will appear in the show. This company is all about opportunities, which in a West End full of overly familiar faces can only be a good thing.

WEG will be there, schmoozing with the rest of the Wendies,  and I hope to see you there too! Here’s a video blog posted by producer Tori Allen-Martin and guest star Paul Spicer with more info:

Men and musicals

September 30, 2011

If you love musical theatre (and are not a gay man) chances are it won’t enhance your love life. Much has been made of the effect of Disney on girls’ expectations of romance, but what of the good old fashioned musical?

Neeever going to happen

Watching too many musicals when you’re small and impressionable will slowly indoctrinate you into a world of serenades, serendipitous timing and females who just win at life (while delivering some killer soprano.)

Rationally, you know that men aren’t going to walk up and down your street singing about how much they love doing that (My Fair Lady), be your next smokin’ hot but complicated employer (The Sound of Music) or drop all of their friends and debauchery to be your perfect man (Grease/Guys and Dolls).

When bad hair happens to good heroes

But equally, you are left with a lingering disappointment when they don’t spend an evening dedicated to repeatedly singing your name (West Side Story), ditch the blonde cheerleader for the weirdo outcast (Wicked) or love you despite the impending doom of your mutual AIDS diagnosis (Rent).

Avenue Q came too late for me – blokes are infinitely more likely to hand you a confusing mixed-tape or freak out about you morphing into a giant bride monster. But too little too late, musicals – you injected me with beautifully-sung romance and I had no shot at a clear perspective.

The social scene that comes with London theatre is also a weird sci-fi experience, as if a sparkly dictator simply weeded out all of the straight men in a hetero-intolerant parallel universe. Catch a guy’s eye across the stalls bar? He may have a dreamy tan and impeccable shoes, but he’s not looking for a

The tight trousers are a myth too

leading lady. It’s getting so I actually have to schedule designated ‘straight man’ social events to avoid spending my golden years as a fag-hag spinster with two mangy cats called Lloyd and Webber.

Now I’m off to wait for a handsome aristocrat and a sewer-dwelling musical genius to start fighting over me. Have a fabulous anniversary weekend, Phantom fans 😉