What can you say about Wicked that hasn’t already been said before? With a cast worthy of any West End or Broadway stage, Wicked has magicked its way into the hearts of the Glaswegian crowd in its sell-out, month-long stay in the city.
This show is all about the girls and that certainly proves to be the case: with fine central performances from Nikki Davis Jones (Elphaba) and Emily Tierney (Glinda), Wicked is a truly uplifting and enchanting tale of friendship against the odds. Theatrical Prozac and a winner every time.
Currently appearing in the West End production of Wicked, Jacqueline Hughes returns to her home town with her debut cabaret, From East to West and Back Again.
Hughes starts as she means to go on, opening with the Streisand classic “Don’t Rain on my Parade” and the parade of show-stoppers just keeps coming, from “All That Jazz” to “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries”, each selection perfectly showcasing her powerhouse voice.
As well as Hughes’ engaging personality and the welcoming intimacy of the venue, what elevates this above the run of the mill cabaret fodder is the well devised programme. There’s an eclectic mix of the classic: “Broadway Baby”; the familiar: “On My Own”; some cleverly re-worked pop numbers: “Poker Face”, “Imagine”, “Songbird” and a smattering of the downright obscure: “Alto’s Lament” and “Taylor the Latte Boy” (sung by MD Alison Rona Cleland) both by cult composers Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler and “An Old Fashioned Love Story” from Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party, all of which delight. There’s a pleasing mix of solos and duets, guest performances, interaction, emotional and celebratory moments.
This is an intensely personal show and Hughes acknowledges both her roots and her beginnings as a performer, indeed one of her guests is her first singing teacher whom she cites as the person who started her on her performing career and who touchingly performs “The Look of Love” and “Over the Rainbow”. Hughes’ other guest is life-long best friend Lyndsey Gardiner, currently appearing in Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s. Gardiner delivers a touching rendition of “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” from Phantom and a stunning display of vocal gymnastics in Jeanine Tesori’s “The Girl From 14G” originally made famous by Kristin Chenoweth. Both women then sing “For Good” a touching tribute to their friendship. To her credit Hughes isn’t afraid to share the spotlight and her two special guests more than hold their own, both having their own moments in the spotlight. Mention must also be made of MD Alison Rona Cleland whose impressive accompaniment on both piano and guitar and characterful vocals reveal her to be yet another star in the making.
Hughes (and her guest Gardiner) are perfect examples of how good you need to be to even stand on a West End stage and the reality is that both of these stunningly talented performers are ensemble members. This cabaret allows Hughes her rightful place in the spotlight and with her rendition of ”The Wizard and I” and the revelation that next year she will be understudying the role of Elphaba in Wicked after over two years in the production, hopefully, she will finally get her chance to shine and gain the plaudits she so richly deserves.
Scottish actress Sabrina Carter is currently travelling the globe on the international tour of the smash hit One Man Two Guv’nors. Glasgow Theatre Blog managed to catch up with Sabrina from Sydney to find out about her journey from Scotland to the international stage.
Can we go back to your beginnings – tell us about your background and what first sparked your interest in theatre?
I came to theatre quite late. It all started properly when I was 16 and my friend wanted someone to go with her to an audition for a show called Once on this Island for Durham Youth Music Theatre. I went along reluctantly, and ended up getting the lead part of Timoune. After that I played many roles including Mary Magdelene in Jesus Christ Superstar, Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ and Florence in Chess. After this I started to listen to more and more shows and found a great love of theatre.
When did you decide to seriously pursue a theatrical career?
I was about 17 and was looking at university courses to study psychology, and literally two days before I was due to hand in my UCAS forms I decided to change it to study acting at a university. I knew I wanted to do a 3 year course with dissertation at the end, so I applied to many any decided upon Northumbria University at Newcastle.
Sabrina with Marti Pellow in Jekyll andHyde
You’ve recently been appearing in One Man Two Guv’nors: what is it like being involved in such a universally lauded production?
It’s fantastic! What an honour to be part of a piece that has such acclaim and lucky to be working for one of the best theatre companies in the world, The National Theatre is something that I’ve dreamed of all my life.
You’ve had a diverse range of roles in your career, which is the role you are most proud of?
That’s a hard question as I try not to take jobs or audition for shows that I’m not going to learn from. I think I’m most proud of The 39 Steps. Most of work up until this point in London had been musicals so to make the leap to plays can be very difficult. I managed it and feel so proud of the people I worked with but more importantly to get to play Pamela, Margaret, and Annabella , three very different roles.
You have played the coveted role of Elphaba in Wicked; tell us about your experience in the show.
Elphaba is undoubtedly one of the hardest female roles to play, not just the level of singing required but the roller coaster of emotions she goes through is massive! I still hold a massive place in my heart for her and of course my ensemble role of Pfanee. I made some amazing friends on that show and worked with some of the best creatives in the world.
Sabrina as Elphaba
My 1st performance of ‘Elphie’ was mid-show on a Saturday matinee. Alexia was literally being sick in the wings, which I was completely unaware of at the time, and I was doing the ‘Oz Dust ballroom’. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the stage management team stood side of stage, all looking at me and talking to each other. At the end of the dance I ran off to change when I was stopped, whilst the stage manager was chatting into her headset . Then it was like GO, GO, GO!!! A team of about four people hurried me downstairs to the wardrobe village ( undressing me as I was running) . I had sound teams changing my microphones, people changing my tights , people painting me green , it was manic! All the while I was trying to make sure my voice was ready for the marathon ahead. Approximately 8 minutes later I was dressed, micked and stood up stage right to enter with Dianne for ‘Emerald City’ … Then came the dreaded but thrilling ‘Defying Gravity’ …One of the most special and defining moments of my life. The highlight of the whole show was sharing it with the stunning Dianne Pilkington.
Jennifer Tierney, Sabrina Carter as Pfanee and Dianne Pilkington as Glinda
What advice would you give to someone sitting back at home in Scotland considering training as an actor?
If you need to ask yourself if it’s the right profession, Then it’s not the right business for you! DO IT! Train well, and immerse yourself into every piece of theatre/performance you can. I trained at the Royal Conservatoire previously known as RSAMD. The skills I learned were invaluable.
Sabrina as Nancy in Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Oliver!
What’s the best advice that you have received?
“Don’t forget people on the way up, as you’ll see them on the way down”
Tell us what you have been up to recently and what you’ve got planned for 2013 and beyond.
As I write this I’m in Sydney working on the international leg of One Man, Two Guv’nors, this finishes end of June , then who knows were the wind will take me . I do miss singing so maybe a wee return to musicals – basically whoever will have me!
Jeckyll and Hyde
A few quick questions…
What’s your favourite play/musical of all time?
Musical – Evita and Wicked (sorry that’s cringe!)
Play – Blithe Spirit
Who most inspires you?
Hard working non stagey actors
Your dream role?
It depends, in a musical – Eva Peron. I’ve just read Magdelena Alberto will be playing opposite my Mr Jekyll, Marti Pellow. She is fabulous, so I’ll look forward to seeing her in the role.
With starring roles in Chess, Wicked, Les Miserables, Shout, Mamma Mia and Rocky Horror, Shona White is one of the most highly acclaimed Scottish stars in Theatreland. Shona generously agreed to answer some questions about her stellar career for Glasgow Theatre Blog.
Did your interest in performing start at an early age?
Yes I started singing solos at school services and in my village church when I was wee.
At what point did you decide to pursue performing as a career?
I used to get The Stage delivered and it made me want to go to Sylvia Young’s but my parents thankfully wanted me to get a good education in Scotland first. I did my Highers then moved down to London to go to Italia Conti when I was 17.
Shona as Eponine in Les Miserables
You went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music; what ambitions did you have when you left there, and since you’ve achieved a huge amount in your career, how have they changed?
Well my first ambition was to be in Les Miserables and I actually left RAM early as I got into my dream show towards the end of my training. (I still got my diploma but unfortunately had to sacrifice the cap and gown ceremony as I was touring with the show).
I then had to rethink my ambitions as I had achieved the big one so early on in my career. Things change constantly and different shows come and go so I guess my goals have changed with them along the way. My next show was Merrily We Roll Along at The Donmar Warehouse directed by Michael Grandage, where I rubbed shoulders with Sam Mendes and Stephen Sondheim which I will never forget.There are still plenty of dream roles on my list but after Eponine the next dream role that came along was definitely Elphaba in Wicked which has become one of the most iconic roles in musical theatre.
Merrily We Roll Along
The roles you’ve been lucky enough to play have been diverse; can you explain how you go about preparing for a role?
The practical side of the preparation is to learn my lines, music and lyrics but I find this needs to come hand in hand with setting the show in rehearsals. It helps to be familiar with the material before I start so I can have a framework to build on but I tend to cement my learning as I’m getting the part into my body physically in the space as well as vocally and mentally.
It is important to research the character and find as much information as possible from the existing material to have a background as a starting point. Relationships to other characters is also important so I can see how my character fits into the story.
With roles that require vocal stamina I try to sing the part into my body as a lot of performing it will become muscle memory and the voice, being a muscle, needs to be trained just like any other muscles in our body. By the same token with a big singing role I also try to rest my voice as much as possible when it is not required so it has time to recover before it’s next workout. Rehearsal periods are tough but necessary to build up stamina and put together all the relevant components.
I also think about what the character looks like physically and sometimes become a bit obsessed by this subconsciously and it can cross over into my everyday life. I was constantly wearing 60’s clothes when I was in Shout, In Mamma Mia I got blonder and blonder and more tanned by the day and wore turquoise obsessively. Thank goodness Wicked didn’t manifest itself in the same way. It might have been a bit hard to explain the green face in Sainsbury’s!
A glimpse of the turquoise Mamma Mia outfit!
What’s been your favourite role to play so far?
It’s a close call between Elphaba in Wicked and Florence Vassy in Chess.
As Chess’ Florence Vassy
What’s the moment in your career you’re most proud of?
I think performing the end of Defying Gravity in Wicked the night my Mum and Dad were watching the show and seeing how proud and emotional they were afterwards.
I’ve interviewed many Scottish performers for this series, and something that rather a lot have in common is Wicked; you’ve played the ultimate role in the show, Elphaba; tell us what it’s like playing such an iconic part.
Yes a lot of us Scots have been in Wicked. I love this fact!
What can I say? Elphaba is the most iconic female musical theatre role we’ve seen for years. It was a huge challenge to get my teeth into and an incredible thrill to play. I love the journey she goes on through the show and the music is so powerful. My favourite song to sing was definitely No Good Deed.
Craig Revel Horwood’s new production of Chess has been very well received, especially your performance as Florence Vassy; what was it like taking the performance to Toronto? Did the audience reaction differ to the UK?
It was an amazing experience taking the show to Toronto. It’s a fantastic city and it’s an experience I’ll never forget. I hope to to perform there again one day. We were made very welcome by the people there. I don’t think they’d witnessed anything quite like Craig and Sarah’s incredible actor musician interpretation of the show. The arrangements were wonderful and the cast were amazing playing,singing and dancing simultaneously. If I had a pound for the amount of people who thought the music was on a CD I’d be a very rich girl!
Your album I’ll Bring You a Song, is fantastically diverse; tell us how you selected the songs.
It was nigh on impossible as there are so many great songs to be sung. I will just have to keep doing more so I can get through them all! My producers had a big hand in choosing the tracks thank goodness as otherwise I don’t know how I would have narrowed it down. We tried to make it as varied as possible and include a lot of new writing which I am huge fan of as well as songs people would be familiar with. I also really wanted a Scottish song on there too to reflect my roots.
Part of the series is to give advice to aspiring performers in Scotland; what would you say to someone contemplating a career on stage?
I’d say it is very important to get a solid education first. I am very grateful my parents made me do this. It is a highly competitive industry with a lot of ups and downs so really make sure it is the route for you. If it is your passion and you believe you have a real talent then work hard and follow your dreams…
Is there any production past or present you wish you could have been involved in?
Not that I can think of offhand but I have a list of parts I’d love to play which I won’t bore you with now. I would love to play Ellen in Miss Saigon which is rumoured to be having a revival very soon.
What do you do to relax when you’re not working?
I like to spend time with my nearest and dearest, watch movies and I love cooking. I am a huge Come Dine With Me fan and would love to be on it one day.
Finally, tell us what’s next for Shona White in 2013 and beyond?
I have just recorded a Friday Night is Music Night with the BBC Concert Orchestra singing alongside Hadley Fraser. Available on BBC iplayer here until 12th April.
I have a few projects in the pipeline including solo concerts and a new show involving the other two Shonas in the industry (One Scottish, one Irish so both Celtic).
I am also now a voice-over artist so maybe you’ll hear me randomly on adverts or perhaps singing on the next Brave movie… You never know.
Besides that I am waiting for the next amazing theatrical role I can throw myself into. Watch this space.
Over the past few years Kieran Brown has managed to firmly establish himself in the West End with roles in such blockbuster shows as: Love Never Dies, Wicked and the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary concert at the O2. As well as this Kieran is an established international concert and cabaret performer and pantomime veteran. Glasgow Theatre Blog had the chance to ask him some questions in a rare break from his hectic schedule.
You’ve just finished appearing in Scotland’s biggest pantomime as Prince Charming at The King’s Theatre; tell us how the panto experience compares to your usual musical theatre and concert work.
Well, I’ve done quite a few panto’s before, but nothing NEARLY as big (or important to me) as the Kings in Glasgow – it’s the one that I’ve wanted to do since I was a little boy, when I used to come see them as a child. It’s just been the most TREMENDOUS fun with the BEST company of people, who treated it with respect and care, which is what so many other panto companies and productions don’t do. The rapport that you get to have with the audience in Glasgow is second to none. Every friend of mine who visits Glasgow with a production mentions how “up for it” and friendly the audiences at the Kings are and it’s true!
Jenny Douglas and Kieran Brown as Cinderella and her Prince Charming at this year’s King’s Theatre pantomime.
Who or what inspired you to become a performer?
Not sure really. Certainly I was encouraged by my old Drama teacher/Mentor, Bill Graham who died a few years back. He had a HUGE influence on me, from when he directed me in the Falkirk Children’s Theatre and throughout high school and my time with Tryst Theatre Company. He really gave me the very best base training, encouraged and prepared me for drama school. I’ll always be incredibly grateful to him for that.
What advice would you give to any aspiring performer?
Be realistic about your goals, don’t take anything personally, and persevere. If it’s really your passion, then take the knocks (and there are many!) but don’t give up.
You have a full CV ranging from musicals, concert performances, cabaret, as well as directing; where does your heart really lie?
At the moment it is still performing but I have done a bit of directing and I think certainly in the future it is where I want to go. I can’t see me ever wanting to give up performing, so if I can flit between then great. I am a bit of a perfectionist and a control freak and it is very hard when as an actor you are asked to do something by a director that you KNOW inside you is the wrong choice, but my job as an actor is to do what I am told. Directing however, is different, and a HELL of a lot more stressful, but it’s definitely what I want to do more of. I am currently assistant director for a very exciting new production of Chess at the Union Theatre. A very good friend of mine, Chris Howell is directing and I am enjoying watching his processes and reasoning as he guides his actors to get the best out of them and the piece.
You have been involved in mega musicals such as Wicked and the 25th anniversary Les Mis concert; what is it like to perform in something so big and so beloved by so many?
It’s quite surreal to begin with but the most important thing is to remember that these people love the piece and they have paid a lot of money to watch it, so you HAVE to do the best that you can do. With Wicked, it’s such a well oiled machine and is VERY carefully looked after by a brilliant team who know the piece inside out so you know you are in safe hands. It’s the same with most of the big, long(er) running shows. What I’d love though is to be involved in something new. That’s a real goal – to be in the original cast and create something that hopefully people will love in years to come. I am SO envious of all these amazing performers who were involved with the original productions of shows like Les Mis, or Phantom etc. That’s really a dream of mine.
Wicked is known for its rather devoted fans; did you have any interesting stage door encounters with the super-fans?
They are really the most amazingly dedicated bunch and I have met some real sweethearts and lovely people at the stage door, who’ve become good friends! The support from some of them has carried on after I left Wicked – a few even come up to Glasgow to see me do Cinderella and came to my cabaret “A West End Christmas In Glasgow” which I was really touched about. It’s always a bit disconcerting when you walk out of stage door and you see people “greenified”! I usually didn’t get recognised as I had to have a shaved head for the show. You do get a few who are a bit pushy/rude and are only interested in the two lead females, but on the whole it’s a great atmosphere. Takes a bit of getting used to. On our last night (Rachel Tucker’s last) it was CRAZY! I’ve never seen so many people at stage door anywhere before! My favourite was at the last night of Love Never Dies. Hundreds of people, and one lady asked if she could have a picture with me. I obliged (of course!), and the woman behind asked if I would sign her programme. When I did, the lady with the camera came to me and asked if I was the Phantom. “I wish” I replied, then she said very disappointedly “Oh” and promptly deleted the picture of me right in my face…! I just laughed!
Kieran as Raoul in Love Never Dies
I see you’ve worked extensively in Vienna as an actor, concert soloist, and as a director; can you tell us about that?
I spent 6 years on and off living in Vienna and dividing my time between there and the UK. It’s really one of my favourite places to be and like my second home so I try to visit my friends there as much as I can. There is a great theatre scene over there and I worked for the International Theatre, which is now sadly closed, and the Vienna Theatre Project (sic). I recently did a series of three cabaret concerts called “West End Winters” with a German musical star Caroline Frank, which sold out, so we are hoping to make them a regular thing and do some more in a couple of months. There is nothing like that on the theatre scene in Vienna and word of mouth quickly spread so by the last night we had 30 people queuing for returns which was a lovely feeling! Vienna also gave me an opportunity to direct – I did “Over The Threshold” (which I was also in) and “A Christmas Carol”. It was a great place to dip my toes in the directorial water and I really learned a lot from the processes.
A Christmas Carol in Vienna
What ambitions would you still like to fulfil?
Well, to direct more, do a bit more TV again, and there are a few parts I’d love to play – Phantom in “Love Never Dies”, Joe in “Sunset Boulevard” (and there was me thinking I wasn’t such a Lloyd Webber fan!!!). I really want to do more plays/straight theatre again though. I’d love to do a period drama, like Bleak House, or Downton Abbey or something similar.
If you could create a fantasy production to star in what would it be and who would you cast alongside you?
Eeeek, this is a hard one! Well, ANYTHING with Dame Judi Dench, of course! Sorry if that’s a bit of a cliché but it’s true.
What do you do to chill out when you’re not on stage?
Not much! I find I have VERY little time – I’m always doing gigs or concerts so my spare time is somewhat precious! I’ve made a resolution to create more time for myself this year though, so we’ll see – maybe I’ll have time to discover a hobby!
Tell us what’s next for Kieran Brown.
At the moment, I have no idea! Chess will keep me busy for now, but I’m generally waiting on my agent to call with auditions! I will be back to Vienna I’m sure in the spring to do some more concerts, I am a guest performer for Annemarie Lewis Thomas (Principal and founder of the MTA in London), alongside the AMAZING Ria Jones, Shona White and Caroline Kieff at the Landor Theatre on Feb 15th. Other than that… watch this space!
Before Dorothy crash-landed in Oz there were two talented witches; Glinda and Elphaba; and the man of their dreams…Fiyero;
The plot of this superbly polished musical extravaganza is (part of) the backstory to the much-loved ‘Wizard of Oz’ published in 1900, and subsequently converted into numerous film versions, the most notable of which appeared in 1939 and starred Judy Garland.
‘Wicked’ takes us back to the death of the Wicked Witch of the West – known here as Elphaba – and describes how she became Wicked, and provides a history of her relationship with the good witch, Glinda.
The original idea for this off-beat, but imaginative concept, came from the mind and pen of author Gregory Maguire, who apparently wrote the novel while residing in London in 1990.
When you arrive at the Apollo Victoria Theatre you notice the tangible energy emanating from the waiting audience, most of which were people (in their teens) on (multiple) repeat visits. This show has, from day 1, had a stunning following thanks to an incredible merchandising and promotional effort, Wicked T-shirts were worn by half the audience and most sang along to the songs.
It is very American in both its staging and content but Wicked is musical theatre at its best: a dazzling stage set, superb costumes, with an extremely talented cast, there’s a reason people go to see this again and again – it is that good. Go and lose yourself for a few hours if you can!