Take A Chance On Me…

What a crazy week I have had. No sooner did I return from my weekend in London at West End Live, but I logged on to Twitter to find a message on Monday from Superbreak telling me that I had won a pair of tickets to see Mamma Mia! and could I still go – the tickets were for two days time.

After running around checking that my friend could get time off work, that transport arrangements were do-able and that somebody would be able to sort my horse out for me on Wednesday night I was finally able to confirm that yes, we could go and that we were very much looking forward to it. I really didn’t want to have to turn down a trip to the theatre, especially a free one.

We made it successfully to London and got to the theatre in plenty of time. Outside we met a representative from Superbreak who gave us the tickets. They were well organised, they had all of the tickets in separate envelopes all labelled up with names and where they were won. I was impressed with this system and when we got in we also had excellent seats – facing absolutely centre stage in the dress circle, a perfect view.

Of course, we knew that we were about to see a musical about ABBA, but if we hadn’t known the sort of show we were about to see then it was made very evident by the announcement regarding turning off all phones and the forbidding of any recordings –  this was immediately followed (by the same announcer) with a warning that “those of a nervous disposition should be warned that this performance contains platform shoes and white lycra”. This was the first of many smiles through the evening and of course, we had gone with the expectation of a cheesy, party atmosphere.

We were not disappointed. Although at first it seemed more ‘acted’ than some shows (for example Les Miserables – the audience knows they are acted but the production feels totally real), it was soon forgotten about and it set the tone of the musical rather nicely. I happen to rather like it when people spontaneously burst into song, whatever their reason, and this was absolutely one of those productions. The story was a little far fetched but the songs were put in in such an order that you could see absolutely why they were situated where they were.

Emma Crossley played Sophie Sheridan who lived in Greece with her mother Donna (Dianne Pilkington), who had raised her by herself. Sophie decided she wanted to know who her father was as she was soon to be married to Sky (Oliver Tilney), so looked through her mothers old diaries in order to gain some knowledge. As it turned out there were a possible three fathers – Sam Carmichael (Richard Trinder), Bill Austin (James Gaddas) and Harry Bright (Neil Roberts).

After she contacted them, all three decided to turn up after thinking they had been contacted by Donna to come to her daughters wedding. Of course, Donna knew nothing about this and was horrified to see all of them (in fact she was horrified to see any of them) all together in her taverna. This led to a number of hilarious scenes of them all trying to work out why they were there, trying to claim Sophie as their own despite knowing nothing about her prior to receiving their letters and Donna attempting to avoid them whilst reliving the time she had spent with each of them 21 years previously. Pilkington was fantastic as Donna, I couldn’t fault her performance at all as she was really strong both vocally and in her acting.

My favourite character was Tanya (Kim Ismay). One of Donna’s two best friends who she had been in a pop group with 20 years ago, Tanya is a wealthy and attractive, single (after multiple divorces), ‘older’ woman. Her interactions with Sky’s young friends are positively hilarious, most notably the flirting with Pepper (Dickie Wood). I have to say that there was some serious eye candy on that stage, it has been a while since I have seen such good torsos strutting their stuff and they added additional humour to proceedings. Donna’s other best friend and ex group member was Rosie (Jane Milligan) and she too was a great character – the three of them together were just brilliant.

All sorts of twists and turns unfolded during the course of the evening but every single song was an ABBA classic – ‘I Have A Dream’, ‘Thank You For The Music’, ‘Voulez Vous’, ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’, ‘Does Your Mother Know’ (which I think was my favourite scene of the whole show) and of course ‘Dancing Queen’. It was very difficult at times to stay in our seats, all the tunes just made us want to get up and dance.

The finale allowed everyone to do just that and people certainly took advantage of it. Despite the seemingly large proportion of older audience members, everyone had a huge grin on their face and was singing, clapping and dancing along as both men and women appeared in some, erm, tasteful lycra catsuits complete with silver platform boots. A brilliant end to a fun evening. If you go to see something involving ABBA, you just know that you will have a good time – and most likely know all of the words – and it is easy to see why Mamma Mia! has been delighting audiences for 14 years.

A huge thank you again to Superbreak for providing the tickets – those who know me will know that theatre tickets are one of the best prizes I could win and I know it made my friend Jessica’s week too. Also thanks to them for the excellent service, everything was made very easy and ran smoothly; we couldn’t have asked for more pleasant people or a more simple collection.

Keep Dreaming,
Naomi xx

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West End Live

The weekend of June 22nd 2013 dawned somewhat overcast but this did not seem to deter the crowds of people queueing around Trafalgar Square, some of whom had arrived at around 6am for a prime position. The Square was fenced off and behind the barriers were the huge stage, nice and high so that everyone could see the performances, a couple of big screens for those further back and around the edges some tents with various uses – some for promotions, some for shows and the one for TKTS near the stage for people to buy tickets to whichever shows took their fancy from those showcasing. I have to say, the TKTS booth definitely seemed to be doing a roaring trade, it was jam-packed every time I went past it.

The buzz was noticeable and it took no time for the Square to fill up once the crowds were allowed in. It was clear that everyone was really excited to see a preview of what the West End has to offer. The nicest thing, for me, is that the performers were all those who actually put on the performances night after night, so it gave everyone the chance to see the actual casts and the shows almost as they would be if they were in their respective theatres. There was a huge turnout once again, both of West Enders and of the general public. It’s fantastic to see how popular musical theatre is – it is certainly showing no signs of dying a death.

Compered by Matt Wilkinson and Lisa Vickery onstage, with Katy Federman in amongst the crowd, they kept the event running smoothly with a few facts about each show beforehand and helping to keep the crowd geed up using techniques such as Mexican waves (not that they needed any encouragement). Kicking the event off were ‘The Beatles’ – that is to say, the stars from ‘Let It Be’, the musical history of one of the biggest and most influential bands to date.  Rocking the audience with hits such as ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘Help!’ West End Live could not have had a more lively start. I adore the Beatles, I have been a fan for many years as I grew up listening to them. I am, therefore, slightly skeptical of any ‘tribute’ acts or similar. I have been stalling on seeing this show for that reason, However, I was really surprised at how much they impressed me. They have all clearly been studying The Beatles and their actions and movements and despite the fact that ‘Paul’ was right handed rather than left handed, it was obvious who was who. In fact, I enjoyed their performance so much that a trip to see ‘Let It Be’ is now on the cards.

See ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9m2bM13xadY

The productions followed thick and fast, with performers from ‘Once’, ‘Wicked’ and ‘Billy Elliot The Musical’ all taking the limelight. I was thrilled to see all of these, as I love every one of those shows. ‘Once’ showed what they were all about with a medley of numbers and they were very well received. Gina Beck and Louise Dearman delivered a stunning rendition of ‘For Good’, then Dearman took the stage on her own to perform Defying Gravity. A real treat followed when the cast of Billy Elliot decided to drop the usual ‘Electricity’ number (which is amazing but always brought out) and instead performed a medley which included the entire cast. This was a true representation of what the show is about and I just loved it.

View ‘For Good’ here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eLhp0n2qlg

And the ‘Billy Elliot’ performance here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fQQd1xZ3ZM

Every show and every performer was given a fantastic reception by the crowd, who screamed, shouted and clapped along and of course, where they could, they sang along. The cast (many of whom only started in the show a week ago) of ‘Les Miserables’ came out to the most tremendous roar, showing that it will continue running way beyond it’s current 27 years. Again, it is a show that I love very much and there was absolutely no give away that this cast had been in the show for less than a week. I forgot the shivers I get from watching it and again, I succumbed and bought myself some tickets to see it again in September. The sound those guys made was simply incredible.

Les Miserables cast – One Day More: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNWd5peCzyk

This was followed by the current cast of other West End veteran show ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. Despite the fact that ‘Phantom’ is probably my favourite show, I have never seen either Marcus Lovett nor Sofia Escobar in the roles of Christine and Phantom respectively. Sadly the person in charge of the smoke machine got a little carried away and there was some sort of problem with the microphones as they did not sound as good as I have heard them previously but it was definitely a technical fault not the guys themselves.

The performance can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xit5Cf4fA64 (please note, it is not me that goes “there he is” on Lovett’s appearance!)

‘Top Hat’, ‘Matilda’, ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘The Bodyguard’ were also very popular. It was wonderful to see the support given to every single artist, performer and show. Although several of the productions came out and sang through the best known songs, a majority performed medleys or chose an alternative to the norm – ‘The Bodyguard’ for example. Probably best known for ‘I Will Always Love You’, this was avoided here and instead three upbeat numbers replaced it including ‘So Emotional’ and ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ – Heather Headley and crew were in fine voice. Matilda just did the one number – ‘A Little Bit Naughty’ as did ‘Top Hat’ but I really enjoyed both and found myself grinning from beginning to end of the ‘Top Hat’ routine.

The very slick Top Hat performance can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qGrmMIoF2k

The day continued with ‘Jersey Boys’, Jon Lee’s Frankie Valli reaching some notes that had me wondering just exactly how tight his trousers were. Their set consisted of about five songs, each one a well known hit (albeit sometimes better known by alternative performers). It is easy to see why people return to this show again and again.  ‘Mamma Mia!’ entertained the crowd, followed by ‘Thriller Live’ and dance show with the stars of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’; ‘Burn The Floor’. A couple of new shows – ‘The Sound Of Music’, ‘The Colour Purple’ and the next production from Sir Tim Rice –  ‘From Here To Eternity’ were then interspersed with those aimed at children – ‘Dora The Explorer’, ‘Peter Pan: Never Ending Story’, ‘Braniac Live’ and ‘Zoonation’s Groove On Down The Road’ as well as the West End Gospel Choir, Showstoppers and West End Kids. Joey from War Horse (one of the fully moving horse ‘puppets’) also made an appearance during the day so that people had the chance to experience him first hand. I still cannot get over how utterly realistic these horses are.

The day drew to a close but this was definitely not an anti-climax with ‘Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage’, Monty Python’s ‘Spamalot’ – another show which I love – it is in an altogether different league from Les Mis and Phantom but it is supposed to be and it is brilliantly funny, ‘A Chorus Line’ (whose cast had hotfooted it fresh from their matinee performance to join in), ‘Stomp’ and finally ‘Rock of Ages’. It is sad that ‘A Chorus Line’ is closing at the end of August but I am just relieved to say that I have my tickets booked to see it on August 10th.

 I was lucky enough during the day to speak to the four guys from ‘Let It Be’ to ask what they thought about the event. Playing The Beatles were Michael Galliano – John, Luke Roberts – Ringo, Stephen Hill – George and James Fox – Paul.

The cast of Let It Be

The cast of Let It Be

The Let It Be Beatles, L-R: John, George, Paul, Ringo. Picture my own.

Here’s what they said: “It is such an important event. There is so much talent in the West End and it’s important that we get bums on seats and keep the money coming in so we can keep the theatres running and keep producing the good shows.

It’s lovely to come to an event like this and show people just what we are about. The crowd are really responsive.”

I also managed to catch the ‘Jersey Boys’ for a chat.  Jon Lee – Frankie Valli, Jon Boydon – Tommy De Vito, Chris Gardner – Bob Gaudio, David McGranaghan – Nick Massi

“WEL is great fun and it’s lovely to be back. The crowd are responding massively, this is such a nice event which brings everybody together. It’s like a big shop window and it means people get to see all sorts.  We are lucky that we are in a show where people leave talking about it and then bring their friends back to see it too and where people who don’t necessarily like musicals will come and enjoy it. We normally bring all four seasons with us (!) but it hasn’t rained this year, we are back again tomorrow to sing to more thousands”.

Three of the 'Four Seasons'

Three of the ‘Four Seasons’

L-R Chris Gardner, Jon Boydon, David McGranaghan. Picture my own.

The variety that the West End has to offer is plain to see. West End Live is a fantastic opportunity for people to see the talent and actual casts that perform in these shows. For those who are unsure, it is a chance to have a taster, see what they think – perhaps tempt them to try something out. For the diehard musicals fans it is the perfect way to spend the day and means they do not have to choose which ONE to see. It is also ideal for new productions to show what they are about and for people to hear the scores, to encourage people to buy tickets. Theatre can often seem inaccessible to people for a number of reasons but WEL proves that there is something for everyone and regular ticket offers mean it is also affordable for all. All the participants seem to be in agreement that this WEL is an excellent promotional tool as well as good fun and the fact that this event grows each year is a testament to our fabulous West End. I am so glad I have finally got to witness this event first hand as I’ve not been able to make it in previous years. It makes me want to be up there performing with them all, as it always does when I go to the theatre and it certainly put a huge smile on my face.

Next year is the 10th anniversary and so I very much hope I will be a part of it once again.

Tickets for all of the above shows can be bought from a variety of websites and of course the TKTS official London theatre ticket booth which resides in Leicester Square. It is also worth keeping an eye out for offers. Some shows do not really do offers but many day ticket and some just have monthly offers but there are some fantastic deals to be had – if you are anything like me and want to see absolutely everything, then believe me, it is worth shopping around!

I would like to say a huge thank you to Livetheatre.co who gave me the opportunity to report for them – you can see my original post here –  http://www.livetheatre.co/west-end-live-round-up/

Keep dreaming,
Naomi xx

Nadim Naaman Answers….

   Hi everyone. Today’s post is a little interview that Nadim Naaman very kindly did for me. I hope that all my interviewees know how grateful I am to them for taking their time out to answer my questions. Nadim is a talented actor who has played a number of roles in his acting career, most recently the part of Anatoly in Chess. Here we discuss how he got into acting, his exciting new album and the forthcoming production where you can catch him doing what he does best.

1. Did you always want to be an actor?

It took me a while to realise this is what I wanted to do for a living. I remember choosing my A-Levels as a sixteen-year-old and being torn between sciences and the arts, so I ended up doing two of each to keep my options open. I was a chorister at school, so singing was always a part of my life, but the theatre wasn’t ever something I encountered until I played an Apostle in Jesus Christ Superstar. Ironically, Will Barratt, who I understudied in my first year at Phantom, and who is now a writing partner and good friend, played Jesus. I was fourteen at the time, and I suppose you could say that was the turning point, as it led to my choosing to do drama academically and practically. But as a teenager I was equally into many other things; it wasn’t until I got to university that I realised quite how much I loved performing. Until that stage it had always been a hobby – a brilliant one, but a hobby nonetheless. It got to the point where I was sacrificing my degree for the sake of being in plays and musicals. I fought back in my final year to get a 2:1, but I definitely prioritised performing and by that stage had accepted a place to train at the Royal Academy of Music. No regrets.

2. If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing instead?

I suppose the two things that I still pursue alongside acting – writing and teaching. I have always enjoyed teaching, particularly since I started as a private tutor a few years ago. I’ve met some great youngsters, and tracking their progress is so rewarding. I’ve also worked with large groups, which is a huge contrast to one-on-one teaching, but equally rewarding. I teach singing, drama and English language and literature. But it’s writing that really gets me going. Writing music, writing plays, writing articles. It’s something I still pursue – I contribute to theatre blogs and sites, and also write for a football magazine.


3. And how about in your spare time? What do you like to do to unwind?

I am a huge sports fan. Football, tennis, golf, cricket, running, skiing, the gym… I’ve always been an outdoors and active person, and will usually be found playing or watching sports. Even on a night out with friends, I’ll be trying to squeeze in some pool, darts, or my favourite, bowling. I love it. I am a huge Arsenal fan, and try to get to as many matches as possible. As I mentioned before, I have written for an Arsenal magazine called The Gooner for four years now. Sports aside, I’m a foodie, and love cooking (and eating).


4. You have been in a variety of roles over the last year, in productions such as Marguerite, Chess and of course Phantom Of The Opera. Do you have a favourite? If so, why?

That’s a tough one. Each production has given me something unique. Marguerite allowed me to meet Alain Boublil, and forced me to become a better pianist. Chess was a production I am deeply proud to have been a part of. The role of Anatoly was a gem, and to meet the likes of Sir Tim Rice and Elaine Paige, who were so supportive of us all… It was a very special few months with a wonderful company. But then Phantom is Phantom. I saw it as a student, and Ramin [Karimloo] was Raoul. I remember thinking that was a part I would love to do, and being blown away by the show as a whole. I must have seen it at least six or seven times by the time I auditioned for it, and will never forget the first time I saw John Owen-Jones sing the title role. It was epic. Fast forward eight or nine years, and he was back in the role, and was the Phantom for my first ever show as Raoul, belting out right at me during the final lair scene. He shook my hand at the curtain call, and that was when it hit me that I was in this show that I had loved for years, and was working with someone I had been wowed by as a teenager. It was a wonderful two years at Her Majesty’s – a brilliant theatre full of brilliant people.


5.You’re soon to perform in a new production of Titanic the Musical. What can you tell us about it/what can we expect?
It’s a gorgeous score, and as we all know, a tragic story. Not many people realise it won multiple Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score for Maury Yeston. It also came out before the James Cameron film in 1997. What’s nice in this version of the Titanic tale is that the focus is on the human beings aboard the ship. Because we all know the plot already, the musical can afford to speak about characters more than anything else. There are no Hollywood special effects, no stuntmen falling into water from a height of fifty feet, no CGI… Every character in the musical was actually a passenger or crew member on board the liner. You can Google them and see what they looked like and read their stories. The focus is on their relationships, why they are on the ship and why they are going to America. Titanic stories are often about the ship itself – this one is about the people on her, and characters that you may think you know from previous versions are explored in much more detail, with much more humanity. There’s no Jack and Rose, either.

6. If not already detailed, please tell us about the character(s) you play.
There will be lots of doubling up of roles in the show, as the company of twenty will be playing some fifty characters in total. My main focus is that of Charles Clarke. Charles was a journalist travelling in Second Class with his fiancée Lady Caroline Neville. There are underlying tensions in their relationship as she is the daughter of a Lord who does not approve of her relationship with the son of a grocer. They are drawn to America where class isn’t an issue.

7. If you could perform in any show, which would you choose and why?
I have to say Les Mis, because aside from Phantom it is the show that I first got to know and love, and the music will always give me goosebumps. But I also love Miss Saigon, West Side Story, and many of Sondheim’s shows, particularly Into The Woods, Sweeney Todd and Assassins. The most specific role I can think of is Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard. It’s a great sing, and a real acting role. The dialogue and lyrics in Sunset are such a great mixture of gritty and witty, and it’s one of my favourite scores.

8. If different to the above do you have a dream role and/or a song from a show (male or female) that you would particularly like to sing?
Aside from those already mentioned, Fabrizzio in The Light In The Piazza. It’s one of the most breathtaking scores I’ve ever heard. You see, every ten seconds you remember yet another amazing piece.
With Nadim after the 'A Little Night Music' concert, 16/06/13

With Nadim after the ‘A Little Night Music’ concert, 16/06/13


9. So….your album. Very excited about this. Are you able to tell us any more about it? Any sneak peeks? 😉
I’ve been writing songs for many years now, but have mostly done nothing with them, or written things for other people to sing. The album is happening because of the encouragement of many close friends and colleagues who persuaded me I should do something with my own songs. It is called “We All Want The Same”, and it will be available from August 23rd. It features eleven songs that have been written over the last four or five years. One is a collaboration with Will Barratt, which we started during our Phantom days, almost forgot about, and then rediscovered a few months ago. All the songs tell their own story – some are about me, some are about other people, and some inspired by places, events and memories. The songs definitely have a musical theatre flavour, but are more pop/rock than show-tune. Hopefully you will hear a balance of what you already know of me, and a side you haven’t heard before.
Purchase and pre-order details will be available a month before the album is released. I’m sure that’ll also include some sneaky clips of what you can expect. I’ll also be doing some gigs to play some of the songs, and share some influences and the stories behind them. Twitter (@NadimNaaman) will be the most efficient way of getting all the information.

10. Do you play any instruments? If so are you playing on your album at all?
I play piano and guitar, and wrote all the songs on either of these two instruments. My producer, the amazing Joe Davison at Auburn Jam Music, is a much better pianist than I am, and so on the piano-led tracks I taught him the songs which he played in the studio. They definitely sound better as a result! The guitar parts are all me.

11. What has been the highlight of your career to date?
I would say my two years at Phantom, including the 25th celebrations at The Albert Hall, gave me so much. I met some of the most important people in my life during that job, and had over seventy shows as Raoul as Killian Donnelly spent many weeks on the Les Mis film. It was a wonderful time and feel very lucky to have experienced it. But the feeling of playing a part on the West End stage for the first time just edges it. I joined the Sound of Music at the Palladium at its first cast change, as first cover Rolf. After a wonderful year that taught me so much, I was offered the role and took over for the show’s final six months. To stand on that stage, not as an understudy, but knowing I had the chance to call the role my own… That was the moment it really hit me that I’d set out to be a performer and I had done it. I loved every minute.

12. Has anything embarrassing ever happened to you on stage? Or have you ever found yourself wanting to laugh about something? Can you tell us??
In the Sound of Music a six-year-old Gretl once walked behind the Von Trapp sofa mid-scene for a pee. She just couldn’t wait. The actor playing Franz and I lost it. I fell over in The Last Five Years in Edinburgh when singing “Shiksa Goddess”. The idea was that Jamie and Cathy had been on their first date and he had one too many beers. I obviously took this rather literally and was so in the moment that I missed a chair and hit the deck. Someone also happened to be recording the audio of that particular show which has done the rounds online. Cringe. Lastly, a favourite from Phantom. During the Don Juan rehearsal scene in Act Two, when Madame Giry and Carlotta stand off (“can you be certain of that?”), a brass player in the orchestra pit decided to clear his mouthpiece, but blew a little too much air into his instrument. The timing of it, the silence, what the actors were doing, the noise, the fact that every instrument in the pit is amplified by a mic… It was just like a very loud, very well-timed fart that echoed around Her Majesty’s. It was impossible on stage.

13. Describe yourself in three words?
Aware. Passionate. Grateful.  

14. What single item/ one thing couldn’t you live without?
A cliché, but music. I simply can’t get enough of it. I’m assuming my loved ones are a given, here. Music and my loved ones.

15. Is there anything else you would like to achieve within your career? Do you fancy doing TV/Film work etc?
I would love to see how many avenues of the performing industry I can explore. Aside from acting and writing, I did lots of directing throughout university and drama school, which I would love to revisit. I would love the opportunity to work in television and film. I would love to do more work as a musician, not necessarily as a singer or in musicals… Who knows what the future holds? I am an extremely ambitious person, but I am also a realist. All I can ask is that I am fortunate enough to carry on doing what I love and earn a living at the same time. Anything else is a bonus.

16. Do you ever suffer from nerves and if so, how do you deal with them?
I still get nervous on the first night of any show, but I think I learnt to turn those nerves into energy. If you have prepared well, and you know what you are doing, the feeling of nerves are most likely a combination of adrenalin and an anxiety to know what your audience will think of your performance. Trust in what your creative team have done, how the show works as a whole and just get out there and give it your all. That adrenalin, if channelled with focus, can take your performance to a new level. The challenge is then recreating that intensity over a long run – rediscovering those feelings and thoughts as if you’re walking on stage in the role for the first time.
Once again enormous thanks to Nadim for being so obliging. I hope that this interview will mean you will all rush out and book tickets to Titanic The Musical at Southwark Playhouse – the link to do this is here: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/titanic/
And do all keep your eyes peeled for any announcements regarding the album. I think our ears are all going to be in for a treat.

Apologies for any formatting issues if you see any, my internet etc does not want to cooperate tonight. As ever thank you all for reading.

Keep Dreaming,

Naomi xx

Sunday Evening Sondheim

I had been planning for quite some time (since it’s announcement actually) to go to see ‘A Little Night Music’ at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre on Sunday June 16th, however it wasn’t until the day before that it was confirmed that I could go, but I am  SO glad that I managed to see this wonderful evening’s entertainment.

 

Stephen Sondheim is a composer who writes technically complex pieces, the music and harmonies sometimes sounding a little disjointed and extremely difficult to sing well, but this production was outstanding. The sensational cast really showed the work off to its best. Every single person on the stage deserved to be there and held their own alongside all of the others. I knew a little of the music before I went (‘Send In The Clowns’ perhaps the most famous number), but if I am honest I did not know the story behind the songs at all. Alex Parker had really worked wonders with his 31 piece orchestra who were faultless and his musical direction pulled everything slickly together.

 

Despite the fact that this was a concert, the production and Director Alastair Knights kept the script so the whole story was told clearly even without the addition of sets and props. The story also contained a lot of twists and turns, so although I partially guessed how it would end, there were still some surprises and a brilliant happy ending. I was also surprised at just how funny it was; I found myself laughing out loud on numerous occasions, Joanna Riding’s performance as Countess Charlotte Malcolm being one of the most comedic. Her drunken acting and one liners were superbly delivered. Madame Armfeldt (Julia Sutton) was another comical character with her words of wisdom, along with Laura Pitt-Pulford’s portrayal of Petra.

 

Anna O’Byrne was excellent as the virginal and angelic (both in character and voice) Anne Egerman, and Fra Fee played the rather solemn and thoughtful Henrik Egerman with sensitivity. It is always an absolute treat to hear both of these guys sing, for me it was the first time I had seen O’Byrne live, and I was blown away. The youngest member was Bibi Jay (Frederika Armfeldt) who delivered all of her lines clearly and confidently and was as good as any of the adults.

 

David Birrell and Janie Dee were both absolutely fantastic as Frederik Egerman and the actress Desiree Armfeldt respectively. Both gave such strong performances, Birrell with a lot of very difficult songs to sing, and Dee with a moving rendition of ‘Send In the Clowns’ and who maintained the thoroughly ‘stagey’ presence of an actress throughout. Simon Bailey was a late addition to the cast after he replaced Hadley Fraser, but you would never have known as he played Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm with arrogance, pomposity and humour. I have heard Bailey tackle a number of roles and songs but it was so good to hear him singing something so complex and which really showed off his voice, as indeed it did with everyone.

 

The show opened with the overture sung by the ensemble, which consisted of Scott Garnham (Mr Lindquist), Kimberly Blake (Mrs Nordstrom), Lisa-Anne Wood (Mrs Anderssen), Nadim Naaman (Mr Erlanson), Jenna Boyd (Mrs Segstrom) and Joe Richardson (Frid) who between them added some sublime harmonies and ‘filler’ tunes to set the scenes. Each act ended with full ensemble numbers – ‘A Weekend in the Country’ for Act One, and the originally named ‘Finale’ for Act Two, both pieces with full harmonies and the feel-good factor.

 

There was a massive buzz during the build up to this show, I know that the cast were all very excited (and I believe nervous in equal measure) to put this on, but the buzz continued through the audience and the standing ovation and shouts for ‘more’ were proof indeed that this was a special piece of theatre that we had just witnessed. The entire cast seemed to relish the challenge but you would never have guessed that there were nerves behind the vocals. On the way out, the murmurings I overheard were all glowing reports and there were a lot of smiling faces. I would call it a resounding success and I am delighted that I was able to share in it. I really hope there is something similar again soon.

 

Keep Dreaming,
Naomi xx

 

 

Niall Sheehy answers…

Hi everyone. I am really excited to announce my latest interview to you all. Probably best known for getting into the final eight on TV’s ‘Superstar’ (the search for Jesus), Irish actor Niall Sheehy is currently rehearsing for Les Miserables on London’s West End and he kindly agreed to answer some questions for me. Once again I am extremely grateful to him for taking his time out to do this.

Niall

Niall and myself, 18th May 2013

1. Was acting something you always wanted to do?

It’s quite a hard question to answer. I know I always wanted a creative job – which led me to study marketing (which turned out to be a lot less creative than I expected). Ireland is slightly different to the UK in the sense that there aren’t many established theatre schools for younger children, so I never really got into performing until a later age. I did a bit of performing as a child and loved it, but none of my friends were with me and when I had to choose between drama classes or football, I chose football. Having said that, ever since I finally started performing on the amateur circuit, it was genuinely the only thing I wanted to do.
2. If you weren’t an actor what would you do?
If I had never acted at all, then I think I would still be in my Sales job back in Dublin. I didn’t really enjoy the work, but I was on a good salary and had a lot of great friends there. But, if I was to walk away from acting at this point in my life, I think I would like to work with children with development issues. It’s something I’ve been touched by in my life, and I can see me pursuing it later down the line.
3. You had been in a few productions prior to auditioning for ‘Superstar’. What made you decide to do it? (I think it would be terrifying to sing the composers songs in front of him…!)
I’m not really sure why I applied for Superstar, to be honest. I think it came down to frustration; I can’t count the amount of times I’ve done a great audition process, only to be told I was preferred for one of the lead parts, but the other guy had “more of a profile”. It can become debilitating and I said to myself a few years ago that if another suitable show came along, I’d apply. I never actually thought I’d get anywhere NEAR the live rounds, but I just wanted to throw my hat in the ring.
4. Please talk us through the process you had to go through to get to the finals? Did you genuinely get on well with all the other guys?
God, it was such a long process, I’d bore you if I went into any major detail. We initially went along and prepared a couple of Rock/Pop songs, and were eventually whittled down to about 200 or so guys, who were recalled to another day in Brixton. Before that, we were asked to prepare a different song, along with the song “Gethsemane” from JCS. So, one by one, we went onto the stage there and sang our songs. From this day, we were cut down to a final 41 guys, to head off to the Bootcamp. I have to say, that was the best part of the whole experience for me – it was just  group of guys hanging out (working hard as well, obviously) and having fun. The TV Show showed the rest, really; they cut us down to 30, then we headed to Majorca and were cut down to 20. We then had to come back to London to sing for a place in the finals. Sorry….I sort of rushed that a bit, but honestly, we’d have been here all day!! 🙂
5. Was being live on TV and singing to audiences of millions different to performing on stage? Did you find you were more nervous going through this than usual?
I didn’t really notice the whole “Live TV” thing that much because there was a fairly big audience in the studio anyway, so it wasn’t that different to performing on stage. Having said that, I was gradually getting more and more ill over the course of the week, and knowing that you are going to perform far below your best in front of the nation was a really horrible feeling. It didn’t make me any more nervous as I was fairly resigned to it, but it was just depressing knowing that I wasn’t able to show people what I was capable of…..Ah well, it could have been worse, I suppose!
6. Would you go through a reality show again and would you recommend it to people looking for a break?
I don’t think so. Not for any negative reasons, as I had a great time, but I feel I’ve had my moment. I mean it all depends; if there was another casting show to find a guy to play a part and I REALLY thought I’d be right for the part, I would probably apply. I would always recommend those shows to people because it’s the MOST nerve-wracking experience you can go through and as a result it helps you find out what you’re capable of. I always said that you have nothing to lose other than a perceived sense of pride – I didn’t care if I got cut; I just wanted to try.
7. If Jesus Christ Superstar was to return to the West end, do you think you would go for Jesus again (or even Judas/Pilate/Herod/Simon/Peter)?
Of course. I would love to be part of that show. I’d just put myself in for it, and after that, they’d hopefully see me as being right for something in the show.
8. Do you have any advice for combatting nerves?
Not really. You can only combat nerves yourself. Nervousness is completely self-imposed, and people don’t always realise that. As rude as it sounds, I really don’t care what anyone thinks of my auditions/performances – I’m only interested in doing my best and being proud of what I’ve done. For that reason, I don’t really get nervous very often. If I had any advice, it would be to stop worrying what other people think – the people who like you will be biased and say you were great, and you can’t impress the people who don’t like you….So when you think about it, all the criticism AND praise is fairly redundant – do it for yourself, no one else and I believe you’ll feel less nervous.
9. Les Miserables – the next step on the ladder. How does it feel to be part of such an iconic show?
To be honest, it’s a dream come true. Les Mis is probably the most iconic show of all time and to get to say that I’ve been a part of it’s history is a great feeling.
10. How are rehearsals going? – Are you excited for mid June? 
Rehearsals have been fantastic – the only problem is you ALWAYS want more time, but that is the same in any show. Knowing that we’ll be opening in a week is incredibly exciting, but at the same time, we saw the current cast at a matinee last week and it’s daunting to have to try to match the level that they set. Fingers crossed, we can achieve somewhere near the level that they set for us – they’re a tough act to follow.
11. You have been lucky enough to be a part of all three of the shows you wanted to be in – do you have a favourite? How about a favourite character to play?
Yes, I always said I wanted to be part of Les Mis, Wicked & Spamalot. When Spamalot closed I was devastated, but thankfully I got into Wicked and as I was preparing to leave after 2 years, they announced a UK Tour of Spamalot and I was blown away to get into it. Now, getting into Les Mis has completed my wish list – I’ll have to add some more shows on there. As far as a favourite goes, I couldn’t really pick – they’re all so different. Getting to go on for Fiyero & Sir Lancelot was a real honour and I’ll always remember those shows vividly, but now I’m 1st cover Enjolras and I have DREAMED of playing that part, so I’m slightly afraid I’ll blow my mind the night that I get to go on!!
12. If you could perform any song from any show, which would you choose?
I don’t really know. I was introduced to a Swedish show written by Benni & Bjorn from Abba, called “Kristina från Duvemåla” and there is a song in it called “Du Måste Finnas” which I heard performed by the original “Kristina”, Helen Sjöholm in English, entitled “You Have To Be There”, and I have to say her performance was so emotional I just fell in love with the song…..so in a VERY long-winded way, my answer is “You Have To Be There” from the show “Kristina from Duvemåla“.
13. If you could play ANY role what would it be?
I’ve never really had my heart set on a specific part – I just want to work. When I audition for a part, I can feel myself wanting to get it, but there has never really been a part I felt the need to play – maybe it avoids the disappointment of never playing it….Wow, that was deep! If I’m allowed to get overly ambitious, I have always wanted to be one of the X-Men in one of the movies….I actually wouldn’t care who – just one of the gang!!
14. What is the most embarrassing thing to have happened to you on stage? And off stage?
Onstage, I would have to say blanking on a line in “West Side Story” – instead of saying “Afraid to slug it out?”, I blanked and had to quickly think on my feet. Unfortunately, all I could think up was to say “Afraid to…MESS WITH EACH OTHER’S FACES?” and proceeded to shake a jazz hand in Riff’s face. Everyone in the building laughed for a week over THAT one!
Offstage, there have been some atrociously embarrassing things that have happened to me, but I couldn’t possibly divulge – that’s how you make certain people forget about them….! 🙂
15. What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Never be afraid to try. The worst thing that can happen is you will be told “No”, but anything other than that is a win.
16. You will be performing at West End Fests in July –  why should people buy a ticket?
Well obviously, there is the incredibly important fact that it helps to raise money for a really worthwhile cause, CRY_UK, which fundraises for raising awareness, preventions and treatments of cardiac risk in the young. Other than that, all I can tell you at this point is it promises to be an amazing night, with some hilarious fun thrown in on top.
17. Describe yourself in three words?
Laid-back. Friendly. Marmalade.
18. What single item couldn’t you live without?
I have my Grandfather’s old initialled ring, which I always seem to wear when I feel homesick. Over the past year, however, I’ve started just wearing it all the time; Not because I’m homesick, but because it reminds me of my family. I think if I lost that I would be fairly heartbroken.
19. What do you get up to in your spare time?
Nothing. Honestly…..If all goes to plan, I will do next to nothing during my down time. The shows can really take it out of you, so on that rare day off I try to just chill out in the park or at home and switch my brain off. I have a fairly extensive and varied collection of music, so I like to just whack iTunes on shuffle and veg out.
20. You live with Killian Donnelly – do you find you both burst into song (are you both actually really ‘stagey’) and is there any rivalry between you two?
Ha. We actually DO burst into song all the time – the other week he played a tune on the piano, and I dropped a SICK rap on top – we’re really cool that way!! He’s my best mate and we have a great laugh living together – the amount of times we’ll be in the middle of just talking utter nonsense in some concocted scenario and one of us will have to say “Who is this benefitting?”, but yeah, we have a laugh. As far as rivalry goes, there’s none. I mean, we’ve never been up for the same part, so one of us getting a job is never at the other’s expense. Naturally, you’re always envious of someone who gets a great job, but when it’s your best mate, you’re just proud of them. We’re like two loser brothers, really…..Hugs and cups of tea.
21. Killian and John Owen Jones used to do videos of John V Killian…have you ever considered Niall V Killian?
HA….I always say that for a laugh and he says no way! I think you have to be original with ideas; John V Killian was so funny, but doing the same thing again with different people would just be a cheap knock-off……I’m busy creating a new idea called “Niall Throws Killian Off The Roof Of Things” – don’t tell Killian though…..!
22. Who are your idols, influences and inspirations?
I come from a really varied background, so a lot of the people I looked up to when I was younger were actors, musicians and athletes, as well as the people who directly influenced my life. I could sit here all day listing people, but I’d forget someone and feel terrible. More than anyone, I look up to my Dad – he’s my hero and what I want to be when I grow up!
23. What is your favourite film?
WAAAAY too many to pick just one, but if I HAD to pick a Top 5, it would be……5) Amélie 4) Cemetery Junction 3) Stranger Than Fiction 2) Oldboy 1) The 25th Hour. Do NOT hold me to that, though….!
24. If you could only choose one thing to eat for the rest of your life what would it be?
My Mom’s Lasagne….Hands down, no contest!! AND DON’T TRY TO GIVE ME A DIFFERENT LASAGNE….I’LL KNOW IF IT’S NOT HERS!!!
25. Tell us a little known fact about yourself that a lot of people don’t know.
At 2pm on the opening night of my first professional job out of drama school, I stepped on an upholstery pin in my bare feet. It snapped and got stuck in the bone. They drove me to hospital, where they cut my foot open to get it out. The anaesthetic was taking forever to kick in fully and we only had 2 hours until the opening show, so I lied and said I couldn’t feel anything – which meant I sat there in absolute agony as they sliced my foot open (What a hero, huh? Or idiot, as it’s also known) but because it was jammed in the bone, they couldn’t remove it and we had no choice but to just dose me up and stitch me shut. I did the show that night, in more pain than I could imagine and bleeding profusely from start to finish, then, the next morning I had to be put under a general anaesthetic to have an operation to remove it. I woke up in a panic, and tried to fight my way out of the bed, shouting “You don’t understand – I have to get to the theatre” (How dramatic are actors?), only to be told that it was a few hours still until the next show. So I went in, dozy as hell, and did the remainder of the week with a club foot and crutch….Then they didn’t even pay us our full fee……Showbiz, eh?
Another huge thank you to Niall for not only answering my questions but for being so entertaining. If you would like to see him in action he will be on stage at Queens Theatre from 17th June. Do stop by and say hello, I have no doubt he’ll be happy to have a chat. I hope you have all enjoyed reading a little more about Niall as much as I have enjoyed putting this together.
Details on West End Fests can be found at: @westendfests or on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Westend-Fest/182890208508837
Keep Dreaming,
Naomi xx
ma boys
L-R  – George Blagden, Killian Donnelly, Fra Fee, Niall Sheehy, photo courtesy of Phill Cowndley  (thank you)