Spotlight On… Cast & Director of Tenderly the Musical

Tenderly opens at New Wimbledon Studio Theatre tomorrow and runs until 23 September 2017.

Produced by Joseph Hodges, the show stars Katie Ray and Federico Zanni, it’s directed by Tania Azevedo. Break A Leg were lucky enough to be able to interview Katie, Fed and Tania about the show and here’s what they had to say…

First up – here’s director, Tania! 

Tell me about the piece and your vision for it:

‘Tenderly’ is a musical about Rosemary Clooney’s life and the music she became known for. It’s slightly different from your usual jukebox musical because you hear about her life through her own words and you follow her journey of unpacking her life. It’s a fascinating look at America in the 50’s and 60’s and the glamorisation of ‘the girl next door’.

When I started working on ‘Tenderly’ I knew that we had to create a piece of work that made audiences care about Rosemary Clooney even if they knew nothing about her or her career. It’s been a joy to unpack this fascinating woman with actor Katie Ray and create a piece that talks about fame and the music and film industry in general.

Did you have initial ideas about casting and what you wanted actors to bring to the piece?

Casting this show was particularly hard because we needed to find an actor play Rosemary from the ages of 10 to 60 and another actor to play all other characters in her life, both male and female.

For Rosemary, we knew we needed someone who understood the sound but also had the same jovial, humours and subtle quality. Katie Ray ticked all those boxes and some!

For Doctor, we were less specific with what we wanted when we went into the audition room: the main thing was that he had to be a tremendous actor and comfortable with multi-rolling. Fed Zanni is very skilled at characterising and his playful energy was exactly what we needed for this role.

What do you hope the audience will take away from the production?

Of course I hope they walk away humming the amazing music but mostly I hope it casts some light on the life of one of America’s most beloved performers.

Have rehearsals altered your initial thoughts, at all?

If anything they heightened my interest in Rosemary’s life. We worked in a lot of detail in her time-line and how the political events of the time impacted her career and mental health. Doing this kind of research work with the cast was immensely enjoyable and inspiring.

What would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?

Here’s a little challenge to answer that question – try not singing the song in your head to the following lyrics

HEY MAMBO, MAMBO ITALIANO

THERE’S A SOMEBODY I’M LONGING TO SEE, I HOPE THAT HE TURNS OUT TO BE…

SISTERS, SISTERS, THERE WERE NEVER SUCH DEVOTED SISTERS

WHEN MARIMBA RYTHMS START TO PLAY, DANCE WITH ME, MAKE ME SWAY

If you failed the challenge, then you need to come see and the show and enjoy these performed by the most incredible actors.

Finally, any advice for budding directors?

Take as many opportunities to direct work as you can find – readings, short play nights, scratch performances.

Thanks so much, Tania and yes – I’m singing the lyrics but I still want to see the show! 

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Here’s cast member, Federico Zanni….

Tell me about the piece and your character.

‘Tenderly’ is an honest, heartfelt, funny and sometimes topically controversial look at the life of 1950s icon Rosemary Clooney. It’s a two-hander and Rosemary is the only character I don’t play.

What was your initial impression of the script?

I immediately loved the honesty of the text and the instant familiarity it creates between the audience and Rosemary. Whether a fan or not, I know everyone will leave the theatre utterly in love with her.

Was it easy to translate from page to stage?

It was easy, thanks to the phenomenal team I’m working with.

Did you have any ideas about what you wanted to bring to the role?

I always knew I wanted to bring a lot of sass to the character of Doctor.

How does the space lend itself to the piece?

I think the New Wimbledon Studio is an ideal venue for it, as it’s an intimate story, with some cracking musical numbers.

What would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?

If you buy a ticket, then you won’t be disappointed when you want a ticket and they’ve all gone! ‘Waste not want not.’

Thanks so much for your brilliant answers, Fed! 

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Finally, Katie Ray, who plays Rosemary! 

Tell me about the piece and your character. 

I am playing Rosemary Clooney in a play about her life.

What was your initial impression of the script?

The script is dense and full. Rosemary’s career parallels this concept – as in, she had a huge varied career that spanned many years. My initial impression of the script was “Wow! What a life!” Second thought was how the hell am I gonna learn all these lines!

Was it easy to translate from page to stage?

I think telling someone’s life is always hard to translate correctly. The varied aspects of Rosemary’s personality, career and relationships need to be portrayed with care and thought, so for me researching in between the reading and then the staging was important.

Did you have any ideas about what you wanted to bring to the role?

Accuracy. Subtlety. Depth. Humour.

How does the space lend itself to the piece?

I think the nature of the piece is intimate. The venue gives you that up close and personal feel which I think fits the piece well.

What would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?

Whether you adore Rosemary Clooney or have no idea who she is this show will open doors of warmth with its jazz songs and give clarity to dark times with its honest portrayal of reality. The show oozes with sophistication and unless your heart is made of stone it will move you from laughter to tears moment to moment.

Thanks so much for your time, Katie! I think you’ll make a superb Rosemary Clooney! 

Thanks again to everyone from the team who gave their time to Break A Leg for this interview – I hope to get along to see it! 

 

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Evita ~ New Wimbledon Theatre, London

Evita stays at New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 25 February 2017 and then continues a tour of the UK, to book tickets visit: http://www.kenwright.com/evita  

Star rating: ****

“I’m their product it’s vital you sell me, so Machiavell me…” and my word did Emma Hatton sell herself as leading lady, Eva Peron. I was previously unfamiliar with Hatton’s work, but I can honestly say that she is my favourite actress so far to play the legendary role. Eva Peron was an icon in her time and deserves to be played by the best.

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Emma Hatton as Eva Peron

Evita is one of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s classic musicals and Don’t Cry For Me Argentina is widely known. This particular incarnation of the production was fast, furious and had a distinct Argentinian flavour running through it. From the choreography which was slick, commanding and dazzling in equal measure to the powerful sound of the orchestra who played every musical number so beautifully, it’s undoubtedly an Argentine rose of a piece.

In previous productions I have been disappointed with the actor playing the role of Che, which has affected my enjoyment as he is the Narrator and therefore a pivotal role. In Gian Marco Schiaretti the perfect Che, fiery, brooding and with diction that was so abundantly clear that had I not have been familiar with the musical, it wouldn’t have taken long to have gotten the gist of it. I’d go so far as to say that a shining star has been discovered in this triple threat performer. Kevin Stephen-Jones was a good choice for the role of Peron, I thought, imposing and with a notable light and shade to his performance.

Natalie Langston was the presence I was drawn to in the ensemble, whether she was playing an upper class ‘snob’ or a peasant, she was making the most of her part. It was unsurprising to discover that she is the alternate Eva, and although I cannot speak personally, I suspect that she would be rather brilliant in the role, too. The ensemble as a whole failed to capture my interest, they appeared to blend into the background a little too much at times.

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Emma Hatton was Eva Peron and Gian Marco Schiaretti

Don’t Cry For Me Argentina should be the highlight and Hatton did justice to a song that has been sung by so many. Rainbow High was my personal favourite though, the determination of Eva’s character shone through in this number. You Must Love Me was highly emotive too and the pinnacle moment of the musical.

Based on a true story, there’s no shortage of ups, down, trials, tribulations and it is a theatrical experience that as a rule, renders me emotionally drained if I connect with the show fully. That was certainly the case last night, I was moved to tears by the heart-felt performances from the lead actors and the spirit of Argentina was alive at New Wimbledon Theatre. It’s a history lesson and creative master-piece rolled into one.

Photo Credits: Pamela Raith

Break A Leg Top Five Theatres of 2016

I have spent a good percentage of my life in a variety of theatrical settings throughout 2016, when Break A Leg launched in 2013 I could mostly be found in Midlands based theatres in my reviewing capacity. This year I have started to spread my wings and I am so delighted, grateful and privileged to be invited along to review shows all over the UK.

I have never given much thought to my particular favourite venues, but as this is a year in review, it’s only right to give a shout out to some of my best loved spaces. So – here are my favourite theatres of 2016:

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The Hope Theatre ~ above Hope & Anchor in Islington. What a venue!

The Hope Theatre – Taking my number one spot for ambiance, use of space, range of productions and the fact that it is a hidden gem in London’s crown. My absolute favourite off-west end theatre and a place I am excited to be able to return to as regularly as I possibly can. There are no airs and graces, just a friendly team who are as passionate about theatre as the people who come to see the productions. Top-notch!

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Malvern Theatres, one of my top rated Midlands venues.

Malvern Theatres – By far my favourite Midlands theatre, there are two amazing spaces hidden inside a modern building which also boasts a bar with plenty of choice and a lovely eatery. The team are a delight to liaise with, Louise Thomas who deals with press is one of the loveliest people I have dealt with since I started the site and the atmosphere is always relaxed, welcoming and inviting. They have an awesome range of shows on their programme every year. I can’t wait to make a return visit, soon.

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Bristol Old Vic – glorious!

Bristol Old Vic – I’d never been before, but my desire to see The Rivals there brought about my debut visit. It is undergoing refurbishments at the moment, but the space is glorious and I couldn’t stop looking around the auditorium, my eyes were literally everywhere. I can’t wait to see the finished product and to return to review more of the excellent shows that they have there.

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New Wimbledon Theatre, a wonderful addition to the theatres that Break A Leg are reviewing in.

New Wimbledon Theatre – I made my debut visit to review Cats at this theatre and I fell in love with it. From the foyer to the auditorium, I felt that there was an overwhelming air of grandeur without seeming ostentatious. Ornate décor is one of the over-riding themes of the place and what an amazing piano bar. I am chomping at the bit to return and sorry I was unable to attend press night for their recent pantomime.

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Wolverhampton Grand Theatre ~ refurbished and looking amazing!

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre – refurbished and looking good, the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre remains a theatre to be proud of. They have a great selection of visiting shows and their press nights are always a delight. The new art deco interiors have spruced it up and helped it to take an a personality that was always lurking, but has now come to the fore. I am impressed!

Let’s see if the list changes at the end of 2017 or if the above five venues will continue to top the list…

 

Cats ~ New Wimbledon Theatre, London

Cats stays at New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 12 November, before going on a European tour: http://www.catsthemusical.com/tour/tour-dates/

Star Rating *****

What I particularly love about this musical is that the scene is set before the music starts, it’s a set that I feel I could get lost in and it doesn’t stop on stage, either. Almost the entire auditorium is used for this piece, lights are rigged up and around the boxes and the cats themselves frequently mingle in among the audience. Seeing the cats up close is a fascinating sight and the intricacy of the make-up is incredible.

Gillian Lynne’s original choreography is still a joy to behold, every dancer in the cast possesses amazing control and the ability to somersault in such a graceful way that would rival any cat. The score is one of Lloyd Webber’s most instantly recognisable, with memory being the pinnacle moment. Each cat’s tale is told through performances by a tremendously talented ensemble of triple threats, building towards the moment that a cat is chosen to be re-born. It’s spell-binding, bewitching and a stunning piece of theatre which never gets old, in my humble opinion. Plus, to keep the story and choreography moving with the times, The Rum Tum Tugger has become a street dancer as opposed to a rocker. Not only a genius idea, but terrific casting in the form of Marcquelle Ward who swaggered, strutted and rapped!

Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (Joe Henry and Emily Langham)

In Jellicle Cats, my eyes were everywhere, from Josh Andrews bursting onto the scene as Alonzo, to Aaron Hunt commanding my attention as Bill Bailey. I was also transfixed by Sophia McAvoy as Victoria aka the White Cat, not only a glorious dancer, but she used facial expressions to define skittish tendencies that many cats have. Helen Turner as Demeter and Megan Armstrong as Bombalurina were a force to be reckoned with during their rendition of Macavity and were among some of the strongest vocalists. I love Jennyanydots, she is a fabulous character and Lucinda Shaw made for the perfect whacky and quirky gumbie cat. The spectacular display of tap dancing which accompanied that number was one of the highlights for me. When asked to name my favourite cats, the pair that have stayed with me since my childhood when I first encountered this musical, are Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. Joe Henry and Emily Langham played the cheeky scamps in synch as they sneaked around the stage, gambolling and cartwheeling. Old Deuteronomy was an imposing and gentle presence with excellent vocal ability, Kevin Stephen-Jones should be commended on playing the lynchpin character with reliability and majesty. Shiv Rabheru was a spunky and dapper Mr Mistoffelees, pirouettes aplenty were pulled off in spectacular fashion. Bustopher Jones, Asparagus and ultimately, Growltiger are played by one and the same actor, typically, and this production held no exception. Greg Castigliori was elegantly bonkers as Bustopher and deliciously dithering as Asapragus the theatre cat and swashbuckling as Growltiger, an outstanding all-rounder.

Mariannne Benedict as Grizabella

The spotlight is always on Grizabella with Memory being so associated with the show, Marianne Benedict’s work was already familiar to me as I had seen her play the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. On that occasion she was lowered through the roof of the London Palladium, on this occasion she was going in the opposite direction! Benedict was a sensational Grizabella, the pain of the character etched on her face and stumbling around the stage with precision. I was more than ready for her to astound me with Memory, I wasn’t prepared for her to blow me away. The enchanting tone of her stunning vocals drew me forwards in my seat, the crescendo knocked me backwards!

Overall, a memorable evening at the theatre which showcased a bevvy of talented individuals, who also performed spectacularly as an ensemble. Bravo!

 

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