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The Ensemblist is an inside look at the experience of being a Broadway performer- from the first rehearsal through performing eight shows a week and beyond. Whether you’re an experienced theatre professional or a passionate fan, The Ensemblist will give you the opportunity to get to know new performers and the great work they do onstage, while also shedding light on some of the hidden innerworkings of the Broadway experience. Created and hosted by Mo Brady (The Addams Family, SMASH) and Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Chicago, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), The Ensemblist is the only podcast that shows you Broadway from the inside out. 

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West End

48 Hour Showtime Challenge

Mo Brady

by Leanne Coupland

The Nutty Cracker Suite at Showtime Challenge (photo: Darren Bell)

The Nutty Cracker Suite at Showtime Challenge (photo: Darren Bell)

Putting on a West End show usually requires weeks of rehearsal.  The whole cast and creative teams will meet on the first day and do a full read through and over the next 4 weeks or so choreography will be learnt, harmonies perfected, props bought and stage directions noted.  So what if I told you that you could put on a musical in a West End Theatre in 48 hours? Many would say it can’t be done. But I assure you it can. It has. And it will happen again on the 13th October when the most talented cast will appear onstage in Singin’ in the Rain at the Adelphi Theatre as part of the 48 Hour Showtime Challenge, raising money for dementia charity, the Lewy Body Society.  This will be my second time taking part in this challenge. I had the absolute joy of being part of the 2016 cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie where we raised money for mental health charity, Mind and I am so excited to be taking part in this exhilarating challenge again.  So, how on earth do they pull off putting on a show in 48 hours, I hear you ask…well, here’s how it’s done.

The entire cast and creative teams meet at 6.30pm on the Friday evening.  Prior to this scripts and vocal selections have been sent out so that lines and harmonies can be learnt, but that is it.  At 6.59pm the countdown begins and then at 7.00pm rehearsals are in full swing. The amazing team at Showtime Challenge organise a timetable which could rival that of a military operation; the entire cast is split up into groups; we have various acting ensembles, dance ensembles, featured roles and principle cast members who rotate between each rehearsal room working with the shows director, choreographer, musical director and their associates on specific scenes and musical numbers.  For Thoroughly Modern Millie I was part of one of the Female Dance Ensemble groups, learning two dance numbers: The Nuttycracker Suite, a big partnering number in Act 1 and the Entr’acte that opens Act 2.  This first rehearsal goes on until roughly 10.30pm on the Friday night and then at 8.00am Saturday morning (with coffee in hand) it’s straight back to it; rehearsals resume and among the choreographed madness, we manage to squeeze in costume fittings for each member of the cast before they shuffle back off to a dance studio or music room.  Then on Saturday evening, after a jam-packed day of rehearsals (and just when you thought it couldn’t get any crazier), we all assemble in the hall and do our first full run-through - A dress rehearsal ahead of the big day on Sunday and a chance to piece our wonderful jigsaw together.

Leanne Coupland

Leanne Coupland

Fast forward to Sunday morning, arriving at London’s Adelphi Theatre, once again, with coffee in hand - (caffeine became a necessity that weekend) and all of the wonderful Showtime Challenge cast and crew were queuing outside stage door ahead of the marathon that lay ahead of us.  We make our way up the winding staircases to our dressing rooms and settle in, it’s time for a quick fire and safety talk before the madness begins again. Technical rehearsals start and we utilise every inch of our time and the theatre’s space; if you weren’t needed on stage, you were going over your track somewhere in the theatre.  You could find flapper girls in the foyer, people singing on the stairway and time steps being perfected in the bar; the beauty of this challenge was that everyone was helping each other. We were all pulling together to pull off this show - and with only hours to fully tech, everyone was completely committed to the cause. Not one detail was forgotten about; not only were the whole cast and creative team volunteering and working together in this challenge to put on a show and raise money for Mind, we had a fabulous team of hair and makeup that took us from tired and slightly dishevelled ensemble dancers to fully fledged flapper girls of the 20’s.  And they spent the rest of their day ensuring each finger wave was in place and not a smudge of red lipstick in sight. I’ve never felt so fabulous after so little sleep in my life! As the minutes ticked by, we edged closer to our 48 hours of rehearsals being up. 7.00pm, Sunday evening…It was Showtime.

Honestly, much of it is a blur; a hazy memory of bright lights and fringe dresses.  But the moments I can remember were truly magical; I’ve never known a more supportive audience and cast or an adrenaline buzz like it.  There’s something both terrifying yet exhilarating about going into a performance feeling ever so slightly unsteady on your feet; I wasn’t sure how it was going to go - if I would remember all of the choreography (especially since 24 hours prior in our dress rehearsal I froze mid-number centre stage), but it went amazingly.  Everyone was incredible, lifting each other up and getting through it as a team. Hitting that final count in our finale number and looking up to the balcony of the Adelphi Theatre as people rose to their feet and rapturous applause filled the theatre I was overwhelmed with a sense of total and utter joy. We did it!  

Despite the mild sleep deprivation, as soon as I heard that Showtime Challenge were putting on another show I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved. The entire experience was incredible; I had so much fun and being up on that stage felt amazing, as it always does as a performer, but the sense of achievement and camaraderie amongst the cast was very special. I love the theatre community and Showtime Challenge is another example of how wonderful it is when we can come together to put on a show and raise lots of money and awareness for important causes and charities. So as soon as I could, I signed up to audition for Showtime Challenge again and I’m beyond excited to be part of the team, this time playing Roscoe’s 1st Assistant in their production of Singin’ in the Rain and raising money for the Lewy Body Society.

One Million Percent Nerves

Mo Brady

by Rory Shafford

Rory Shafford

Rory Shafford

On Monday 15th July 2019, I made my professional Musical Theatre debut in the Rogers and Hammerstein classic, ‘Oklahoma!’ at Chichester Festival Theatre – a sentence I would have never believed when commencing college 3 years ago!

When I was younger, watching ‘The X Factor’ on a Saturday evening was crucial part of my family’s regime; one of the few times we’d all be in the living room at the same time during the week. It was from observing the contestants and backing dancers on the show that inspired me to start attending dance classes (with ‘Chico’ as my regretful idol). After months of trial and error, attending as many dance classes as I could, I started to consider dancing as a potential career.

I was sat down by my dance teachers (second parents to me) who enlightened me on the industry I wanted to become a part of and made it clear that I should consider broadening my horizons. This would consist of undertaking Ballet classes, Tap classes, and even singing lessons for the purpose of potential college auditions. Ultimately, the best way I could achieve all of these was through the ‘Urdang Youth Academy’! On a monthly basis, my parents would drive me up to London (a big day trip from my home town in Dorset) so I was able to participate in the classes Urdang had to offer as a part of their Sunday School scheme. This would consist of: Ballet Classes, Technical Jazz Classes and Musical Theatre Workshops. The ‘Urdang Youth Academy’ was the most perfect experience for me as not only was I fitting in a wide variety of invaluable training, but I was also getting a taste as to what it would be like as a full time student at The Urdang Academy. I visited other colleges, but I never had the same connection with that of Urdang’s and I was lucky enough to be accepted onto their 3 Year Diploma course in January 2016!

In the blink of an eye, I was in my 3rd year, during which I was cast in ‘The Wedding Singer’ as my 3rd Year Musical where I was lucky enough to work with choreographer, Jane McMurtrie. Jane informed me of her position as Associate Choreographer on the upcoming production of ‘Oklahoma!’ for Chichester Festival Theatre and made it clear she’d love for me to audition. When the chance came around a few weeks later, I couldn’t help but feel overly nervous from the added pressure of making Jane proud and proving to the remainder of the creative team the reasoning behind her getting me to audition. I knew I would have to prepare, so I researched the show and familiarised myself with the creative team, before my 1st round dance call!

Rory Shafford

Rory Shafford

I sensed Matt Cole (Choreographer) and Jane were trying to punish us based on the difficulty of the audition! The standard of dancers Matt, Jane and the creative team were looking for was made clear through the challenge of the routine and we were told that this audition would give them an understanding as to who was capable of matching the fitness levels of the musical’s choreography. I was ecstatic to receive my recall later the same week, where I would get to sing for the incredible Jeremy Sams and fantastic Nigel Lilley. The welcoming environment they created in the audition room helped my nerves tremendously and I left smiling ear to ear!

On Thursday 14th March 2019, I received my first professional Musical Theatre job offer – a day I will never forget! I was brimming with excitement to get going, (and, let’s face it millennials, the best part of accepting a new job is typing it into your Instagram bio) but I had to wait what felt like an eternity for rehearsals to begin on Monday 3rd June! Our rehearsal process in London was physically challenging, to say the least, however, meeting and working with such wonderful people more than made up for the aches and pains I was faced with every morning. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop me from looking forward to going to work each day – something not many people can say. We concluded our final week of rehearsals in Chichester after settling in to my lovely digs. Next up was tech week; which I loved, because, when I wasn’t working on stage I was able to rest and recover in so many different locations at the theatre, whether that be in my beautiful dressing room, or outside on the fields in the glorious summer weather. However, tech week eventually came to an end, meaning we were soon to be performing to a paying audience for our 1st Preview, aka, my professional debut!

Remember the nerves I mentioned when attending my final audition, if you were to multiply that by 10000000000000000% - that’s how nervous I felt when standing in the wing, preparing to somersault onto the stage. Despite the nerves, I’d also never been more excited and ready for my family to witness the show we’d created.

My professional musical theatre debut in ‘Oklahoma!’ at Chichester Festival Theatre could not have been more perfect, finishing with me nearly bursting into tears of joy and pride when completing my bow and receiving a standing ovation. I can’t thank the cast and creatives enough for making this opportunity not only the best show I have ever performed in, but the best experience of my life so far!

"Now Things Have Come Full Circle."

Angela Tricarico

by Grainne Renihan and Ciaran Bowling

Ciaran Bowling and Grainne Renihan

Ciaran Bowling and Grainne Renihan

Grainne Renihan: I have payed Fantine in Les Miserables on numerous occasions at London’s Palace Theatre. My first contract was in 1989, when I left the Prince Edward Theatre where I was playing Florence in Chess. I was joined by my sister Lizzy Renihan, who was 16 at the time and cast as an Eponine/Cosette cover. I knew the music of Les Mis but had never seen the show. Fantine was a role that just sat really well with me.

Her story is a gift for any actress, and vocally, it was a dream to sing. I went away to do other shows, during which time I met my husband, Daniel Bowling, while we were doing Cats together: him as the Musical Director and me as Grizabella. As a newly married couple we ended up in Les Mis together, with him as the Music Director. During my 1996-97 contract, I became pregnant with my son, Ciaran Bowling, but continued with the show for five months.

My husband continued on in Les Mis but as Musical Supervisor. In 2001, I returned to the show and Daniel used to take Ciaran to watch my scenes from the sound desk.

Ciaran Bowling: I’ve been in the London production for two years, and I was lucky enough to close the original London production at the Queens Theatre (soon to be renamed the Sondheim Theatre). My earliest memories as a kid were watching my mum playing Fantine. Apparently, one night after Fantine dies I turned to my dad and asked if mum was really dead, to which he laughed and whispered “no it’s a musical, it’s not real.”

This was my introduction to theatre. Growing up, I have been lucky enough to see my mum play numerous roles, so the fact that we are now going to be in this musical together is insane. We get on so well with each other and I think it’s going to be a great experience. Les Miserables is a show that virtually my entire family has been involved with and now things have come full circle.

West End Eurovision

Mo Brady

by Sarah-Marie Maxwell

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As I walk from Canon Street Station early on this gorgeous Sunday, I am hit by a wave of sound from passers by who are shouting, cheering and whistling along every street in London. It is Sunday 28th of April 2019,  a day where the whole city gather together to join and support those amazing people who are running the streets of London City, for so many amazing causes.

The joy and excitement filled me with a tremendous buzz, as I too was on route to another rather big event, one of theatres biggest annual gatherings. West End Eurovision! So get your lycra, sequins and glitter at the ready, because this is a night like no other.This year the Follies company at the National Theatre were asked to take part in this great evening and it’s a night I have always wanted to be part of , so when the opportunity surfaced and our wonderful Janie Dee brought it to the cast I simply had to volunteer myself. It’s not every day a non West End shows gets to represent at the event and it is such and important one so I simply had to say YES!

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During the evening each West End (cough..plus 1 non West End) compete against one another, signing original songs from the Eurovision Song Contest, to take home 4 coveted West End Eurovision trophies; Best Ident Video, Best Costume, Best Choreography and Direction – this award was decided by the four celebrity judges, Amber Davis, Bonnie Langford, Tim Vincent and the incredible Wayne Sleep OBE, watching from a box in the auditorium of the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand – Not to mention a performance from Eurovision star herself Dana International. We also had a sneak peek at our very own Eurovision entry of 2019 Michael Rice with ‘Bigger Than Us'
This event has been going since 2008 and for a truly amazing cause. MAD Trust the Make A Difference Trust supports HIV and Aids projects across the UK and parts of Africa, spreading peoples stories, raising awareness and most importantly with the £400,000+ raised since the first event in 2008. The trust provides support and care to those affected and education to each and everyone of us.
To be part of such an evening with three other incredible women from Follies, two of which are legendary leading ladies, Joanna Riding and Janie Dee, was a privilege and I won't forget it in a hurry. To do what we as performers love doing whilst raising money for a wonderful and vital cause.
Our entry for the contest was the French winner in 1977 , a sublime song called L'oiseau at l'enfant. Which our wonderfully talented Musical Director of the event Matheson made an arrangement of specifically for four part harmony, and it was stunning.The song full of poetic rhymes speaks about love and the blue bird that flies over the world and sees that it is beautiful. It was an apt choice from Janie Dee with the way things are in our planet at present. It was the most nervous I had been up to that date but once the four of us were on stage  representing team Follies we all shone like our blue sparkly showgirl costumes, it was fabulous in every way. We were so astonished that we came 2nd place to such fantastic casts that grace each and every West End stage, it was nail biting close between ourselves and the reigning champions The Phantom Of The Opera but they scored victory and scooped up the West end Eurovision Trophie once again, and so well deserved too. The sound they make is just incredible, and we left with smiles on our faces because we had been apart of the night. We were there and we had a hand in making a difference.

Springtime in Paris!

Mo Brady

by Alexandra Waite-Roberts

Alexandra Waite-Roberts

Alexandra Waite-Roberts

Let me set the scene. It’s twenty-six degrees, people are sunbathing all around me in a beautiful park on the banks of the river Seine in central Paris. Dog walkers pass by, along with keen joggers & cyclists on this balmy Saturday in the French capital. The plosive pop of champagne bottles opening can be heard, bursting frequently, breaking the sound of birdsong into bubbling laughter of those closest to the fizz we all know and love! (...well, most of us!) 

It’s April! It’s unusually warm for this time of year, and I can’t quite believe I’m here to work. It’s springtime in Paris! 

Working internationally had always been on my bucket list. And when an opportunity arose to appear in Guys and Dolls for six months at the Theatre Marigny, Paris; which is situated in between the Arc de Triomphe and the Concorde monument on the Champs Élysées, I jumped at the opportunity. What could be better? 

Whilst working in Paris, the accommodation provided for us is situated in La Defense; the business district. Once settled in our apartments, the tech began. It throws up a big issue that you can never really prepare yourself for when working abroad... the language barrier! All the wardrobe department and dressers that will be working on the show, are, (surprise surprise), French. Who knew? You get surprisingly good at sign language within days when trying to explain how you would like your quick change to be set; that inter-dispersed with random French words you learnt at Primary school but haven’t used since. If you are successful in stringing three words together, you now class yourself as fluent and give yourself a pat on the back. So, although a tad stressful to begin with, it actually becomes highly amusing, and truth be told, their English is far better than your ‘fluent French.’

Another strange thing that I was unaware of before arrival, is how many people there are in each department in France, in relation to a relatively small cost. You quickly get used to someone else’s hand putting your mic pack in the back of your thong, along with a ‘protective plastic bag’ for it – it never gets less awkward. Along with some having to arrive a while before warm-up to have their hair prep done, and make up applied by a member of the wig department (boys included). Something that rarely happens in London or on tours unless you are Elphaba or Shrek or some other painted hero!  Each department is hugely staffed in comparison to the UK!

The show itself is played in English and screens display the French translation, much like a UK captioned performance. Often laughs won’t happen until a few seconds after you’d expect, which takes some adapting to. The French find things amusing that the English wouldn’t, and vice versa, so it’s swings and roundabouts, and always interesting to see how each audience will react. 

We only do seven shows a week with a matinee only on a Saturday, which all the ‘stageys’ out there will know, is a dreamy schedule. Sadly, most weeks we are only playing six shows, or sometimes even five. This is not due to small houses, but due to French protests, and rioters rebelling against President Macron and various rises in tax. I’m currently writing this on Easter Saturday, just days after the Notre Dame fire tragedy, and unfortunately today we should’ve had two shows. But that’s the way of the world. Again though, it is another experience of working in a foreign country. As soon as the sun rises on a Sunday, you’d be forgiven if you thought anything had ever happened in Paris the day before. Life resumes as normal. It really is bizarre. 

Alexandra Waite-Roberts in  Guys and Dolls

Alexandra Waite-Roberts in Guys and Dolls

Trying to plan day trips home to see your partner or make it to that next job audition can prove rather tricky. It is doable, takes careful planning, and is sometimes costly, but nothing beats the feel of climbing into your own bed – even if it is just for one night. This has proven even more difficult, when a journey on the Eurostar for a quick trip back to London, which normally takes a couple of hours ends up taking six hours due to French customs being on strike at the moment. (Something to do with Brexit). Oh the joys!

A few of us have endured the overnight bus which usually arrives into London Victoria at 6am, just in time to make that 10am dance call at Pineapple! Thank goodness there are showers there or else I’d feel very sorry for the auditionee standing next to me in the studio!

It is however, absolutely divine when your partner or friends and family manage to make it out to visit you. It is so enjoyable discovering quaint Parisian streets whilst devouring a crepe and then stopping off for a ‘café au lait’, and discussing where to go next. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed is not having to cram everything into two or three days as you would on a normal city break. It is wonderful to be able to do ‘one thing a day’, even if it’s just to check out that coffee shop you liked the look of for that caffeine pick-me-up just before the show. Having said this – time also flies by and there’s still so much I need to see and do.

It is easy to forget that you are actually away from home to work! But how can one believe this is work when you are in a beautiful city which has so many cultural, artistic and architectural delights! One thing I do know is that I am very lucky that my passion allows me to travel and visit places that I perhaps wouldn’t otherwise see. Well, not in their entirety or to the same extent. That, and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that if you want to be true to French culture – it’s totally acceptable to drink a ‘vin rouge’ at 11 o’clock in the morning (Obviously not on a show day!) 

The magic that you feel as you meander past street cafés alive and buzzing, late into the evening, long after the show has come down is electrifying. You can soak up the atmosphere on days off over an aperol spritz, whilst gazing at the Eiffel Tower sparkling, (it never gets old - trust me) and writing an article for ‘The Ensemblist.’ Who could ask for anything more?



"The Camera Never Lies."

Mo Brady

by Ryan Gover

Ryan Gover

Ryan Gover

Who watched ITV’s All Star Musicals last Sunday? It presented seven celebrities who have never been in a musical before. They had to each sing a song from a show on a West End stage.This was all whilst being backed by an ensemble of professional musical theatre performers - that’s where myself and 15 other gorgeous humans did our little bit!

All Star Musicals took place in front of a live audience of over 3,000 people. And if that wasn’t enough they were then judged by a panel of some of West End and Broadway‘s biggest names: Elaine Paige, Kristen Chenoweth, Kevin Clifton and Trevor Dion Nicholas. Finally, after combining the judge’s scores with an audience vote, one of the celebrities would be announced the winner and bag the All Star Musicals’ trophy.


The following week, the show was broadcast to the nation. This meant the general public had the chance to see our night packed full of fun, musical theatre entertainment hosted by Mr Fabulous himself, John Barrowman and all from the comfort of their own homes. What more could you want from Sunday telly?

When I heard about the auditions for All Star Musicals it really excited me that ITV, along with director and Olivier award-winning choreographer Bill Deamer, were looking to cast 16 musical theatre performers to be part of a one-off celebrity talent show for national television.

My career for the last 10 years has been onstage in musicals. It’s cliché, but I truly love everything the theatre has to offer. It’s my drug! The only experience I’ve had on TV has been on shows like Sunday Night at the Palladium and The Royal Variety Performance doing a company number from the musical I’ve been in at the time. Other than these awesome, but rare occasions, I’ve never properly seen how a television show is produced, but now there was an opportunity that would marry these two worlds together in one job – long story short, I was fortunate enough to get an audition & the following week found out that I’d made the final cut to be in the All Star Musicals Ensemble – I was over the moon.

At our meet and greet, we were told who was involved and what songs we would be doing with each celebrity on the night. We were going to be opening with a Mary Poppins medley followed by hits from Mamma Mia!, Hairspray, The Greatest Showman, Chicago, Funny Girl, South Pacific and Joseph. The #stageygeek inside me was elated. In this industry, I always try to stay realistic and I know that there’ll be dream jobs that I won’t ever get cast in or will simply pass me by - ”That’s showbiz kid!” I may well have missed the boat to that Greek island in Mamma Mia! and I’m probably too old now to be a “Nicest Kid in Town”, but how wonderful that All Star Musicals was giving us ensemble actors a chance to perform this entire selection of well-known musical numbers, each unique in their style, in a single night.

The rehearsal process was fairly intense; we had lots to learn, but we only had three weeks to do it all in. The ensemble, apart from being some of the loveliest people I’ve worked with, was an experienced group of performers with a great energy and ethic. I had no doubt that we would all be prepared for a heavy workload, but of course the looming thought in all of our minds was that on the night you only have one shot to get it right. Normally in theatre if you make a mistake during a show, the chances are you get the following evening to correct yourself and it will never be seen again. However, on All Star Musicals we had to make sure we were really on top of our game because there wasn’t going to be time to record several takes - and the camera never lies.

Ryan Gover and the cast of  All Star Musicals

Ryan Gover and the cast of All Star Musicals

It was strange doing what felt like a typical rehearsal for a musical, but being aware that there was a camera or two, moving around us in the room to gather behind-the-scenes footage for the final TV production. There was no hiding. After the initial nerves. we soon got used to it and pressed on with each day as normal and focusing on getting the show ready. We were sometimes rehearsing numbers & literally having to dodge the camerawoman to enable her to get the shots she needed. This was different every run-through and meant that we always had to keep our eyes peeled. Over the three weeks, the crew filmed a lot from various angles, in different lighting states and even in slow motion; I was fascinated to see how much material they would actually use and what it was all going to look like in the final edit.

The filming part was the least of our seven celebrities worries, as they had the hardest job of all! They were being asked to do something that takes years of training, in only a few weeks and then perform in the spotlight to thousands (and eventually millions when the show was broadcast).

When we met them one by one, you could tell that they were nervous for what was in store but when Bill Deamer staged each of them into their routine, added with the support of our singing and dancing; they were incredibly excited that their number had come to life and reached a whole new level - the magic of musical theatre!

They each had two one hour-long sessions with us, whereby we rehearsed their songs a fair few times to get them ready for the big night. As performers, we are mentally and physically used to repetition and doing eight shows a week, but to our celebrities who had never done anything like this before, they were amazed by the amount of stamina that is required in just one song: they really were in awe of what we do for a living on stage! This took me by surprise because if you’re anything like me, I always feel star-struck and total admiration when in the presence of a celeb, but to have them appreciate our line of work too, really meant a lot.

They were a truly wonderful bunch and it was lovely for us to see their growth in confidence throughout the process, as we know how hard it is to get up and sing in front of people, let alone a nation. We all just wanted them to go out there on the night and smash it.

Overall, as a company we were very fortunate to have Bill Deamer; not only for his brilliance as a top West End creative, but also to mentor us throughout this process. Although we knew how a stage show is put together, we weren’t sure what to expect from a television one - and vice versa for our celebrities who were completely alien to musicals.

Bill has had an extensive career in Theatre and TV, choreographing for shows like Follies, Top Hat, Strictly Come Dancing and So You Think You Can Dance? so he really knows how both industries work. He had the challenging task to choreograph for two audiences: it needed to be theatrical for our live audience at The London Palladium, but equally he had to consider the viewers at home and he specifically staged each routine with camera angles and close-up shots in mind.

Having that knowledge and experience behind him; Bill was the perfect man for the job. The celebrities and all of us in the Ensemble learnt a lot in a short space of time by having him at the helm of the production – we were in good hand.

On show day, the schedule was tight. For it to work we had to stick to the times allocated, so as not to keep our audience waiting when they arrived that evening. After an early 8:00 am start and a late 11:30 pm finish, it was a long day for us all; but like any show, adrenaline gets you through and we had a fantastic night, leaving on such a high.

There were many highlights for me; an opportunity to perform at The London Palladium is an honour for anyone who works in theatre. Also witnessing two musical theatre icons duet for the first time together who inspired me as a child to pursue this as a professional career was the icing on the cake!

However, I primarily came away from the evening feeling total pride for our seven celebrity contestants. Even though Daniel Brocklebank took home the trophy, they’d each dived headfirst into the deep end, having performed in their musical theatre debuts and were all winners at heart!

As a child it was these types of programmes I used to yearn for being on telly, as living outside of London it was the only place I could get my theatre fix! Every year when The Royal Variety was aired before Christmas, I used to love when the new West End musicals would come on and perform. I always wished there were more opportunities on national television like that and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one with these feelings! So to have a new concept for TV like All Stars Musicals, not only gives us that spectacle and variety you get from going to the theatre, but it also has that extra entertainment factor, which other television programmes like I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here offer; by adding a hint of competition and putting well-known faces in situations they’re not used to…in my opinion singing and dancing is more pleasurable to watch than someone being forced to eat Kangaroo testicles!

I was nervous watching the show back on Sunday. As a stage performer you never have to do that and although I had a few moments cringing seeing myself on screen, I tried to look at the bigger picture and felt overall that what ITV had created was a really entertaining, super easy-to-watch TV show with the fun and magic of musical theatre driving it along.

I have no doubt that amongst our millions of viewers there may have been some cynics who didn’t enjoy All Star Musicals. You’re never going to please everyone - maybe some people didn’t like the concept? Maybe some people simply don’t like musical theatre?

However, during these current times when the media is saturated with some pretty dark events, why not take yourself away from that for a couple of hours and enjoy a light-hearted show like this? One of the things I love most about musical theatre is that it offers people escapism! It is one of Britain’s greatest attributes and I think it’s important that television is looking at different ways to broadcast it.

The All Star Musicals journey began with a pilot in 2017 and due to its success, that’s why ITV wanted to film our recent episode this year. Having now finished, I will personally look back on this job with very fond memories and couldn’t have asked for a better start to 2019. Who knows if in 2020, the show will grace our television screens once more or whether there’s even potential for a series? Just imagine the endless musical theatre hits they could chose from and the variety of celebrities that could be involved. I think I’d tuning in every Sunday for sure!



Come to the Cabaret

Mo Brady

by Alyn Hawke

Alyn Hawke

Alyn Hawke

Ever since I was little, my love of performing came, first and foremost, from singing. Throughout my musical theatre training I was best known by my peers as a singer and I assumed that would be my strength as I started out in my professional career. However, little did I know that my jobs would send me on the path to becoming a hoofer! After spending a few years on Top Hat, every production I have done since has involved dusting off my Tele-Tones. I have loved every second of it, but I do miss getting the opportunity to properly sing my guts out.

In recent years, I discovered a wonderful outlet for this suppressed desire; Cabaret.  Strangely though, I’ve noticed amongst my peers that this can be a dirty word. Peoples’ perceptions of cabaret nights being a form of karaoke for performers to show off their extensive rep folders or showcase their astonishing range and talent for all to see. I get it; even I cringe at the thought of a night like that. But, in my experience, they are the total opposite!

A bar in central London recently launched post show cabaret nights, giving people an opportunity to see company members from West End shows performing after the curtain came down on their production. They proposed a cast takeover night and approached 42nd Street in the hope that we would perform its very first monthly show, in aid of the charity Theatre MAD. With a company of 58 cast members, as well as the backstage team, surely it would be easy to fill an hour and a half of songs, right? 

Wrong. Initially only four people expressed an interest in singing. This really shocked me; surely, I wasn’t the only person who longs to sing something other than “We’re in the Money” eight times a week? I spoke to a few people about it and the responses followed a theme; fear. Fear of judgment, fear of failure, fear of feeling uncomfortable.

We reached out to some of the original cast members who were no longer performing in the show and were so grateful for the positive response we received. This meant that the line up consisted of the entire 42nd Street family and boosted our set list considerably.

During the rehearsal, the same day as the gig, I became aware that for many of the line up it was their first attempt at a cabaret performance. Many of the performers were nervous, not knowing what to expect or how to conduct themselves. It seems, for us thespians, performing as someone else comes naturally, but to get behind a microphone and truly be you is a totally different challenge.

The support on the night was astounding; many of the company of 42nd Street came to support as well as friends, fans and the general public. I was so happy and proud to hear the first time performers reveling in how much the enjoyed singing and already throwing themselves at the next opportunities to get behind a microphone again. I was most surprised at the amount of people in the company who approached me and said, “I wish I had sung.”

Over the past year, I have met new people and gained multiple new friends and contacts, gained confidence and knowledge from the various companies I have performed with and, overall, had a really fun time doing Cabaret! It is a chance to try out songs that you will never, ever be asked to bring to an audition or perform roles that you will never be cast in. You can play it safe or take risks with absolutely nothing to lose!

So, in the spirit of New Year and embracing the “New You,”I urge you all to step outside of your comfort zone in 2019. If you have ever thought about, wanted to or dreamt of singing in a cabaret, DO IT! You’ll have so much fun and fulfillment and, even if you decide you won’t do it again, at least you can say you’ve done it.

Alyn Hawke

Alyn Hawke

“You Have To Play Princess Jasmine.”

Mo Brady

by Blythe Jandoo

Blythe Jandoo in  Aladdin  

Blythe Jandoo in Aladdin 

Growing up looking the way I do - mixed race Scottish/Indian I really didn’t have many people to aspire to be like on TV or in the media. I was fortunate enough to be taken to the theatre regularly by my family in Scotland but all the lead parts and usually the whole ensemble, were white. I see people as people and don’t think about their skin colour but it was clear to me that for whatever reason people with dark skin weren’t on stage in Britain. I loved dancing, singing and acting but I thought, there’s no point in dreaming too big because I don’t look right. However, it is in my nature to be brave and to work hard at everything I do, so despite my feelings of hopelessness and lack of self confidence, I kept going with it.

I was lucky enough to get into The Dance School of Scotland - a government funded specialist school for dance and musical theatre in Glasgow. There I continued to improve but I never really believed that anything great would come of me. I was then given a place and scholarship at The Arts Educational Schools London where I trained for three years. It was an amazing training and I made friends for life but it could be very mentally and physically challenging. I graduated and began the journey with my amazing agent Olly at Intertalent. I played a fairy in a pantomime, then a train in Starlight Express, then a munchkin/ozian/flying monkey in The Wizard of Oz. I was yet to play a “real person” - there weren’t many stories being told about people who look like me.

I auditioned for the original cast of Aladdin in the West End but was heartbroken when I didn’t get, but I decided put it out of my mind. Following its opening, people would tell me weekly that I should play Princess Jasmine, because of the way I look. When I watched the original animation of Aladdin as a child I was obsessed with Princess Jasmine. She was beautiful, sassy, confident and adventurous, not to mention she had my hair and skin colour! It was a dream role. When I heard they were looking for a Jasmine for Guy Ritchie’s film and were accepting self tapes from anyone, I had to take the opportunity. I submitted a tape of me singing and shortly after I received recall material, which was so exciting! Even to be considered for a lead in a film was a massive achievement. It didn’t go any further so I once again thought the dream maybe just wasn’t going to become a reality.

A few months later I received a call from my friend, Leah Hill with whom I worked with before, saying that they needed some dancers to workshop a scene in the new Aladdin film. It didn’t mean that they would definitely film it but it was well paid and exciting to work with the amazing choreographer, Jamal Sims and his assistants Leah and Nicky. After workshopping, they decided they’d like to film it! Before I knew it I was on a stunning set in the most incredible costumes with Will Smith and Guy Ritchie. I’ve loved every second of my first experience of filming. You see that it really is a group effort; the actors are such a small part of it all. Your day starts at 4am and usually finishes around 8pm, so life outside of it was temporarily non existent (I imagine it must be very hard going for regular film/tv actors and their families).

A few months after filming, I started studying screen acting at Film Club for Actors at the time and was feeling enormously more confident about my acting skills than previous years. The auditions for the Aladdin musical in the West End were announced again. With a renewed self confidence, I was determined to show them my very best self and leave the process with my head held high, even if I wasn’t what they were looking for. I auditioned for the ensemble but after my singing call they asked to see me for Cover Princess Jasmine. I was so excited and I wanted to give it everything. After several rounds and a few days of painful waiting, my agent told me that they wanted to offer me the role of Swing/Cover Jasmine.
I couldn’t believe it. It was finally happening. I would ride on that magic carpet and sing A Whole New World in front of hundreds of people in the West End. It was a dream come true.

I have now been in the show for five months and I love it! I get to play different characters in the ensemble and, finally, Princess Jasmine herself. The costumes are equally as beautiful as those in the film and I have a lot more of them in the show - 15 in total. Lots of quick changes! It’s very a different experience; I am much busier in the musical in comparison to the film, but the film will last forever whereas the musical lasts only lasts in the memories of the audience. I can’t give too much away about the film but it’s definitely different to the original animation, still colourful, exciting and featuring some amazing dancers but with a twist.


However, I love live theatre; the audience’s reactions remind me of why I want to perform and tell stories. These stories, no matter how ludicrous, make people laugh, cry, think, change, fall in love and that’s why I do it. The entertainment industry is so important to humankind. We need to tell the stories of all kinds of people to learn and grow and entertain and share and I would happily continue to work in all mediums. Already more and more films, plays and musicals are being cast colourblind which means that the way someone looks doesn’t affect their chances of getting the role. This is important for me because, as much as I love Princess Jasmine, I want to tell the stories of other amazing women.

Blythe Jandoo

Blythe Jandoo

A New Chapter

Mo Brady

by Ashley Andrews

Ashley Andrews

Ashley Andrews

When people ask me if I have always wanted to work on Broadway, the answer was “of course.” However, I never dreamed it would become a reality.

I was walking through Covent Garden in between shows on An American in Paris on the West End, when my agent called. They said, “So an offer has come in.” I replied, “What offer?” as I hadn’t auditioned for anything recently. They then went on to say how it would be a dance captain position starting in July with some pre-production dates. I still didn’t know what offer. I finally stopped my agent and said, “Sorry, what job is this?” She replied, simply: “King Kong on Broadway.”

I’m not quite sure what happened in the next five minutes to follow. I hadn’t auditioned for the show, so I had no idea at all that an offer was coming my way. I was totally and utterly overwhelmed, excited, surprised, nervous and happy. I’m pretty sure I screamed and said a lot of swear words.

My one connection to the show was my good friend and work colleague Drew McOnie, who was to be the Director and Choreographer of King Kong on Broadway. I first met Drew over eight years ago on a show we did together, and since then we have become good friends and worked together on serval projects. I’m most proud of being one of the original members of his company, The McOnie Company. As for King Kong, I guess it came down to timing. I had successfully made myself available for work in New York and so the puzzle fitted together.

The idea to move to the states was first planted in my head about eight years ago when a director in New York offered me a job. While I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, I couldn’t do it legally because I didn’t have a green card. I thought I’m never going to be able to achieve a green card in a million years.

I understand now just how hard it is to get a green card. It took a lot of time and effort.
I’m still in disbelief that I was granted one and now I am dance captain on an original production on Broadway.

As previews begin for the Broadway mounting of King Kong, I’m struck at how similar the process is from working on the West End. A show is a show. Apart from a few Equity rules that are different, the process is the same. Everything just seems bigger and brighter here.

I’m proud of myself for getting to where I am today and I know I wouldn’t be here without the unconditional support of family and friends. From the teachers who taught me how to do what I do, to my agent who keeps me in front of the right people and pushes me forward to achieve things I never knew I could. Then to the choreographers and directors that believed in me and gave me the chance to show what I can do. Then there are the people behind the scenes who kept me going for twelve years on the West End: singing coaches, personal trainers, physiotherapists, massage therapists, acupuncturist, dietitians, Pilates instructors... the list goes on.

To them, I say thank you. It takes a team to achieve a dream and that’s something that gives me strength and inspiration in this new chapter.

The Broadway Company of  King Kong  (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

The Broadway Company of King Kong (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

"If He Closed a Door, He Would Open a Window."

Mo Brady

by Hannah Grace

Hannah Grace

Hannah Grace

Peace - when auditioning for jobs, when waiting for jobs, when waiting for auditions, there’s never a natural sense of peace. I get anxious about planning anything in case I get an audition, I feel guilty about going away, I get nervous and worked up. I would put all my energy and focus and anxiety into auditions. Yet this was not healthy. However once I learnt “Not my will but Yours” to God, I knew that He would open the right doors and close the wrong ones.

We only see one small piece of the jigsaw puzzle but God can see the whole picture. Once I had this perspective I was so much calmer and happier. I knew that I didn’t get jobs for a reason, it wasn’t about my talent, I didn’t need to take it personally. Instead I knew that maybe God was protecting me for some reason, or maybe that just wasn’t where God wanted me at that time. There was a higher purpose for getting jobs and also for not getting jobs. I knew that I wasn’t called to be a missionary in far off lands, instead I knew that I needed to be a light in dark places and a witness in the theatre.

Changing my perspective in this way gave me a huge sense of peace. Of course I would still get nervous for auditions, but it wasn’t about me anymore - it was about where God wanted me and if He closed a door, He would open a window. It helped me to be selfLESS in a very SELFish world. Also what was meant for me wouldn’t pass me by - instead God could move mountains to open the right doors and I saw this on numerous occasions through audition processes. There was even a time when I got a ‘no’ for a dream job and told to move on and forget that dream. I never did. I knew it was the right job for me, I had a sense of peace about it. Lo and behold three months later a call came in to get me back in the room and after working my socks off in those auditions I got the job and ended up covering three roles on that job! I’m not out for myself, instead I’m out for where God wants to place me for His purpose.

Stability - this leads naturally on to stability. Acting is one of the most unstable careers. It’s unheard of really to stay in one job for your whole working life. You just start one contract and could still be auditioning through the rehearsal period if it’s a short contract. As soon as you’ve got one job, you’re thinking about and planning for the next, unless it’s a longer contract. One minute you’re in work and the next you could be back to ‘normal’ life scraping together the pennies to pay the bills. Friendships come and go - they are intensive during the contract and then you find that you lose contact once the contract ends. Work comes and goes - there are times when you’re doing well, and the next minute you’re no longer what is needed at that time. You could be a lead in the West End one minute and the next you could be back doing silver service. Not only that, once you get a contract, there are a number of times when the show closes early and gets pulled. So all of a sudden the money you thought had coming in for a few months suddenly is taken away from you and you are skint again!

Hannah Grace

Hannah Grace

This is incredibly hard to cope with. How do I cope with this? I have God. A few Bible verses to back this up are: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) and “For I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6) and “How great is your constant love for me” (Psalm 86:13). I know that God does not change. He is a constant in an unstable world - He is my rock. I have something to hold on to, someone to trust when times are hard and when times are good. Knowing that helps me through rejections, show closures and loneliness. I know that I am constantly loved by a good God who wants the best for me. I know that when things seem rough and unsteady I know that He has my best interests at heart and because of that He is saving me for something round the corner and we don’t know what that is because we can’t see the future. This stability definitely helps the mental health side of things in this career because without God I think my brain would be a mess and my anxiety would be through the roof! I like to plan, I like to be able to know when my next pay cheque is coming in. All this is completely alien to this career so knowing God is there with me every step of the way, helping and being a constant, is a huge blessing.



“Everyone You Ever Meet Knows Something Different.”

Mo Brady

 “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”

David O’Reilly

David O’Reilly

Dance, Act, Sing, repeat for three years. Blood sweat and tears and a lot of money put into a former hobby but now is a dream with no guarantee of existence. If lucky you land a gig and if your really lucky you land a West End Gig. I was so lucky to get my first job six months after graduation, playing the role of Roger in Grease at The Piccadilly Theatre. For many of larger colleges the expectation of landing a West End gig may be a given or even presumed. For me having trained at a smaller college it was always a dream and a long shot, we didn’t receive the same opportunities that others did at larger institutions. We trained hard and crossed our fingers that someone would take a chance. Getting into the room felt like a job offer so you can imagine what we were like when or if we received a job offer.

So I’m in the show, we’ve opened, having a lovely time. Wow it’s now a job, this is how I pay my bills. So my hobby is now my livelihood, what do I do next. Spare time. Oh I never thought of that. I was part of my dream show playing a role I’d always wanted to play and don’t get me wrong I loved it and still do but I was never a person that just sit in what I was doing. What were people doing before work, what did people do with their spare time?

Community was something I never thought about when I started training and probably didn’t really at the start of my first job. My eyes began to open to this side of the business that I just didn’t know existed. Everyone knew everyone and if you didn’t know them you knew of them. It was lovely and felt so nice. I never felt not included. I was in owe of my peers who had been in the business for so long and I loved asking questions about their former jobs and other shows. I couldn’t believe my luck that I was working with these people and If I wasn’t working with them we were working in the same industry. Pinching myself was a daily occurrence.

Every year the Piccadilly Theatre would host a Community event called West End Eurovision. It was a community event that seen different West End Shows compete in a night of unadulterated Eurovision euphoria. As Grease was the show at the Host theatre we did the opening number. I will never forget the atmosphere in the theatre that night. It was absolutely electric, yes it was filled with theatre fans but it was packed with cast and crew from shows participating and not. Everyone was on form and the encouragement was really incredible. I remember doing the opening number and hearing people scream out their friends names that were on the stage. “Go on Amy”, “We love you Quish”. It was amazing, here we were a community working together in an evening of entertainment and in aid of a charity supporting and helping people with AIDS The Make A Difference Trust. Sometimes we get lost in the moment and forget why we are doing it but I was reassured and taught exactly what this night was about.

My next experience of a community event like this was during my time at The Book Of Mormon when one of my best friends, who happened to be a former teacher (another example of how wonderful this business is, you never know who you’ll end up working with) asked well actually told me I was doing his West End Bares number. West End Bares was also in aid of The Make A Difference Trust. Slightly different format featuring performers all doing numbers choreographed by other performers and choreographers. The competition element wasn’t there which aided in the sense of community and backstage the atmosphere was wonderful. I felt supported and encouraged and it was another step in realising what an incredibly hardworking and giving community the West End Theatre can be. I was lucky enough to do West End Bares for a second year this time in the wonderful Darren Carnall’s numbers, Darren was also the dream team behind West End Bares. I admire him so much he’s been part of this community for a long time and his passion for the event, for the charity and for the community spirit was beyond glorious.

Like most things in life, change is inevitable. Personally and professionally I was in a different space than when I first started working. I was in a Standby Position at The Book Of Mormon and this allowed me a lot more time to reflect. I wanted to use my spare time to help people. How could I use my skills in order to do something for charity but also build upon that wonderful community spirit I was educated in and part of. Being an active member of the West End community puts us in a privileged position where people and companies offer help and support to charitable causes, sometimes purely because we perform on stage. I discussed the idea with two of my cast mates (at the time) and friends from The Book Of Mormon David McMullan and Sean Parkins. I trusted both of them implicably and felt that together we could create something really strong but also something that would raise money for an amazing cause. We spoke, debated, threw ideas around and before we knew it the first ever A MAD Drag Night was in the diary. Jane Garfield a dear friend to all of us, pushed this event and sorted a venue and basically became our backbone and rock. One thing the four of us discussed and were passionate on was the community vibe and element had to be there. It was important for us to have members from various different shows but also various different eras and ages.

I wanted graduates and new performers to have the opportunity to look up be inspired. I also wanted some of the older performers to have an opportunity to meet a newer generation of performer. It sounds clinical and weird but it was really important for us to have a good wholesome community atmosphere, then the fun and enjoyment would aid in putting on a shit hot show. I knew putting on a yearly show would be stressful but I hoped the creative fulfilment and artistry that came with it would trump any stress.

The first year happened, then the second, then the third and we recently did our fourth year. The event has grown slowly over its four year run and any decision to make it bigger or move things on always comes back to what impact it will have on our primarily theatre community audience. We keep tickets affordable so that people have a choice of ticket but also still raise enough money for our chosen charity.

IMG_6931.JPEG

Why Drag? Good question. Drag has always had such a strong presence in musical theatre and rightfully so within the West End. The stories from La Cage or Priscilla Queen of The Desert where always a joy to hear. So it’s always been in the DNA of the West End. Drag at this time had taken on a whole new audience. With the introduction of RuPaul’s Drag Race an incredible art form that had been around hundreds of years had suddenly found itself in peoples front living rooms. People had opinions and favourites and it was a real topic of conversation. It was obvious that there was a gap in our community for a fresh charity event and why not do it in heels and a lash. It felt different and It was up to us to find what indeed worked and what did not. I am not saying we get it right all the time but what we do is put on a charity event that provides an evening of great entertainment whilst raising money and much awareness for our selected charity.

Keeping a grasp on it is so important Sean, David Mc and I. We treat the show and its longevity as a marathon rather than a race. We want the audience to grow with the event and for the event to retain its intentions and roots. If it runs before it can walk it has the possibility of become too commercial and industrial and this really is something we want to avoid.

I think the hardest part of putting on a charity community event is the expectations that we put on the entire team. MAD Drag receives a very small budget that leaves virtually no money after the venue, tech equipment and tables are hired. This leaves us in a position where all of our Performers volunteering are expected to source wigs and costumes as well as giving their time and energy. It is a huge ask and one we are very aware of when we ask anyone to take part, we of course help wherever we can. It is just a huge testament to the performers and indeed the community when they take part in the show. We have an incredible team of technical volunteers aswell. Graham Hookham recruits the most wonderful stage managing team and crew who also give an enormous amount of time and energy. They source materials, staging and equipment that will make the event look and sound incredible but also keep costs low. A team of glorious volunteers become the needed glue that holds the event and particularly show day together. Community for us means community, so it goes beyond the performers. We some times forget about the incredible team backstage who are working equally as hard. I salute every single person who volunteers for anything in any capacity for charity. It is something that sadly becomes lost amongst a hold host of things and I encourage everyone to open conversations about charity work and why we do it and how as performers we are in such a privileged position to be able to make serious change.

No one is perfect and everything evolves and developes. Going into its fifth year, my hopes for A MAD Drag Night is that it continues to maintain its representation of our community, that we provide an incredible night of entertainment and that we raise as much money possible for desevering charities.

FROM BALLET TO BALLROOM

Mo Brady

My journey from The Royal Ballet School to performing in two original West End casts

by Robin Kent

Robin Kent

Robin Kent

I always danced around when I was little, but it wasn’t until I was about six that I was finally persuaded to attend a dance class. I started with Jazz and Tap, but soon my teacher told me that, if I wanted to build on my technique and improve I would have to go to Ballet. I was resistant to the idea but went along anyway.

At nine, I joined The Royal Ballet Junior Associates Programme & At 11 I joined Elmhurst School for Dance. I had been also been accepted into The Royal Ballet School, however not wanting to give up my Jazz and Tap training I decided that I wanted to go Elmhurst. 

When it came to furthering my education at 16, I was torn between wanting to follow my passion for Jazz and Musical Theatre or follow the Ballet path that I had now been guided down towards, so I auditioned for both Ballet schools and Musical Theatre courses. The pressure to choose which school would eventually shape my whole career was immense.

I chose to attend The Royal Ballet School Upper School in Covent Garden. The lure of the ‘name’, establishment and sheer fact they had accepted me again, was overwhelming but I immediately felt out of my depth. Ironically the more rounded training in multiple fields of dance had left me at a disadvantage on a purely ballet focused course. I was aware of feeling like the weakest in my class, but I tried to focus on the positives and living in central London for three years!

Six months into my first year a scan revealed a cyst in my knee, I had surgery and it took me out of training for six months, which was a massive knock to my confidence. I already felt like I was behind and now this. Following this I had ankle surgery to remove a spur. Essentially, by my 3rd year, I had only participated in half of my three year course.

The school prided itself on a 100% graduate success rate, with all of it’s students all going on to work in professional Ballet companies. I was auditioning all over the world to try and get work, but nothing succeeded. One of my teachers saw that I was struggling and spoke to a friend in Singapore Dance Theatre, I sent them footage of me dancing and miraculously I got a job! I was happy and very grateful to have been given the opportunity. Arriving in Singapore alone, on the other side of the world at aged 19 was, on reflection, exactly what I needed. A break from the bubble of London, the struggle of school, the comfort of friends and family. A reality check. 

A year later, having met some amazing new friends and finding new mental strength, I took it upon myself to make sure I got myself a new job closer to home in Europe. I knew no one was going to push me other than myself. 

Robin Kent with the Polish National Ballet

Robin Kent with the Polish National Ballet

This took me to Poland to work with the Polish National Ballet for four and a half years. I felt the most at peace with myself that I have ever felt. I was stronger, mentally and physically; I was content in the Corps de Ballet and by the end of my third year I’d been promoted to the level of Soloist, something my younger self had never dreamed of. What I had noticed by this point was that I loved creating and developing characters in the rehearsals and out on stage. 

Despite this new-found strength and confidence, striving to be atheistically perfect in my ballet technique whilst critiquing myself in a mirror for hours each day drained me. More injuries availed and by the age of 24 years old the physical impact of dancing at that high intensity had led me to a total of four orthopaedic surgeries. Some Ballet dancers bodies are made for it but mine just wasn’t! Ballet had taken it’s toll physically and more so mentally and I had decided that It was time for me to move on…

I’d seen an audition advert online for the London cast of An American in Paris three times already, but every time had ignored it. I kept on telling myself I was done with performing, but the pull of achieving my childhood dream of being in a West End Musical was too strong. Out of the blue, I received a message from a friend asking me if I would audition, they were specifically looking for dancers/singers from a ballet background. I agreed and many auditions and months later was offered a job in the Original West End Cast, a literal dream come true!

Robin Kent in An American in Paris (📸: Alex Fine)

Robin Kent in An American in Paris (📸: Alex Fine)

The rehearsal process was exciting. Getting to sing and act and develop characters was amazing! Learning new skills, sitting through music calls and hearing vocabulary I had never heard before felt scary but I loved every second. Even speaking for the first time on stage felt like a huge hurdle to overcome but I did it! It was a very nurturing and supportive atmosphere in the company, everyone had something to learn from each other, from the very first to the last day of the contract. 

Working on the show taught me more about Musical Theatre as a business too. My colleagues taught me about agents and castings and other parts of the industry that I didn’t know. Eventually auditions for the next job started, one of which was Strictly Ballroom. I really enjoyed the audition process and obviously very happy to be offered the job. I’m currently a swing on it and I don’t mind putting it out there that I love my job! Ballet always works in ‘Rep’, you have to learn multiple ballets at one time & you always cover multiple parts. For that reason I think my mind is used to thinking about more than just one track at a time and I like the diversity it’s given me throughout the contract so far. 

Ballet, I always found, was very regimented; there is a clear structure to how it is taught. It’s very useful as it lays a clear foundation of technique and discipline, which can be applied to many other genres of dance. In hindsight, I had the best training I could possibly imagine. The discipline and technique is something I don’t believe any other dance training can teach you. 

Musical Theatre has reignited my passion and put the fun back into performing for me. It was daunting, joining a new industry at 24 with no musicals on my CV, but I am now proud of my pervious professional experience in the Ballet world and want to carry the lessons it taught me forward into my future, at the same time as learning many new ones!


"Why Are We So West End-Centric?"

Mo Brady

by Philip Joel

Philip Joel

Philip Joel

I was on holiday at home with my family in Cornwall, relaxing and chatting to my parents when my mum casually asked “Do you miss not doing town; not doing eight shows a week?”, and it hit me: even though I have a television series coming out; a UK tour and a show touring the world on the seas, and even though I’m working for a big reality TV show later this year and have a panto booked in at one of the most beautiful theatres in the UK, this still isn’t seen (by others) as ‘the best work’ out there. So I tweeted what I thought: that the “West End” seems to be the biggest, most glamorous place in people’s minds, so that, until we as performers have attained this, in people’s opinions we haven’t achieved the goal and (like most of us know)... the glamour of it!

Now this isn’t me saying the West End is not a wonderful and well-paid career. I love the West End; I love my friends in West End shows and I’m always proud when someone announces they are heading into one (even better when I get to go to the opening night and celebrate with a bottle of bubbles afterwards!) However, I’m also just as proud when friends head out on to a cruise ship or announce they are performing in a fringe show. So where has this stigma come from? This stigma that if it isn’t the ‘Westend’ you still have something to achieve? Something to tick off?

One of my “big breaks” came from choreographing a fringe show. I got paid (not a lot but I did get paid) and thanks to the right people seeing that show, two months later I was being flown out to America to choreograph for one of the biggest production cruise liners in the world. If it wasn’t for that fringe show I wouldn’t be where I am in my choreographic career today. What is interesting is the different mentality Americans have over the British. They see any work as a big deal - a ship, a regional production, an American tour, or a workshop are all just as amazing as performing on Broadway. They celebrate everyone’s achievements and recognise that work is work, a credit is a credit and money is money.

Do I have the answer as to why we have this mentality not only to each other’s successes but also in the pressure we put on ourselves? No! Do I think it will change anytime soon? Probably not. But is there a more important question to ask? Yes... and I think this is it: are you genuinely happy in your life & career? If the answer is ‘Yes’, then in my opinion you are the real winner and nobody else’s viewpoint on your success should detract from the happiness you feel because at the end of the day, your happiness and fulfilment is all that matters.

A Life of Les Mis

Mo Brady

by Hannah Grace Lawson

Hannah Grace Lawson

Hannah Grace Lawson

Theatre, and strangely enough Les Misérables, has always been a part of my life; my mum trained on the dance course at Laine Theatre Arts when she was sixteen (in the same year as Ruthie Henshall). Two years into her career she met my Dad, a drummer on the pantomime she was performing in, and quickly their relationship blossomed! She then stopped performing and had me and I was sent to dance classes as soon as she could enroll me; I started at three doing tap and ballet and I LOVED it.

A few years into lessons, my dance teacher convinced my mum that I could also sing, so at ten years old I auditioned for a “stage experience” in Manchester, where they were staging a production of Annie. To my parents’ surprise, and mine, I was given the leading role! It was such a valuable experience; working with a very focused, professionally run team. 

Some of my older cast mates attended a nearby Performing Arts College and they informed me that they needed a young Cosette for their production of Les Mis, so after singing for the team I was offered the role. Then, at the school where I completed my GCSE’s, I also got to play Cosette in their production! I’ve had the pleasure of doing the show another two times with amateur dramatic societies too, this time playing Eponine!

I was fortunate enough to later audition for drama colleges in London and attained a place at Arts Ed. It was an amazing place to be; fantastic tutors were coming in to work with us, the facilities were exceptional and I loved the equal importance placed on all the skills we were there to learn. My confidence was knocked a little when I was placed in the lower set for dance ability, but, looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened for me. My pick up skills weren’t great and it pushed me to improve and keep up with everyone else. I would stay extra hours after classes ended, which was hard work, but it payed off when I got to play Dale Tremont in our third year production of Top Hat!

During rehearsals for Top Hat, our principal brought some casting directors in for a meet and greet. We were each given one on one time to audition for them, with the hope of professional auditions to follow. My first was for Mamma Mia! The recall process was grueling and it was my first experience of auditioning in a room full of other girls who looked and danced like me! I didn’t make it past my recall, which was my first taste of rejection blues. But I dusted myself off and concentrated on another audition I had coming up, for Les Mis.

Les Misérables

Les Misérables

I knuckled down and learnt all the Cosette and Eponine material I was sent, I fought off the dreaded winter colds and went in feeling determined. Eventually I was informed that I was being considered for the role of Cosette, alongside my friend from college, Amara Okereke.

I arrived for my finals at nine o’clock in the morning, nervous but determined and walked on to the stage of the Queen’s Theatre, to audition in front of Cameron Mackintosh himself. I remember thinking to myself, “whatever the outcome, this experience is incredible”.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the role, but I couldn’t have been happier that it was given to Amara! After a tense three weeks of not hearing anything, I was offered the chance to understudy the role! I was over the moon and felt such a relief that I would be starting my career in London’s West End.

The first day of rehearsals was unforgettable; the old cast welcomed us all so well and we shared fun facts to get to know one another. We started by learning the music and, after hearing those iconic songs being sung by such an accomplished cast, I just thought to myself, “Wow, this is so special”.

I have already learned so much about myself as a performer and a person. Eight shows a week is certainly improving my vocal stamina and I still make sure I attend regular dance classes, just to keep in shape!

In college, I worked so hard to get the results I wanted, sometimes resulting in me getting into my own head and doubting myself. Whereas now, I feel like I have achieved my goal, so I don’t feel the need to prove myself to anyone other than myself. It feels very freeing!

I often wonder if the ten year old me, singing "Castle on a Cloud" in her audition, would ever have thought her dreams of performing on the West End stage would finally come true. 


You can catch Hannah in Les Miserables at The Queen’s Theatre, London.

One Thousand and Counting.

Mo Brady

How Motown The Musical broke the Shaftesbury Curse.

by Ryan Carter

Ryan Carter

Ryan Carter

It’s funny, until our company manager at Motown the Musical points it out. We’re always oblivious to the number of shows we’ve done because fundamentally, while it may be our 1000th time dit’s the audiences 1st time watching it. Sure, there are times when the monotony of the ‘schedule’ can feel tedious, but when you’re in costume, mic’d up and standing in the wings, It’s easy to rewind 999 shows and imagine that it’s day one all over again. 

I should mention now that although Motown has hit 1,000 shows now, I joined in after the 1st cast change. So I’m gonna assume that I’ve done around 600 shows. I am however going take this opportunity to shout out Cherelle Williams (Mary Wilson/Cover Diana) and Carl Spencer (Marvin Gaye) who have been at the Shaftesbury since March 2015.

As I mentioned earlier, we never really take note of the numbers until someone flags it for us. But after I was asked to write this post, I thought it might be fun to delve into my own personal ‘Motown in numbers’. So, across the year and a bit I’ve been performing with Motown:

With the help of the wardrobe department, I’ve personally changed costume around 7,800 times. The wonderful ladies of the wig department have changed my wig 4,800 times. Commuting to work means that I’ve got on that wonderful central line 1,200 times, and in our usual warm ups we do 64 star jumps in our cardio session, warm up every day for around 450 days means that I’ve personal done 28,800 star jumps on the Shaftesbury stage. 

The cast of  Motown the Musical

The cast of Motown the Musical

THOSE ARE BIG NUMBERS. It’s testament to the amount of work that happens behind the scenes of a show. What we do onstage is only a fraction of what it means to work in Motown. The funny thing is that those 7,800 costume changes? I’m still excited to hit 7,801. Wig change 4,801 and tube 1,201 are gonna be friggin’ awesome. And yeah, I’m even excited about star jump 28,801. 

Ok just kidding, the star jumps could stop and I wouldn’t be mad. Not one bit. 

Most shows at The Shaftesbury close after one year. They call it ‘The Shaftesbury Curse’ - The idea that we’re too far away from the rest of the West End, so it’s easy to forget that we exist. But the legacy of Motown and the dedication of the ALL of the people that work at the Theatre means that by the end of July, we’ll actually be the 2nd longest running show at The Shaftesbury since 1973. Shaftesbury Curse - Broken! 

Whether you’re our 5th audience or our 1,000th, we’re still gonna give you our all. It may be 1,001 for us, but it’s number one for you. 

The cast of  Motown the Musical

The cast of Motown the Musical

Ice Bucket Chats at the West End's 42nd Street

Mo Brady

42nd Street, the show where Julian Marsh hires “half a hundred kids” to dance in “the biggest show Broadway’s seen in twenty years." With 46 ensemble members and onstage swings, the production currently playing at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is the biggest cast in the 38-year history of the show. With so many tappy feet to look after, the cast take regular ice baths throughout their eight show week. During one of these post-show ice baths, ensemblists Maria Garrett, James-Royden Lyley and Josephina Camble (swing) answered some questions about being in such a large company.

Maria Garrett, James-Royden Lyley and Josephina Camble

Maria Garrett, James-Royden Lyley and Josephina Camble

What’s it like being in London’s largest ensemble?

James: It’s amazing, especially off stage! Because you don’t see individual people as often, it feels like there’s always so much to catch up on.

Maria: I think, for morale, it’s quite good. You don’t have to talk to the same people over and over again.

James: You also don’t spend enough time with people for tensions to build up and cause arguments, so it ends up being a really nice working environment.

Josephina: As a swing, it’s overwhelming. I cover twenty-four tracks in the show, but also get thrown on as boys if I am needed.

Do you feel like the ensemble play a big role in the show itself?

Maria: I think this show is probably the most celebrated ensemble show there is, that I’ve ever done, so it’s quite special to be a part of.

Josephina: I think it’s nice because the numbers involve the whole ensemble. There’s only a few numbers that only use “the good ones”, it’s pretty much full ensemble all the time.

James: Also, the entire plot speaks of how hard working and capable the ensemble are. Peggy says a brilliant line, referring to the “specks of dust” in the chorus; “Put all those specks together and you have something alive and beautiful that can reach out to thousands of people we’ve never seen before”.

Maria: We also get the final say, because we perform the last three minutes of the show!

What’s the best thing about working with such a large group?

Josephina: The mix of personalities and the nature of our job means you never see the same faces every day, if people are on holiday or off the show. And I swing in to different slots every day so I get to talk to and dance with different people every day, which is great!

Maria: It’s being re-inspired by people every day too, because, doing the same show eight shows a week can be draining and it’s good to get inspiration and support from the people you’re around. Everyone has different strengths so it’s good to touch on different people every day to draw on that strength.

James: Also it’s nice for outside of the show itself, socially and for personal development. It’s easy to feel like you plateau doing a year in the show but seeing how different people are utilizing their time is incredible and inspiring to keep you moving forward.

And the worst?

Josephina: It’s hard to keep up with everybody’s plans! I feel like I’m the last person to know anything; drinks somewhere or birthdays. There are so many people to keep up to date with!

Maria: The boys hog the showers…

James: It’s true, we do.

Lastly, do you have any tactics to help you stand out from the crowd?

Maria: That’s such a hard question!

Josephina: Personally, when I’m on for an ensemble track I like to blend in as much as possible! As a swing, if I’m standing out it’ll be for the wrong reasons!

Maria: I guess maybe, just touch upon your strengths, different people will shine in different ways. So, even if you can’t kick your leg the highest, tits and teeth are always great!

James: I also think, on a show like this, the object is to perform as a unit. The routines rely on tight formations and synchronized choreography.

Maria: It’s about teamwork. We all have to make an identical pattern to be seen in the mirror by the audience. It’s then less about sticking out and more about being a team to give the audience the full impact of the choreography.

Josephina: The show is a team we are all in it together. You can’t think of it as a one-man-show, apart from if you’re playing Peggy Sawyer, of course, because it’s basically a one-woman-show for her!

James: It works better when we are together…

Maria: Like ants!

Maria Garrett, James-Royden Lyley and Josephina Camble

Maria Garrett, James-Royden Lyley and Josephina Camble

Stepping into Dorothy Brock

Mo Brady

by Steph Parry

Steph Parry has been an ensemble member and understudy in Mamma Mia!, Billy Elliot and Wicked on the West End. But, on 7th June, after years of waiting in the wings, a stroke of fate caused the biggest surprise of her career.

Steph Parry

Steph Parry

The plot of 42nd Street is well known; Peggy Sawyer goes from chorus girl to star. It's a story that I, as a performer, have always loved but never quite believed could happen to me.  But it turns out, it really can! On the 9th July, I'll step into the legendary pop star Lulu's shoes (not literally, I have big feet!) and take over the role of Dorothy Brock.

I got the rare opportunity of being in the right place at the right time. I’m currently a standby for the roles of Dorothy Brock and Maggie Jones in 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and on June 7th, I was sat in my dressing room when the company manager called. Straight away I prepared myself to go on for one of the roles. It turned out, I was… but for a show down the road.

My friend Caroline Deverill was playing Donna that evening in Mamma Mia! at the Novello Theatre, next door. Unfortunately, she had suffered a calf injury in the first scene, leaving her unable to carry on with the show. David Lamb, their company manager, who I'd worked with when I was there in 2013/14, remembered I was standing by around the corner so called to see if I was in the building, off stage and up for it.  Never been one to turn down a challenge, within 18 minutes of the show stopping, I was back in the dungarees and carrying on the play. There were some hairy moments choreographically but in true showbiz fashion, the whole cast rallied around and helped me power through.

Steph Parry backstage at  42nd Street

Steph Parry backstage at 42nd Street

I left that night, on a high, but not really feeling like I'd done anything special. There are so many people who could have saved the day just as well as I could, I just happened to be the one who was nearby. 

I woke up the next morning to interview requests from  news channels, papers and radio stations. I just couldn’t believe people wanted to know about it. For me, it felt like another day at the office; a very weird day at the office, granted, but it’s just what covers do, step in at a moments notice and keep the show going.

Just when I thought things would start to calm down, I was then offered to play Dorothy Brock for eight weeks! It was a hell of a week! I definitely don't take this opportunity lightly. In a world where instant fame and reality TV is affecting our beloved industry, I’m hoping that my story inspires us all that we can still work our way up the ranks, through tenacity, hard work and being a great company member who they know they can rely on.

42nd Street  on the West End

42nd Street on the West End