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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

“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