Dancing through time

©Tristram Kenton

Our Marketing Publications Officer Kate Evans gives away her age with a look at eighties’ nostalgia…


Nostalgia, of course, is nothing new – it’s probably as old as humanity. When people first started building houses, there were probably people talking about the good old days when they used to live in a cave.

Slightly more recently, a whole industry has grown up to serve nostalgia. Sixties tribute shows have been a mainstay of the touring circuit for years – indeed, they’ve been so successful that many actual sixties bands (especially those that got ripped off by their managers back in the day) have been tempted out of retirement and back into the tour bus. Radio stations have sprung up all over the place, based on playing people the music they loved when they were fifteen (reputedly the year of our lives we feel most nostalgic about.)

Recently, we’ve seen the rise of eighties nostalgia. (Incidentally, why isn’t seventies nostalgia a thing? Was the decade really that awful?) As someone who grew up in that decade, it’s slightly alarming to realise I’m now a target audience for nostalgia shows.

Which brings me to Dirty Dancing. I wasn’t actually fifteen, when it came out in 1987 – I was nine (go on, do the maths on my age…I dare you) – far too young to see the film at the cinema, given it was a fifteen certificate. But even in those pre-internet days, video releases meant such niceties as age ratings could be ignored, and the film became a mainstay of sleepovers at friends’ houses long before any of us ever reached the age of fifteen. I loved the film back then, and – whether for reasons of nostalgia or not – I still do. And I’m far from the only one, as the success of the stage production has demonstrated.

Dirty Dancing UK tour - Lewis Kirk as 'Johnny' and ensemble - cTristram Kenton

Dirty Dancing UK tour – Lewis Kirk as ‘Johnny’ and ensemble – © Tristram Kenton

Of course, most of those coming to see the production are of a similar vintage to myself – putting Dirty Dancing firmly in the eighties nostalgia show bracket. Which is weird, given that it’s set in the sixties, even to the extent that it’s partly based on the real-life experiences of writer Eleanor Bergstein.

Thinking about the story now, what strikes me is that the whole story is actually an exercise in nostalgia in itself. Think about lead character Baby’s opening voiceover: “That was the summer of 1963. When everybody called me Baby, and it didn’t occur to me to mind. That was before President Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came…”  That line is nostalgia encapsulated in one sentence – looking back to something that felt like a more innocent time, to some mythic ‘before’.

But why did my generation (or at least the female half of it) come to invest so much in this story, set two and a half decades earlier? Well, I guess the themes of young love, and teenage rebellion are fairly universal. Perhaps it’s just a good story. Perhaps the nostalgic feel of the story has contributed to its longevity, meaning it’s survived in a way a story more obviously relevant to 1987 wouldn’t have. Either way, if you ever need anyone to carry a watermelon, you know where to find me.

Jessie Hart as ‘Baby’ (c) Tristram Kenton


Dirty Dancing is at The Marlowe Theatre until Saturday 22 August as part of a national tour.

Brian Conley on Barnum

Brian Conley as Barnum. Photo by Johan Persson.

Brian Conley as Barnum. Photo by Johan Persson.

Brian Conley has spent a lot of his distinguished career playing Americans, even if there’s no mistaking the Englishman’s distinctively husky voice during an expansive interview one recent afternoon.

A native Londoner, Conley was a 1996 Olivier nominee for his performance as singer Al Jolson in the musical Jolson. He has also appeared on stage as Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man, Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, and most recently Fagin in Cameron Mackintosh’s national tour of Oliver!.

Conley is touring the UK playing the title role in Barnum, the revival of the much-loved Cy Coleman-scored musical about Phineas T Barnum, the circus entertainer extraordinaire who was famously known as America’s greatest showman. Matt Wolf, London theatre critic for The International New York Times, caught up with Conley to talk tightrope-walking, travelling the country, and bringing his unique savvy to this particularly melodic slice of quintessential show biz life.

Congratulations on landing the role of PT Barnum, the legendary showman who teamed up with JA Bailey to create Barnum and Bailey’s Circus – the popular entertainment known in its day as the Greatest Show on Earth. Did you already know this 1980 Broadway musical when the offer came your way?

Yes, I saw Michael Crawford do it originally in the West End. It’s a show that I’ve always admired, just as I’ve admired everyone that has taken on the role. So now to be asked by [producer] Cameron Mackintosh to have a go myself is a wonderful honour. I saw this production in Chichester [in 2013] and just loved it.

The physical demands are quite intense, to put it mildly.

Yes, they are! But I started training before Christmas last year, I was at circus school twice a week and then we were had five weeks of rehearsals. It’s certainly physically demanding but no more so than doing panto twice a day. Sure, I have moments of thinking I’m too old for this, but then I think to myself – it’s as if I’ve been called up by the England manager of the theatre world in Sir Cameron Mackintosh so I can’t let him down. And the wonderful thing with Cameron is that there’s absolutely no skimping; you know everything will be done to the highest degree.

Sure, but you’ve got to walk a tightrope, among other challenges that you don’t find in most stage musicals [laughs]!

It’s one of the obstacles the show poses and I did find myself thinking initially when I was on the tightrope, “What am I doing here?” I’m not afraid of hard work, whether in this or any show. I do eventually cross the wire, not always on the first attempt but that’s what makes it so exciting, the whole audience appreciate that I’m not a professional tight rope walker.

Brian as Barnum, mid tight rope walk. Photo by Johan Persson.

Brian as Barnum, mid tight rope walk. Photo by Johan Persson.

And you’ve no fear of heights?

No. I broke my finger doing the tightrope a few months ago now and that was when I was all of one foot off the ground. I also sprained my ankle pretty badly on the second day of rehearsals when I was on the wire at its full height which is eight foot of the ground. I think you can say that I’m afraid of falling but not afraid of heights [laughs].

PT Barnum exists on a spectrum of comparable stage roles for you over the years.

Very much so. I played Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man in Chichester in 2008 and he’s a similar type of con man character, and Al Jolson in his own way was a hugely driven man whom you grew to love. In each case, you’ve got to play these roles without malice but with energy and charm.

What I’m hoping I bring to Barnum is a real contact with the audience where we play off and talk to them and keep them engaged. It’s important whatever you’re performing to be visually interesting so you don’t just stand there and waffle on [laughs].

You don’t seem to balk at playing Americans.

I don’t, really. As a kid I used to listen to American songs as I sang, and I always feel as if the energy of these great American roles is not a million miles away from who I am – or as if it is me, but with an American accent.

I remember when I played Al Jolson in Canada, I was really worried that the audience would see through me and realise that I wasn’t American, but they believed I was. Before Jolson I did Me And My Girl, playing a cheeky Cockney lad, and after Jolson was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and then Edna in Hairspray with a voice like that [Conley drops his voice several octaves]: It can take me a little while to get the sound of the character, but once I find that, then I’m there.

Circus antics in Barnum. Photo by  Johan Persson.

Circus antics in Barnum. Photo by Johan Persson.

Nor is this production of Barnum a mere carbon copy of what has been done before.

Not at all. For one thing, we’ve restored So Little Time, which was dropped originally from the show. When I heard it, I said, “We’ve got to put it in.” [The number] is about how much he loves his wife Charity, or Chairy [played on tour by Mamma Mia!, Joseph and Carrie star Linzi Hateley], and about how much he regrets never saying “I love you” as much as he should have and cuddled her more. It’s the most beautiful song.

What about the vocal requirements of the part?

Well, don’t forget that Jolson was pretty full-on: that one had 26 songs, though some to be fair were quite short; they were never huge arias. But all you can do with a role like this is trust and hope that your muscle memory kicks in and that you settle into a routine. It helps, I think, that I don’t drink anymore – I packed that in 10 years ago –and that I know how important it is to rest. That said, I’m not afraid of putting the time in to get results.

You clearly have a strong sense of the stage as your natural habitat.

Very much so. When I’m on stage I feel very much as if that is where I belong. My commitment to taking an audience somewhere is important to me: being live on stage feels like home to me, and I always say that I was born to do it.

It’s lovely, too, that you’re so fond of touring.

The thing is, there’s definitely a buzz when you’re out of London. The audiences on tour are so warm and genuinely enjoy going to their local theatre. The audiences on the tour have so far been phenomenal!

Are there other musical theatre roles on your bucket list?

I would love to play Miss Trunchbull in Matilda: that’s a part I would be very interested in after this, but beyond that, who knows? I don’t have a huge game plan, and I’m very fortunate to be in the position that I can do what I want to do as opposed to what I have to do.

I suppose Barnum sets the bar very high – literally so, given the heights you have to scale each performance.

[Laughs] Yes, and I intend to walk that bar! Anything after this will be a piece of cake.


Barnum comes to The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, from Tuesday 23 June – Saturday 4 July as part of a national tour.

 

Oklahoma! An Interview With Gary Wilmot & Belinda Lang

The cast of the National tour of OKLAHOMA! credit Pamela Raith (2)

The cast of Oklahoma! Image by Pamela Raith.

Starring in a new production of one of the greatest classic American musicals of all time, actors Belinda Lang and Gary Wilmot are happily saddled with a success

It’s a brand new production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Pulitzer Prize-winning show, but when he was first invited to join the cast of Oklahoma! seasoned musical theatre star Gary Wilmot was somehow still undecided. So what made up his mind?

“I discovered that Rachel [Kavanaugh] was directing,” says Gary, whose credits include a swathe of West End musicals, including Me And My Girl, The Pyjama Game, Oliver! and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. “It’s a show that has been done so many times but I knew Rachel would find something special in it. I love working with her,” he says, warmly.

Actress Belinda Lang, perhaps best known for the hit sitcom 2 Point 4 Children, plays Aunt Eller in Oklahoma! She too rates Ms Kavanaugh’s ability to put together a super-talented cast and create an outstanding show.

“I have been astonished by the cast!” she exclaims. “They’re an extraordinarily gifted group who are at the top of their game – to see people that skilled at singing, acting, dancing and comedy is astonishing. They are athletes!”

Presented by Music & Lyrics Limited and Royal & Derngate Northampton, the show has been touring towns and cities up and down the country, and in Ireland until August. And if the reaction thus far is anything to go by, audiences will be charmed to within an inch of their lives.

But it’s a collaborative effort and Belinda and Gary are as impressed with the rest of the creative team as they are with their director and fellow cast members.

“You could say that they are the new kids on the block. Stephen Ridley our Musical Director gives such precise and inspiring instruction and Drew McOnie our choreographer has created one of the most exciting pieces of choreography I have ever seen. I virtually cried at the end of the dream ballet, and that was just in the rehearsal room!” grins Gary.

Belinda is equally enthralled. “Drew is going to be hugely famous, I just know it, and I’ll be able to say ‘Ooh, I worked with him!’ His imagination and storytelling is extraordinary,” she marvels.

With music by Richard Rodgers and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Oklahoma! was based on the Lynn Riggs play Green Grow The Lilacs and was the first musical written by the duo. Including the songs Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’I Cain’t Say No, The Surrey With The Fringe On Top, Kansas City, People Will Say We’re in Love and of course the title song, it was originally produced on Broadway in 1943, with the Academy Award-winning film following in 1955.

Gary Wilmot starring as Ali Hakin. Image by Pamela Raith.

Gary Wilmot starring as Ali Hakin. Image by Pamela Raith.

Set in the Oklahoma territory in the early 1900s, the musical story tells of two sets of star-crossed lovers. Cowboy Curly loves Aunt Eller’s niece Laurey, but Curly’s rival is the mysterious and dangerous hired hand Jud Fry. Meanwhile, Ado Annie is torn between cowboy Will and peddler Ali Hakim – the role that Gary is thoroughly enjoying playing.

“He’s a character that comes in and out, so I knew I’d have my work cut out for me – I’d have to make an impact. Mind you, you’d have to go some to steal the show away from the talent we’ve got in this cast.

“Ali goes from town to town plying his wares, mostly for ladies, selling kitchen equipment, perfumes and frillies from Paris. He’s a charmer; he can charm the birds from the trees, and it’s not until a few days after he’s gone that people realise that they have been conned,” says Gary, who did a little digging and discovered that the role had been played many different ways previously.

“Rachel and I concluded that he was perhaps Persian but had grown up in New York. He uses the Persian element to make everyone think of him as this romantic and exotic figure.” An exotic rogue then? “Exactly!”

Belinda Lang as Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!. Image by Pamela Raith.

Belinda Lang as Aunt Eller. Image by Pamela Raith.

As for Belinda, she’s relishing her role as Aunt Eller. “She’s the matriarch of the piece. She’s the aunt of the leading lady and the go-to person in the community who keeps everything in check. She’s a bit of a pioneer and very salt of the earth. She’s a hard-working old boot!”

And not even schlepping up and down the country every week until August can take the shine of this production for Gary and Belinda, who are both clearly delighted to be part of such a success.

“Physically it’s not the most tiring role I have ever done so I am actually enjoying sitting in the dressing room and watching everyone else working,” jokes Gary.

“At the end of each performance you can feel that the audience is desperate to sing along with Oklahoma!” adds Belinda. “It’s a wonderful feeling and you think, well, this is worth doing!”

Words: Vicky Edwards


Oklahoma! comes to The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, from Tuesday 16 – Saturday 20 June.

A Shrek chronology

Photo by Helen Maybanks.

Photo by Helen Maybanks.

In 2001, a big, ugly, lovable green ogre called Shrek burst onto our screens and an instant classic was born.

We were intrigued to find out where this off-beat fairytale came from, and how it made its way to the West End, Broadway, and soon to be Canterbury in 2015!


14 November 1907
American cartoonist, sculptor and latterly children’s author William Steig is born in Brooklyn, New York, to Polish-Jewish immigrants from Austria. His father, Joseph, was a house painter and his mother, Laura, was a seamstress.

1923
Steig graduates from Townsend Harris High School at the age of 15, but doesn’t complete any of the three colleges that he attends, admitting that he had “a defective education”.

1930
Steig sells his first cartoon to The New Yorker, having started to draw when his family suffered from financial problems during the Great Depression. The cartoon has a prison inmate telling another, “My son’s incorrigible, I can’t do a thing with him!”

1944
A book of Steig’s cartoons, entitled Small Fry is published. The New York Times says: “What they prove to the parents and elders is that 8-year-olds do not change from one generation to another, that the world of childhood is compounded of miniature terrors and glorious daydreams, and that Mr. Steig – not to put too fine a point upon it – is wonderful.”

William Steig hard at work in 1973. Image via New York Social Diary.

William Steig hard at work in 1973. Image via New York Social Diary.

1968
William Steig publishes his first children’s book, entitled CDB!, which uses letters to represent words (hence, CDB! becomes “See the Bee”). This is followed by Roland The Minstrel Pig, beginning a career of books that are peopled with animals.

1990
Shrek!, about a young ogre who finds the ogre of his dreams when he leaves home, is published for the first time, written and illustrated by William Steig. The name of the central character is derived from the German/Yiddish word ‘schreck’, meaning ‘fear, terror’.

The beginnings of Shrek.

The beginnings of Shrek.

2001
The animated film of Shrek is released by DreamWorks Animation, starring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz. The film will go on to become an international success, closing in the cinema to a worldwide gross of nearly $500M.

2001 Shrek wins an Oscar®, in the new Academy Award category of ‘Best Animated Feature’.

Shrek film
2003
William Steig dies at the age of 95, in Boston, USA. His prolific output has generated more than 25 children’s books, even though he only started writing them in his sixties!

On one occasion he said: “I think I feel a little differently than other people do. For some reason I’ve never felt grown up”, which perhaps helps to explain his interest in this area of publishing. Steig’s passing is noted on the end credits of Shrek 2, with ‘In Memory of William Steig, 1907-2003’.

2004
Shrek 2, is released, followed by Shrek The Third (2007) and Shrek Forever After (2010). Several other shorter Shrek projects are completed, including Shrek 4-D (2004), a ride at Universal Studios and Shrek The Halls (2007), a Christmas special. Shrek is one of the highest grossing film series of all time.

14 December 2008
Shrek The Musical opens at the Broadway Theatre in New York City, starring Brian d’Arcy James as Shrek and Sutton Foster as Princess Fiona. The show is described as ‘true happiness’ by the New York Times and ‘enormous fun’ by the Wall Street Journal.

Shrek at the Broadway Theatre, New York.

Shrek, “Bringing Ugly Back” at the Broadway Theatre, New York.

2010
The North American tour of the musical launches in Chicago starting a 60 city, two-year tour of the US.

14 June 2011

Shrek The Musical has its UK premiere at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, starring Nigel Lindsay as Shrek, Richard Blackwood as Donkey, Nigel Harman as Lord Farquaad and Amanda Holden as Princess Fiona.

Shrek Tour Rehearsals 32, Gerard Carey (Lord Farquaad), Photo Credit - Helen Maybanks

Shrek tour rehearsals begin. Photo by Helen Maybanks.

July 2014
Shrek The Musical hits the road on its first ever tour of UK & Ireland, directed by Nigel Harman.

Feb 2015
The tour arrives with us in Canterbury!

Photo by Helen Maybanks.

Photo by Helen Maybanks.


Shrek The Musical is with us from Wednesday 11 February – Sunday 1 March.

The Marlowe meets…Ben Elton (writer of Tonight’s The Night)

Ben Elton with cast of Tonight's The Night: Andy Rees, Jade Ewen, Jenna Lee-James , Ben Heathcoate, Michael McKell  and Tiffany Graves. Photo by Phil Tragen.

Ben Elton with cast of Tonight’s The Night: Andy Rees, Jade Ewen, Jenna Lee-James , Ben Heathcoate, Michael McKell and Tiffany Graves. Photo by Phil Tragen.

Ben Elton is the protean talent whose career has spanned plays, novels, and a feature film, in addition to 30 years as one of the most successful comic writers and performers on the British television and stand-up circuit. But Elton, 54, has always reserved a special place in his heart for musicals, having written three that feature music from such diverse talents as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Queen, and Rod Stewart.

The last-named rocker was the inspiration for Tonight’s the Night, the West End show that is currently touring the UK, and is coming to Canterbury this July. He talks to theatre critic Matt Wolf about his love of the stage, and why jukebox musicals deserve a far better rap than they sometimes receive.

It’s been over a decade now since Tonight’s the Night played the West End. What’s your feeling about the show as you return to it in a fresh production this many years on?

I’ve always loved this show for the same reasons that I have always loved the theatre. It’s wonderful to be a part of this community of artists who dedicate themselves to their art. Backstage they may be rinsing their socks out in the sink or whatever and then they go out and make everybody in the audience feel like champions. What we want to say with this show, in particular, is that there’s nothing wrong with theatre being a fantastic night out that makes you feel great so that you go home feeling better than you did when you arrived – that’s what people are paying for and that’s what the theatre can do.

In fact, you were exposed to the theatre as a youngster before you were ever exposed to Rod Stewart.

Absolutely. I played the Artful Dodger [in Oliver!] twice as a kid and my first real musical theatre experience came when I was about 12 or so and I was taken as the guest of a school friend to see Grease at the Dominion Theatre – where [Elton’s Queen musical] We Will Rock You is playing now!

I love musical theatre and always have done, whereas it took some time in my own life before I started going to gigs the way that my own children [14-year-old twins and a 12-year-old] do now. Going to gigs then was nothing as prevalent as it is now; I don’t think I went to any until I got to Manchester University and saw The Talking Heads and Dire Straits

What was the impetus behind a show that tethers an original story by you to Rod Stewart’s songbook?

Well, let’s face it. It’s difficult to think of anybody more famous in the world of pop music than Rod Stewart. There may be people as famous like Bono and Paul McCartney but there aren’t many out there who can surpass what Rod has achieved. And what’s great is that when you listen to Rod’s music and then look at his life, he always seems so fabulously good-humoured, so I thought what would work might be a story that brought to the stage his grace and good humour and something of his devilish side while also recognising the fact that he sings about heartache as well as anyone ever has.

Tonight's The Night ensemble

Ensemble cast of Tonight’s The Night

Your script for Tonight’s the Night involves Satan and a so-called “soul swap” and a geeky young mechanic from Detroit who is none-too-accidentally called Stuart. How did the idea for the story come to you?

I spent a week listening to Rod’s music intensively, which of course was no hardship at all, and as I listened and listened and listened, I tried to identify the overriding spirit of the songs, which were all about love and good times and winning and losing girls and all the things that quite frankly make for good stories!

So I sat down and tried to think of something that would do justice to Rod’s own gift for storytelling and came up with a story that reminds us of that thing we’re always been told over and over again in drama – “to thine own self be true.”

How does a quote from Hamlet apply to Tonight’s the Night?

[Laughs] Our show is really about a shy kid in Stuart who wishes that he could be like Rod. He learns that you’ll do better in life if you try and build on your own strength and personality rather than being jealous and wishing you were somebody else – that’s to say, nobody but Rod can be Rod just as nobody but you can be you and nobody but me can be me: it’s a simple story, which I think is perfect for a musical.

Were you worried about what Rod would think?

I first sent a synopsis of the script to Arnold [Stiefel, Rod’s manager, and a co-producer on the show] and fortunately he loved it and said that he was going to say that to Rod and hoped that he would love it, too. To this day, I’m not sure whether Rod ever read the synopsis or not but what happened was that he came to our workshop and turned to me at the end and said, “Well, you’ve made me a legend, haven’t you?” – which was of course hilarious because he’s been a legend all along!

Still, it must have been heartening to have so strong a seal of approval. Did you have an intuitive sense that his music would translate well to the musical theatre stage?

Tonight's the Night Tour

What’s great is that Rod writes songs from the heart like Maggie May or he will choose to cover exquisite material like The First Cut is the Deepest, the Cat Stevens song, but they always tell the story of somebody going through some set of emotions – be they pride and joy and heartache or from love to hate or hate to love.

They’re all about being a guy, really, I guess – they’re guy songs – but obviously they appeal to women as well because they’re written with such sensitivity and they come with emotions that concern us all, which are love, pride, hope and the dream that tomorrow will be a better day than today.

You’ve had success with the songbooks of Rod Stewart and, of course, Queen, with We Will Rock You roaring into its second decade at the Dominion Theatre on the West End. Are there some popular singer-songwriters whom you don’t think would lend themselves to this approach?

There are. I’m busking here as I say this but I don’t think Bob Dylan’s music would necessarily work in this way; his music is too eclectic in that you can’t sit down and say, “What’s Bob’s vibe”? It’s just too crazy. And for my part at least, I’m just not that interested in writing the biography of someone set to their music. I was approached to do that as regards the genius of Tina Turner but what I prefer to do is write an original story embodying the spirit of the artist or the band.

Since Tonight’s the Night, jukebox musicals have continued to proliferate both sides of the Atlantic; a new one drawing on the songbook of Carole King and entitled Beautiful has recently opened on Broadway.

I’m not surprised and I will argue to anyone who wants to listen that jukeboxes are not something to be ashamed of! They are filled with memories and dreams and love and laughter and they are good, fun things, and the theatre can be good fun, as well. In my view, it’s a perfectly legitimate and honourable thing to seek to entertain the public with music that they love, and the fact that the music is old and the story is new strikes me as no more reprehensible than attaching new music to an old story, as with The Lion King and Billy Elliot.

One last question for now: was Tonight’s the Night always the obvious song title for your show as a whole?

No and the jury’s still out as to whether this was the right one; Phil McIntyre, our producer, still thinks it should be called Hot Legs!


Tonight’s The Night plays at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury from Monday 28 July – Saturday 2 August.

The Marlowe meets…Happy Days’ Amy Anzel

Amy Anzel

Left to right: Cheryl Baker, Andrew Wright (director/choreographer), Ben Freeman, Amy Anzel, and Heidi Range.

Those of you who watched Channel 4’s The Sound Of Musicals will remember the passionate producer of Happy Days – A New Musical, Amy Anzel. Ahead of the show coming to us it was great to get this glimpse behind the scenes and to see the enthusiasm of the woman making it all happen. Now, the day has arrived when the show opens with us!

We catch up with Amy ahead of opening night to hear more about her experiences with the show so far…

What first inspired you to bring the Happy Days musical to life in the UK?

I was an actress in the developmental workshops of the show back in 2004 and 2005.  At this point, Garry Marshall, the creator of the TV show,  was in the process of turning the TV show into a musical.  I was fortunate enough to be cast in the workshops, which was when I fell in love with the show.

After moving to the UK upon marrying a lovely Scotsman in 2009, I noticed that 1959 Americana was doing really well on the West End – Grease, Jersey Boys, and Hairspray were all running, so I thought that Happy Days belonged in the UK as well.

What challenges have you faced along the way?

There have been so many challenges along the way.  As a first-time lead producer, I found that many people were skeptical and didn’t believe the things I was saying.  I was constantly having to prove myself.  Also, I found a lot of people were trying to take advantage of me and thought I had no idea what I was doing.  On top of that, this business is quite closed, so I had to push really hard.  In the end, I got there thanks to hard work, tenacity, and my thick skin!

It was great seeing behind the scenes with Channel 4’s The Sound Of Musicals, how was that experience for you?

I was really grateful that I was able to be a part of the documentary series.  It was so helpful with regards to our publicity, which for a first-time producer and for a new musical, was priceless.  In addition, I’m so pleased that the public was able to see what goes on behind the scenes and also just how difficult it is to get a show up and running.

What do you love about this production of Happy Days – A New Musical?

I am so proud of this production.  I think everything (set, costumes, talent, direction, and choreography) comes together so well and lend themselves to a really enjoyable day or night out at the theatre. The cast are incredibly talented.  I am still blown away by the singing and dancing in the show!  I also love the nostalgic element as well as the fact that the whole family, from grandparents to small children, can enjoy the show together.

Happy Days A New Musical. Production photo by Paul Coltas.

Production photo by Paul Coltas.

The characters from the TV series were much loved – what’s been the audience reaction to seeing Ben, Cheryl and the rest of the cast take on the roles?

When we were casting the show, it was important to us that the actors we cast would resemble and remind the audience of the TV actors.  It might have taken a bit longer to find the perfect cast, but it was worth it in the end.

Cheryl Baker could not be a more perfect Mrs. Cunningham as not only does she resemble Marion Ross, but she is just as warm and maternal.  Pinky Tuscadero, Fonzie’s love interest, played by Heidi Range, was only in a few episodes of the TV show, so we had more room with regards to her casting as people don’t tend to remember what she looked like on the show.

The Fonz, played by Ben Freeman, was the most challenging role to cast, as it’s virtually impossible to find someone that looks like Henry Winkler and can sing, dance, act, and do a convincing American accent.  However, as Ben worked one on one with Henry, who was our Creative Consultant, he really exudes Henry Winkler’s Fonz while also making the role his own, which is the perfect combination!

What are your hopes for the future of the show?

I am currently exploring various next steps for the show including the West End.  As the TV show was broadcast in 126 countries and the nostalgic element has proven to be a big draw, I think the show has a promising future.  Audiences have been loving the show throughout the tour, so I do hope to continue to be able to entertain many more.

What makes you happy?

I know it sounds cheesy, but I absolutely love seeing audiences enjoying the show.  To hear audiences laughing and seeing the great big smiles on their faces, makes me so happy!  I especially love seeing them on their feet at the end of the show dancing in the aisles.


Happy Days – A New Musical plays at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury from Tuesday 27 – Saturday 31 May.