Thankful to 2013 for . . .

As the last few hours of 2013 tick away, everyone seems to be in an extremely reflective mood. My Twitter timeline – in particular – seems to be full of people remembering their highlights of the past year, both stagey and non stagey, and in several different formats too.

It made me think back on so many wonderful memories I have from the past year. But rather than sit here and tell you of all my favourite moments – I would like to tell you some of the things I am most THANKFUL FOR from the epic year that has been 2013!

FROM 2013, I AM THANKFUL FOR . . .

ONCE
This was a musical that I knew only a small amount about when 2013 started. The soundtrack – from the highly successful Broadway production – had been a staple part of my CD collection for several years but I had never seen the original film. What I did know was that the show was due to open in the West End in March, and this became one of my MUST SEE shows of the year!

I was lucky enough to have my first visit to the show in April 2013 (and coincidentally, this is where I first met West End Frame editor Andrew Tomlins – who has also given me so many wonderful opportunities this year) From the moment I entered the auditorium, and headed to the on-stage bar (a tip I had been given by friends who had already visited), I was smitten. Looking up into the beautiful Phoenix Theatre that night, I knew I was about to experience something truly special! And by jove – I was so right!

From the moment that leading man Declan Bennett started singing the haunting “Leave” to the final emotion filledFalling Slowly (Reprise)” lead by Declan, the enchanting Zrinka Cvietsic and the magnificent cast, it was like I was in a truly magical dream – everything was just how I imagined it would be – and so much more. I came out of the show in absolute floods of tears and actually had to take a moment to gather my thoughts. So simple in its beauty, but so beautiful in its simplicity – it was just pure gold!

I have gone on to visit this true gem of a show another 7 times – and I am heading back there in January 2014 for visit 9! Seriously folks, this show is an absolute MUST SEE if you are yet to experience it – it is a decision you will not regret!!

GERONIMO RAUCH AND HADLEY FRASER
When people ask me who my favourite performers are, the list I usually reel off consists of so many amazing talents who I have had the privilege to see, and on some occasions – meet in person. However, if I was being honest, I am not ashamed to say that these two wonderful gentleman are at the very top of my list.

After first discovering Hadley’s amazing talent back at Les Mis – as well as his own gigs – in 2012, 2013 has certainly been a year that has shown me Hadley can do anything. In supporting him – whether it was at Sheytoons in February, the Pajama Game in Chichester, the Machine in Manchester or at the upcoming National Theatre Live broadcast of Coriolanus, I have been absolutely blown away by his stunning talent, and his eternal kindness and grace when I have had the honour of saying hello – and grinning like an idiot at himpost show at Stage Door. I have no doubt that 2014 will be just as amazing as more and more people are witness to his phenomenal talent. The respect and admiration I have for him knows no bounds – and I can only hope it isn’t too long before I am able to support this wonderful gentleman in person again.

Geronimo is another performer who I have such respect and admiration for. After being mesmerised by his magical performances as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, I was over the moon when it was announced that he was taking over the role of “The Phantom” in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic “Phantom of the Opera“. Don’t get me wrong – I was so sad to see my favourite Valjean leave Les Mis – but I had no doubt that he was going to be one of the best Phantoms the show (my favourite musical!) had ever seen – and I made sure anyone who asked me knew that 🙂 So needless to say, when I finally saw him as the Masked Man in October 2013 – from the front row, I should add  – to say I was absolutely blown away would be the BIGGEST understatement EVER! I mean, I knew Geronimo was going to be amazing – but he was even better than what I expected. He brought a new fire, passion and intensity to the role that I had not seen before, and his interpretation of ALW’s superb score was absolutely flawless! It’s wrong to say that I felt so proud of him (I mean, I don’t know him personally) but to see a performer who I have so much respect and admiration for go into such an iconic role – and one that means so much to me – and absolutely smash it was just a magical thing to see! And I just can’t wait for my next visit in January 2014 – tissues at the ready!!

CHICHESTER
On a side note, it has been fantastic to discover a new theatrical venue this year. I have been lucky enough to visit Chichester on two separate occasions – once to see Hadley Fraser, Joanna Riding and Eugene McCoy in the brilliant PAJAMA GAME (which I can’t wait to see in the West End in 2014!) and on another visit to see Christopher Fitzgerald, Tamsin Carroll and the beautiful Anna O’ Byrne in the visual spectacle BARNUM (which is also due to tour the UK next year!) It truly is a beautiful venue, and I am sure there will be many visits to the wonderful location in the future.

SHAKESPEARE
Being an English teacher, you’d expect this to be a given for me really! But 2013 has been quite a year for EPIC Shakespeare productions. After starting with “Much Ado About Nothing” (Stratford) and “Richard III” (Globe) in 2012, I was so privileged to be witness to James McAvoy taking the lead in Jamie Lloyd’s re-imagining of “The Scottish Play” at Trafalgar Studios in April. This was a truly unique experience and being able to witness such drama, passion and tension in such an intimate atmosphere was something I’ll never forget!

Following this was my viewing of “Richard II“, starring David Tennant, at the first ever RSC Live in November 2013. Considering the only thing I had previously seen David in was Harry Potter and, of course, Doctor Who, seeing him perform with such clarity, power and emotion was just beyond amazing. “Richard II” was not a play I knew well – but I understood every word that came out of Tennant’s mouth – just brilliant!

I cannot discuss Shakespeare without mentioning the almost unimaginable experience that I had back in July, when I had one of the most memorable experiences of my life – seeing Kenneth Branagh lead the most phenomenal cast in his version of “The Scottish Play” at the Manchester International Festival. There is so much to say about this production – from the set (an old abandoned church, transformed for the occasion), to the sweltering heat, the fact it was was being streamed all over the world for National Theatre Live, to the multi talented and beyond astounding cast, to the fact that KENNETH BRANAGH was performing a role that I had both taught and been taught so many times myself right in front of me! To experience such awesomeness with such dear friends was just the cherry on top. Definitely one of my highlights of 2013!

ALL OF YOU
I am absolutely over the moon to announce that I have recently hit the massive milestone of 30,000 hits on my little blog and there is no way I could have done that without every single one of you. Whether you are an avid reader, have given my articles a passing glance, or a one view wonder – every one of you means the absolute world to me! What started as a bit of fun has turned into the most magical experience for me, and has opened the doors for me to experience so many different productions and meet so many amazingly stunning performers.

I should also say a special thank you to every single performer who has been kind enough to give up their precious time to be interviewed by me this year. It has been my absolute honour and privilege to chat and, in many cases, meet every single one of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Nadim Naaman (twice!), Laura Tisdall, John Owen Jones, Craig Mather (twice!), Rosie Ladkin, Kristian Lavercombe, Scott Garnham (twice!), Taylor Rowan and Hughes, Katy Treharne and all at West End Has Faith, Anna O’ Byrne, Marcus Lovett, Nathaniel Morrison, CJ De Mooi, Lauren Varnham, Sofia Escobar, Aidan Banyard, Shoshana Bean, David Hunter, Dan and Laura Curtis, Tam Mutu, Ricardo Afonso, Jamie Chapman Dixon, Shaun McCourt, Richard Fleeshman, Danielle Tarento, Harriet Jones, Geronimo Rauch, Carrie Hope Fletcher and “Queen” Wendy Ferguson!

TEASER – My next post (which will not only be my 100th post but my first of 2014) will be a catch up interview with one of my most popular interviewees  ever! Keep your eyes peeled!!

Signing out for this year – may 2014 bring you all the joy, blessings and happiness you all deserve!

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

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ONE STUNNING REVIEW! A shout out to a superbly talented friend!

Sometimes, you read a review that has a massive impact on you, even after just one read!

It paints a picture of the production the reviewer discusses without giving too much away; it addresses both performance and technical aspects of the show itself; it presents an undeniable passion and love for what has been witnessed – hell, it’s the kind of thing that just makes you go WOW!

A very good example of this is a review written by a dear friend of mine about her recent visit to see CORIOLANUS, starring Tom Hiddleston, that is currently running at the Donmar Warehouse, London. Like many, I can’t wait to see this on the big screen when it is part of National Theatre Live at the end of January, but to hear about it from someone who saw it live really is something to behold!

This is an amazing review that goes into so much depth and detailI felt the need to share it with you all! (Even though the writer – Kerrie Nicholson –  is probably going to kill me when she finds out I have 😉)

Enjoy this folks – I know I did!

http://confessionsofa20somethingliteratureandmusicjunkie.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/coriolanus-donmar-warehouse-21st-december-2013/

Signing off for now

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

Blue Eyed Girl interviews . . . Les Miserables’ Wendy Ferguson

(Picture from www.lesmis.com)
 

My Inspirational Women of the Theatre Industry interview series rolls on today, and the Les Mis theme continues

It is my absolute honour and privilege to announce my next interviewee is the glorious Wendy Ferguson.

Having first discovered her amazing talent during the Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary celebrations at The Royal Albert Hall in the role of the diva-tastic Carlotta, I was also extremely privileged to see her perform live at Her Majesty’s Theatre on several occasions. Now, Wendy has moved to another iconic musical, playing the sinister and sneaky Madame Thenardier in “Les Miserables” at the Queens Theatre.

I was truly honoured to be able to chat to “Queen Wendy” about an array of topics, including her time at Phantom, her inspirations, Sweeney Todd, as well as the importance of being yourself . . .

Tell us a little known fact about yourself – something we wouldn’t know by looking at you!

I pick things up with my toes . . . I freak people out by unconsciously doing it at home every so often! I really don’t know why I am sharing this??!!!

Who or what inspired you to get into the Theatre Industry?

I was very fortunate to have parents who saw my interest in singing and encouraged me to pursue my love of performance from an early age. Along the way, I worked with many great teachers and coaches who inspired me with their knowledge and passion. Growing up during the troubles in Northern Ireland meant that I never had the opportunity to see great live theatre from a young age but I was always submersed in music; folk, classical repertoire, opera, operetta, oratorio, jazz, pop and musicals! Through my quest to train my voice to the best it could be, I “fell” into the Theatre Industry!

What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far? And what has been the biggest obstacle you have faced?

Highlight? That would have to be performing as Carlotta at the Royal Albert Hall for Phantom of the Opera’s 25th Anniversary celebrations. It’s well known that I was a VERY last minute replacement for the artist who was originally cast and rehearsed in the role, so the whole weekend went by in a bit of an intense, stress filled adrenalin whirlwind rush! I know that what happened to me has reinforced in so many the unpredictability of our profession . . . if that can happen to me, it can happen to anyone!

Obstacle? That would be my almost crippling self doubt. I wish I had learned earlier on in my career that it is impossible to please everyone. When you make the conscious decision to believe in all the hard work you (and those you work with) have done, that is enough!

If you could play any role in any show, past or present – what would you play and why? (It can’t be a show you’ve already been in!)

Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd . . . what is there to explain??? She’s as good as they get!!!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

There is no one else quite like you, so don’t copy others or try to blend in with the crowd. Be proud of who you are.

Which West End show is top of your must see list at the moment? (Can include Fringe too!)

Like so many actors, I don’t get to see enough theatre! It’s a constant battle between making sure I completely “have a day off” from the theatre when I work 6 days a week in one, and desperately wanting to see friends in shows as well as other productions. I’d recommend everyone checks out “Once“, “One Man Two Guvnors” and “Matilda.”

If you could duet with any West End or Broadway performer – past or present – who would it be and why?

Ooooooohhh . . . tough! Too many . . . can’t pick one! As you are talking about inspirational women, I’ll pick a few of my own.

I adore Barbara Cook, Megan Mullally, and Carol Burnet. Why you ask? There is so much more to their performance than simply making a song sound good!

I’ve had the privilege of meeting Wendy both at Her Majesty’s and Queens – this being a photo of our first ever meeting!
 

You are probably best known for your phenomenal performances as “Carlotta” in the legendary “Phantom of the Opera.” What was it like to be part of such an iconic show? And what was the biggest highlight of your time there?

If you were to stop and think how iconic Phantom is, no one would ever step foot on the stage to perform in the show!! I get letters and tweets from so many people round the world telling me just why Phantom means so much to them and it’s very humbling. The whole creative team are so passionate about the show, and I can’t express how inspirational it was to get to work one on one with Hal Prince, Gillian Lynne and Laurence Connor during my time at Her Majesty’s and at The Royal Albert Hall.

I’ve already said that Phantom 25 was a highlight, but if I was to choose a moment from the event; that would be the Sitzprobe. Hearing that orchestra play the Overture then feeling the support and energy of the whole room (Well, I say room . . . but I mean a studio the size of an aircraft hanger!!) as I sang the Opening Cadenza was overwhelming!

You are now in another iconic show – Les Miserables – as the villainous genius that is Madame Thenardier. How does the preparation and delivery you have to do for Madame T differ to what you had to do for Carlotta?

On a day to day level, Carlotta was a difficult but challenging role to play for such a long time. I had to put my vocal health at the forefront of everything I did. I would get to the theatre about an hour and a half before the performance to do my private vocal warm up which would change depending on how my voice was behaving each and every day.

Having spent 5 years playing that role, I then had to work very hard with my singing teacher to find the vocal colours I wanted to bring to Madame Thenardier. She is an utter joy to perform and I can’t tell you how lucky I am to have Cameron Blakely as my Thenardier. Every show is different and I’m loving exploring such different vocal, comedic and dramatic qualities.

Sum up your time at Les Mis so far in 10 words.

Not as glum as everyone told me it would be!

You can catch Wendy and the rest of the wonderful cast of “Les Miserables” at the Queens Theatre, London. For details on performances and tickets, head over to www.lesmis.com

Thank you so much to Wendy for taking the time to answer my questions. To me, this lady is a true icon of the Theatre Industry who I look up to and respect SO MUCH! She is also one of the sweetest and kindest performers I have ever met – and I m eternally grateful to her for doing this interview.

Signing off for now

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

Turning the Tables – I GET INTERVIEWED!

One of the most unique Theatre experiences I had this year was when a fellow Blogger – the marvellous Dawn – asked to interview ME!

I considered this a true honour – but I can’t tell you how weird it was to be ANSWERING the questions, rather than ASKING them!

Take a look at my interview, where I discuss Pantomine, how I started Blogging, and my highlights of 2013: –

http://www.dawnsmallwood.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/next-intervieweeolivia-edmonds.html

Signing off for now

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

Blue Eyed Girl interviews . . . Les Miserables’ Carrie Hope Fletcher

(Picture from www.livetheatre.co)
 
Carrie Hope Fletcher is one of the West End’s brightest stars. After starting her career as a young performer in the original London cast of “Mary Poppins” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang“, as well as being part of the cast of “The Wind in the Willows” at Regents Park Open Air Theatre, Carrie took on the role of Young Eponine in Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre.


Little did she know then that many years later, she would be lighting up the stage at the Queens Theatre in the older version of the role she adored so much.

Add to that performing her own original material and supporting Ramin Karimloo and Hadley Fraser at their 2012/13 gigs, having over 300,000 subscribers to her YouTube channelItsWayPastMyBedtime –  and recording one of the official anthems to the London 2012 Olympic Games with her brother Tom (1/4 of pop superstars McFly), and it is clear to see that there is nothing that this amazing young lady cannot do!

Read on to find out what happened when I chatted to Carrie about The Addams Family, being cheeky and taking chances, the reality of 8 shows a week, her supportive fans – and living her dreams every day of the week . . .

Tell us a little known fact about yourself – something we wouldn’t know by looking at you.
Little known fact . . . hmmmmm . . . I guess if we’re sticking to all things theatre, I’ll go with the fact that I’m not trained! I left school at 16 so I don’t even have standard A-Levels, let alone theatrical training!

Who or what inspired you to get into the Theatre Industry?
It’s something I’ve always loved since I was a child! There was never any question it was where I wanted to end up, since I was about 7!

Who are your favourite theatre performers to watch?
Ramin Karimloo, Hadley Fraser, Anton Zetterholm and Bernadette Peters.

If you had to choose any 3 songs from any genre as the soundtrack to your life so far, what would they be and why?
Pulled” from The Addams Family because I’m often changing direction due to something exciting!

On My Own” because I’ve been singing it for years and it’s just part of me now.

Marry You” by Bruno Mars because it gives me that get up and go feeling!

If you could give one piece of advice to your 11 year old self, what would you say?
The next 5 years at Northwood College will be AMAZING so enjoy them more! Get all that you can out of them because once they’re gone, they’re gone!

And what advice would you give to young performers, particularly young women, who are trying to break into the Theatre Industry?
Keep pushing! Take chances! Be cheeky! Pester people!

Don’t be rude about it but make your existence known. And have some kind of experience. Join a local theatre group or drama club – anything to get you well prepared!

(Picture from www.mcflyusa.com)


You are currently playing the role of Eponine in the legendary production of “Les Miserables”. How are you enjoying your time at the show – after first being part of the show when you were younger?
I’m absolutely loving it! 8 shows a week is tough work but I’ve never been happier! It sounds cheesy but it really is a dream come true 🙂 And the reaction has been overwhelming. I never expected so many of my online audience to come and watch but there’s always someone at Stage Door every night for me and I can’t help but embrace themit means so much!

What has been the highlight of your time at “Les Miserables” so far?
My highlight of Les Mis? You mean I have to pick just ONE?!? Every night in the bows is it’s own highlight, and finishing “On My Own” each night is a big deal for me too.

Carrie (as Eponine) performing at West End Live 2013
(Picture from www.pamelaraith.com)
 

You have some of the most loyal supporters that I have ever come across – many of whom wait to say hello to you after a show! What goes through your mind when you step out of Stage Door and see so many people there – just to see you?
I’ve often cried back at them as they’re crying at me. It feels like I’m one of their close friends and I’ve managed to sneak into this industry and every night, it feels like I am saying “GUYS! Look what I’m doing! How cool is this?” It’s such an odd feeling because I’m not a celebrity, that well known or famous in the slightest. So it genuinely feels like I am living this fantasy life and yes, it’s taken a lot of hard work to get here, but it doesn’t make it any less surreal!!!

You are also an avid YouTuber – and post videos about anything and everything on a regular basis! Is it difficult to keep up with your video posts given your Les Mis schedule?
It is quite hard, yes. I have more to say but less time to say it. But I enjoy it and I always find it hard to do nothing so in my down time, I get restless and a video gets made!

When it comes to your own music, who are your biggest influences? And who are your favourite artists to listen to?
My all time favourites are Glenn Miller and The Andrews Sisters, but no matter how hard I try, their music can’t be replicated. I don’t really have anyone that I purposely model my own music on. Just individual songs that I try and write my own versions of.

If you could duet with any artist, past or present and from any genre on one of your own songs, who would it be and why?
Again, it would have to be The Andrews Sisters! Their songs and close harmonies just can’t be beat!

You can follow what Carrie is up to over on Twitter @carriehfletcher or check out her YouTube channel over at http://www.youtube.com/user/ItsWayPastMyBedTime
For details on Les Miserables – including how to buy tickets to see Carrie live on stage – check out http://www.lesmis.com/uk/

Thank you so much to Carrie for taking time out of what I know is a ridiculously busy schedule to answer my questions. I have been lucky enough to meet Carrie on several occasions now – and I can honestly say – hand on heart – she is one of the kindest, sweetest and most down to earth performers I have ever had the privilege of meeting. Her performance in Les Miserables gets better on every visit – and is one not to be missed!

Signing off for now

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx