PLAYING OUR PART "Mini Interview" – Christopher Howell

In support of the fantastic concert PLAYING OUR PART, which will take place at Cadogan Hall, London on 18th May, I was lucky enough to be able to chat to 3 of the phenomenal singers who will perform on this wonderful evening – and I will be publishing my “mini-interviews” with them throughout the week!

We will start off with the former star of Wicked, Betty Blue Eyes, The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary Celebration, Hairspray, Too Close to the Sun, Anything Goes, My Fair Lady, The Witches of Eastwick and Fame – CHRISTOPHER HOWELL.


How did you get involved with Playing Our Part?

I worked with Nadimon Chess at the Union Theatre and we became friends – as soon as this event was mentioned I wanted to be a part of it because it is in aid of a fantastic cause and knowing Nadim’s drive to succeed (he runs marathons!) I knew the concert would be a very special night.

What do you think the audience can expect from the concert?

Well I have seen the set list and it has something for everybody across a wide spectrum of music- it is not all songs from the shows. Also, we have the fantastic Alex Parker and a very large orchestra, not the usual piano, bass and drums one gets at many of these events.

How does it feel to be a part of such a versatile cast of performers – some of whom you know or have worked with before?

The line up for the show represents an astounding wealth of talent from the West End – I feel humbled, privileged and nervous to be part of it!

Can you tell us anything about what song you will be singing?

I don’t know if I am supposed to?! To give you a flavour of my song – it’s big, bright, loud and in your face – nothing like me at all (coughs nervously and moves onto the next question).

What do you think the legacy of Playing Our Part will be?

Well I hope in the first instance that it will raise awareness of Ovarian Cancer and Target Ovarian, as well as raising a large amount of cash on the night. I hope that it makes us all more aware of the risks of cancer, how to detect the early stages of the disease and assist research into finding a cure.

Convince my readers who have NOT bought a ticket yet why they should buy a ticket – in 10 words or less.

Great Cast, Great Band, Great Venue, Great Cause, Book Now!

To book tickets for what I have no doubt will be a magical evening, check out http://www.cadoganhall.com/event/playing-our-part-140518/, check out the concert’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/events/552200811542750/ or follow @PlayingOurPart1 over on Twitter for all details!
 
Check back later in the week for two more “mini-interviews” featuring stars who will be performing on the night!

Signing off for now

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

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Blue Eyed Girl interviews . . . Hadley Fraser

It is my absolute honour, and gives me so much joy to announce that my newest interviewee is the phenomenal HADLEY FRASER. Anyone who knows me knows how much respect and admiration I have for this very talented gentleman, so I actually still can’t believe I have had the privilege to interview him.
One of the most versatile performers I have ever had the honour to see perform on stage, Hadley has performed in such diverse productions as Les Miserables, the Phantom of the Opera, The Pirate Queen, The Fantasticks, The Pajama Game, A Christmas Carol, The Last 5 Years, The Machine, The Pirates of Penzance, and most recently, the sublime Coriolanus. Not only does Hadley excel when he is performing on stage, he is also a gifted musician, both in his own right, and as part of SHEYTOONS with Ramin Karimloo and some very talented friends.
Read on to find out what happened when Hadley and I discussed juggling, originating a role, Shakey, red jeans, his own album and what is ahead for the rest of 2014 . . .
Tell us a little known fact about yourself – something we wouldn’t know by looking at you.
 
I’m quite a good juggler.
 
Who or what inspired you to get into the Theatre Industry?
 
Not too sure about getting into the Industry. But I remember watching my brother as Bernardo in our school production of West Side Story and being thrilled by the orchestra during the Dance at The Gym. I mean, this was a school band so probably not threatening the Philharmonic – but when the congas came in prior to the Mambo I thought to myself, “I want to have a go at that“. Went home and listened to the soundtrack (on cassette as it was back then) and next time my school did a musical I was at the front of the queue. 

What has been the best moment of your career so far (if you had to pick just one)? And what has been the biggest obstacle you have faced?
 
Not sure I could pick one. I’m not awfully career-oriented, so frankly I look back on most jobs with an equal sense of perspective and pleasure. Usually the best moment career-wise are when something personal is delivered in the same envelope.
 
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?
 
This is tremendously hard. I listen to a great deal of music, so whittling a selection down is always hard. Let me slightly dodge the question by answering that in fantasy land I’d ask Thomas Newman, Darrell Scott and Elbow to score the soundtrack.


Last year, you starred in “The Machine”, both in Manchester and New York – how was it going into a production that was so different from your previous on stage roles as Javert in “Les Miserables” and Sid Sorokin in “The Pajama Game”?
 
It was no massive shift. I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to play a diverse number of parts. Bear in mind this wasn’t the first time I’ve done straight theatre (I had a few years in the profession pre-twitter…) so it was no different to going from Gilbert and Sullivan to Boucicault or Arnold Wesker to Stephen Sondheim. Ultimately I’m just damned happy when anyone offers me a job. What WAS thrilling about The Machine, which was different to Les Mis and PJ Game was being a part of a new production. Originating parts is always so thrilling. New work is what keeps us alive, artistically speaking.
(From www.donmarwarehouse.com – photo by Johan Persson)

You have recently finished playing Tullus Aufidius in the Donmar Warehouse production of “Coriolanus”. Was the dream of being part of a Shakespearian production – especially one so unique – everything you hoped it would be?
 
And more! I’ve said it to others, but there was something exceptionally thrilling about that production. Tackling an epic play in such an intimate venue, playing an interesting part surrounded by talented individuals on stage and off, and getting to grips with the verse was all a tremendous experience and one I hope to repeat. It’s given me a taste for Shakey. Would love to do a comedy down the line…


I mentioned Les Mis – how much fun was it to be a part of the movie adaptation that has brought such a legendary story to a whole new audience?


It was great fun, especially being part of the stage production at the same time. I mean, I suppose me and the other double-shifters may have been subject to a little Mis overload at the time – but I’ll never forget walking out onto the soundstage at Pinewood and seeing the barricades. My word what a thrill. It was an exciting time to be part of the show – I’ll always remember seeing Eddie Redmayne applauding the company from prompt corner at the Queen’s prior to filming. He was excited and so were we, even though at that time I don’t think any of us had even auditioned…

                 (Hadley as Javert in the West End production of Les Misrables. 2011)

What is the best (or shall we say most memorable) musical or play you have ever seen?
 
The Pillowman at the NT and Jerusalem at the Royal Court stick in my mind – though obviously it’s hard not to mention others.
 
Is there a current West End show/play that you haven’t seen that you really want to see?

 
Ghosts at the Trafalgar (though have I missed it…?)
 

If you had the choice of any West End show (be it a play or musical theatre, past or present), what would your dream role to play be and why?
 
A frequent question to most actors I suppose, and one I never quite know how to answer. I want to do more new work, so I can’t answer that too specifically. If pushed, in a few years I’d love to play Sweeney Todd. Let me stress, IN A FEW YEARS. 

Which West End show (be it a play or musical) would you most liked to see revived and why? 

See above!
 
As far as your own music goes, you have always talked about putting together an album of original material. Are you any closer to achieving this dream?
 
Yes, actually I am, though I don’t want to put a time frame on it. Suffice to say I’ve recently been incredibly lucky with realising the project in the manner I’ve always wanted.
 
How would you describe your own music to someone who has never heard it before?
 
Mostly predictable.
 
Who would you say are the biggest influences on your own music?
 
Erm… Darrell Scott, John Martyn, Nick Drake, Crooked Still, Sheryl Crow. I could go on…
 
What is the one album – past or present – that you think everyone should listen to at least once?
 
Martha Argerich playing Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. I wrote my only completed play listening to nothing else (the play is terrible and unproduced, the music sublime).
 
If you could collaborate with any artist – past or present – on your album, who would it be and why?

 
Darrell Scott (are you spotting a theme)? There is a soul within his writing and playing that touches mine.
 
What was the last concert/gig you went to that left you speechless (in a good way)?
 
I hate to sound like a broken record, but honestly it was Darrell Scott live at the Leicester Square theatre. Just him solo for a couple of hours. Speechless, awe-struck heaven. 
 


(One of my Stage Door pictures with Hadley, this was at the Pajama Game in Chichester, June 2013)

If you could give your 13 year old self one piece of advice – what would it be and why?

Don’t buy those red jeans. Man, they were terrible. 

What do you do to relax in your spare time?

Cook, run, listen to more music.
 

What are your plans and hopes for the rest of 2014?
 
Plans mostly involve getting married. Hopes include the successful completion of this event.
 
I can’t thank Hadley enough for taking the time to take part in this interview – it truly means the absolute world to me and no words can truly express to him how thankful I am.
I wish him, as I’m sure we all do, nothing but joy, luck and happiness for the rest of the year, particularly in his upcoming marriage to the beautiful Rosalie Craig.
Signing off for now
(A very, very happy) Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

West Side Story – New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham (12th April 2014)

West Side Story” – the Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein classic – is consistently voted as one of the greatest, if not the greatest musical of all time. Loosely based on the legendary romantic tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare, it tells the tale of two star crossed lovers (I’m an English teacher by day – pardon the quotes!) from two rival gangs who try to keep their love alive in extremely hostile surroundings, with disastrous consequences. Add to that one of the greatest musical scores ever created, you have the recipe for a true emotional rollercoaster of a story.

Now, knowing what an absolute Musical Theatre geek I am, it may surprise you to learn that this is a show I had NEVER seen on stage – I know right? That was until this past week, when the most recent UK tour of this phenomenal production rolled into my hometown and I decided to go and see what all the fuss was about!

When I sat down in the theatre, I had some idea of what to expect – I use the classic film version of this musical every year when I teach “Romeo and Juliet” to my pupils – but never did I expect to be so drawn in to this enchanting yet dark and mysterious story.

 
From the opening notes of the Jets and the Sharks first “battle”, you are immediately transported to the streets of New York, and you feel so close to the action, you could easily be a bystander on the street watching this showdown take place! From there, you can’t help but be on the edge of your seat, as the tragic love story between Jet Tony (Louis Maskell) and Shark Maria (Kate Hall) unfolds.
 
I can honestly say that there is not one single weak link in the entire cast! Whether it is their mind blowing dancing skills (more on that shortly), their beautiful vocal range – or quite simply an innate ability to make you believe, I could not find any fault with any of them!
 
 
The cast is lead by the breath-taking talents of Louis Maskell and Katie Hall. I had encountered Katie’s brilliant talents when she played Christine during the 2011/12 Phantom of the Opera UK Tour, but I must say, it was so refreshing to see her in such a different role. She gives Maria a perfect balance between youthful naivety and the Puerto Rican passion that she has certainly learnt from her brother Bernardo. Alongside Louis Maskell – who, for me has to be one of the best male vocals I have ever heard in theatre, there is a spark that makes the audience want them to have their happily ever after – even though we all know what happens in the end! This astoundingly talented pair also produce many of the shows vocal highlights – “Maria“, “Tonight” and “Somewherebroke my heart, lifted my spirit, and made me cry tears of joy and sadness all at the same time!
 
A special mention also has to go to the pure brilliance of Jack Wilcox (Riff), Javier Cid (Bernardo) and Djalenga Scott (Anita).
 


As silly as this may sound, it was just brilliant to see men dancing on stage, and not only that but doing it so brilliantly! All of the male dancers were so skilled, and particularly in their group numbers, their precision and execution of those iconic dance moves was just so on point – but Jack and Javier in particular have to be two of the most talented dancers – male or female – that I have ever seen – and believe me, I have seen A LOT of theatre! And the best thing about their amazing skill? The smiles on their faces while they do it – it’s clear how much fun they are having, and that makes you enjoy it even more!

The only person that comes close to these two in their skill, precision and all round excellence is the enchanting Djalenga Scott. Having heard so many phenomenal reports about Djalenga’s performance before I saw the tour – I was overjoyed to see her perform in person – and what a phenomenal performance it was! She gave Anita so much soul and passion, while also making her vulnerable during her key scenes in Act Two. Her on stage relationship with Katie Hall was just a joy to watch – you could see they have developed a sisterly bond both on and off stage! But for me, it was her performance of the iconic song AMERICA that just blew me away – and was my definite highlight of the entire show! Djalenga more than matched up to her male counterparts in the dance stakes and deservedly got one of the loudest ovations of the afternoon.

I can’t speak highly enough of this show, and its’ whole cast – for me, it is a must see no matter what your age or your musical knowledge.

The Tour is in Birmingham until Saturday 19th, before moving on to Southampton, Nottingham, Leeds, Milton Keynes and Aberdeen.

Check out http://westsidestorytheshow.co.uk/ to see if the show is coming anywhere near you – I guarantee you will not regret buying a ticket!

Signing off for now

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx