Olivier Award-winning musical theatre star Jenna Russell takes us behind the scenes at highly anticipated musical Urinetown in an exclusive diary for Official London Theatre:
First days on new jobs are always quite harrowing. Even more so for a big musical as there are so many people involved.
The great thing about this first day was that we had already met a couple of months before, stood in a freezing cold warehouse in early December in East London, being soaked to the skin with rain for a company photo shoot. I defy anyone not to feel at least slightly bonded with a group of people who at the first time of meeting share a shower!
I have worked with half of the company before (I’m getting on remember!); two are very close friends, and a couple I’ve known since they were children. That’s the beauty of theatre; we really do feel like a family. It’s not a word that’s thrown about willy nilly. It comes from a strong sense of community and history with each other.
Urinetown was my first outing to a Broadway show and I adored it. It’s such a funny yet dark piece with a very strong message and an extraordinary score. When I found out that they were finally producing it over here, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved. The show is in very safe and highly talented hands with Jamie Lloyd, Ann Yee and Soutra Gilmour leading us.
First day consists of a nerve-wracking ‘meet and greet’ where everyone involved in all departments of the show has to stand in a big room saying “Hi” to each other, kind of like an industry party but with no booze! This is followed by everyone individually introducing themselves and saying what role they have on the show; wig maker, publicity, cast, stage management, writers, producer, fight director etc.
A welcome speech from the director follows and then the all-important model showing from our designer. I have to say, and I mean it, Soutra Gilmour has done it again. What a genius designer she is. Honestly, she amazes me, she makes the impossible possible. I think the St James Theatre audiences are going to be blown away at the ambition of her design. The cast then get measured for costumes, always a stressful moment. You want my advice? Don’t look at what they write down!
Then everyone who’s not cast or creative buggers off and leaves us to start work proper. The remainder of the first day is taken up with a full physical work out followed by a vocal one and then serious music study. And usually by 16:30 there are hysterics!
The rest of the first week contained tons of vocal calls to learn reams of music and harmonies punctuated by the first forays into… deep breath… choreography!!
I have been a choreographer’s worst nightmare since working with the legendary Bob Avian on Sondheim’s Follies when I was 20. I remember being on my knees begging him to believe that I would get it right for him! In particular the Mirror Mirror number. I ruined my Mum’s wooden floor trying to get that tap routine into my head and I never really did get the damned thing right. I even fell over a few times, classy!!
So, having a kind of Vietnam vet’s twitch about it, I was very happy when we had our first session with esteemed choreographer Ann Yee and found the first half involved getting massaged and cuddling each other. Very nice indeed! We have even managed to stage a few scenes… almost unheard of when you are doing a musical of this size.
A very happy first week. Bring on the next. You never know, Miss Yee may make a dancer out of me yet!