As rehearsals for Urinetown The Musical progress, Jenna Russell hits the high notes, battles corpsing and learns to do a ‘poifect’ New York accent:
On Monday I left for work at 07:15 and arrived home some 13 hours later looking, as my partner of 13 years said, “like you’ve been assaulted”! He also reminded me, as I was hobbling around the house, that I was no longer 20 and should take it easy in the physical warm up – a note I will endeavor to adhere to!
We had a full-on Monday, which involved finishing off staging the first scene. This one contains my song Privilege To Pee. It’s a tough song to sing as it has a big vocal range and a lot of high belt wailing… often embarrassing but good to get out of the way early on! It took me about four hours to peel my larynx back off the ceiling!
We then moved on to Scene four, where Richard Fleeshman gets his turn to throw his larynx on the ceiling in the number Look At The Sky, which he did, I must say, brilliantly.
I feel like I’m slowly morphing into Richard; every time he comes to work with some fascinating new gadget or other, I find myself logging onto Amazon and attempting to spend all my wages on finding said gadget in an attempt to replicate him!
Luckily I got Tuesday morning off so my body had a bit more sleep and time to recover from Monday’s assault. My afternoon contained a wig consultation from the divine person that is Richard Mawbey from Wig Specialities, a vision in purple who is always a plus to any day. I’m looking forward to seeing what he is going to create for Miss Pennywise… hopefully something rather glamorous!
Then we did the scene where I meet Caldwell B. Cladwell for the first time… a dangerous entrance where Simon Paisley Day and I have a long subtext-filled look at each other. I’ve known Simon for 16 years. He lives round the corner from me in Whitstable and I am godparent to his 11-year-old daughter. We have never worked together and this first meeting of out characters is a potential corpse-fest. Much discipline is needed!
The rest of the week for me was about staging the end of Act One. It’s a huge, almost Wagnerian stand off between the rich and the poor. It involves a revolution, a kidnapping and a chase.
It’s at times like this that my admiration and adoration for director Jamie Lloyd grows. He is so patient and precise and seemingly unflappable. Both he and the chorographer Ann Yee take what we actors bring to the table and add it to what they have planned for the scene… no mean feat when you have the entire cast onstage.
An actor friend of mine who has worked with Jamie before, said to me yesterday that Jamie was one of those rare directors who let you play with all the toys in the box and then slowly takes out the ones your don’t need! Rare indeed. I always think the best work happens when you feel free enough to try even the most ridiculous ideas. Jamie lets that happen, whilst constantly reminding us that these characters are in a world and time where starvation, fear and death are always round the corner. Yes, it’s a comedy, but it’s very much rooted in a dark reality.
We ended our week with a dialect call. I can honestly say I have never laughed so much in years. The idea is that the poor speak with a New York, possibly Brooklyn, accent. We all get to pretend that we are in The Sopranos!
It was the end of a long week and hysteria took over, I’m afraid, especially when trying the ‘oi’ sound. You replace the ‘ir’ and ‘ur’ in words with ‘oi’. So the name Shirley becomes Shoiley. We had to go round the room individually and say, “Shirley hurled up her turkey burger feeling worse and thirsty,” which became, “Shoiley hoiled up ha toikey boiger feelin woise and thoisty.” You try saying that and see if you can without laughing!
So with my abdominals aching from over doing it at daily physical warm ups and too much laughing I sign off until next week with the new company motto, “toikey boiger”!
"I always think the best work happens when you feel free enough to try even the most ridiculous ideas. Jamie lets that happen."