One of the West End’s most recognisable faces, Anna-Jane Casey’s CV reads like a ‘Best Of The Musicals’ compilation. After making her West End debut in Cats at the age of just 16, Casey has since appeared in productions of Company, Piaf, Sweet Charity, Sunday In The Park With George, Chicago, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Starlight Express, West Side Story…. the list goes on.
This week will mark another musical milestone for Casey, however, as she takes the lead in this year’s BBC Radio 2 Audience Award-winning show, Billy Elliot The Musical, starring as the straight talking dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson and joining a host of new cast members in the much-loved show.
While Casey may be no stranger to the glamour of a mirror lit with light bulbs or the excitement of seeing her name on a West End dressing room, as the actress proves in our Q&A below, 25 years in the business has caused her to lose none of her Northern charm, making her the perfect fit for the Lee Hall-penned musical.
Here she tells us about an early love of wrestling, being thrown into the deep end at 16-years-old, working with her equally musical husband and why she was born to jump into the splits.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
Watching wrestling at my Nana’s house on a Saturday with all my cousins and cheering Big Daddy and Mick McManus. I’m a proper Northerner me!
What first sparked your interest in performing?
I saw Swan Lake at the Palace theatre in Manchester when I was eight and knew I wanted to be on that stage. A year later I was up there in Annie.
What was it like making your West End debut at only 16?
Looking back, I’m amazed how ballsy I was. As you get older I find you get more fearful, but at 16 I thought I could take on the world! However, being in a dressing room with seven other grown women was definitely an eye opener!
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
There have been a few, like playing Sweet Charity and Piaf at the Sheffield Crucible, but I think singing Don’t Rain On My Parade with the wonderful John Wilson Orchestra at the Proms was something special.
You acted on stage with your husband [Graham MacDuff] in Monty Python’s Spamalot. What was like that?
Graham and I got together on West Side Story playing Anita and Bernardo 15 years ago, so getting to work with him again was brilliant. He’s hilarious and talented and damn sexy, so getting to see him 24/7 was great!
What is the finest performance you have ever seen?
Tracie Bennett in End Of The Rainbow was extraordinary. She’s an absolute legend and a good mate.
If you could create a fantasy production to star in, who would you cast, who would direct and what would it be?
I’d play Kim in Miss Saigon, Jon Bon Jovi would be Chris and my great mate Paul Foster would direct it. I know I’m 25 years to old and the completely wrong ethnicity, but I’m determined to put this production on if I win the lottery.
Who or what has inspired you?
Any woman who is a mother and manages to hold down a job is an inspiration! Having two little girls and doing what I do requires military precision so I have ultimate respect for working mums.
Do you have any regrets?
No. Every heartbreak or seemingly bad decision happens for a reason so never regret anything is my advice.
What do you consider your big break?
Landing the role of Anita in West Side Story made people see me as more than just a dancer.
Have you made any sacrifices for the sake of your career?
I was pregnant with my first girl whilst I was playing Dot in Sunday In The Park With George at the Menier Chocolate Factory so when it transferred to the West End and then to Broadway without me, many people asked me if I thought I’d made a mistake. There was no question that my baby came before career at that point. That’s the only sacrifice I can think of.
What would you choose as a last meal?
I’d start with a seafood platter, followed by roast lamb with all the trimmings then hot chocolate fudge cake with ice cream for afters…Then clearly, the cheeseboard!
What will always, without fail, bring a smile to your face?
My children. They’re both completely beautiful and bonkers!
What could you not be without?
Do you have a pre-show routine or any rituals?
I’m not religious but I cross myself and touch wood before I go on stage. I always have done since I started in cats 25 years ago.
Do you have any theatrical superstitions?
No, I’m always shouting “Macbeth” just to see others freaking out!
Where do you head after a performance?
Straight to my Vespa scooter and home to my hubby.
What ambitions would you like to fulfil?
I’m a marathon runner in my spare time – [laughs] what spare time? – and I’ve already done the London and New York marathons, so once I’ve done Berlin, Chicago and Boston I’ll have completed all five major marathons. Then I’ll hang up my trainers and get both hips replaced!
What do you look for when taking a role?
I’ve always said I’ll do anything if you pay me! I’m honoured when anyone wants to employ me so as long as I can have a good time with nice people, I’m happy to take on any role.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
I’ll be honest and say I have no other skills than singing loudly, jumping into splits and being able to cry at the drop of a hat. It’d be slightly embarrassing to do that if I worked in a bank or a hospital so I’ll stick to what I know!