From representing Great Britain at Eurovision – and coming a frankly amazing fifth, given our recent dismal attempts – to appearing in Australian school-set comedy Out There and replacing Keisha Buchanan in the multi-personalitied pop act Sugababes, Jade Ewen has been in and around the entertainment industry for much of her life.
In recent years, though, recording and filming have taken a back seat and the London stage has proved a magnetic draw to the Plaistow native. Summer 2014 saw her scorching in both the imagined and real heat of The Gershwins’ Porgy And Bess at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. This autumn she’s hot once more, sweltering in the Barrio in the hit UK premiere of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights.
The sultry, Latin-inspired, rapping, salsa-rific musical, which delves into the lives of neighbours struggling against poverty and striving for better lives, is one of the most talked about in London this autumn, with its fresh, youthful and exuberant feel.
To find out more about the show and its star we quizzed Ewen, discovering a love of prawn curry, a handful of unknown talents and the most touching parental anecdote you’re ever likely to read.
What drew you to In The Heights?
A friend had said it was his all-time favourite musical and that I needed to audition for it if it ever came over here. I listened to the score and saw all of the amazing reviews and was sold! Unfortunately I missed the first round of auditions when it came to Southwark Playhouse last year as I was away on tour, so when I heard it was coming back again I was really excited.
How would you describe your character?
My character Vanessa is sexy, sassy, strong and independent. Her mother is an alcoholic and Vanessa is used to always having to pick up the pieces. She has big dreams and aspirations of getting out of the Barrio and making a better life for herself. She is also the love interest for Usnavi.
What is your favourite moment in the show?
My favourite moment would have to be when Vanessa and Usnavi turn up at the salsa club.
Usnavi is nervous and wants to impress her on their first date but it all goes wrong when someone else asks Vanessa to dance.
There is some amazing choreography from Drew McOnie, which makes that scene a real visual spectacle, and I love how every single person is so dedicated to making it feel like the real experience. I have a moment where I walk over to one of our ensemble members (Alexandra Sarmiento), who is drunk and dancing by herself, that literally makes me laugh every single night!
How have you found working with Olivier Award winner David Bedella?
It is a real pleasure to work alongside him every night. I love watching him as he brings such naturalism and honesty to his scenes. I have found that really useful when it comes to my own work on stage.
Did you feel destined to go into performing as a career?
Yes. I have always known that I am supposed to entertain. It has always been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. There is nothing that makes me happier, and sadder at times.
What is the finest performance you have seen?
That would have to be from my dear friend Cedric Neal who I met as part of our cast of Porgy And Bess at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre last year. He performed It Ain’t Necessarily So, and we also got to accompany him at the Olivier Awards which was incredible!
What do you do when you’re not performing or rehearsing?
I spend a lot of time reading and creating. I love to draw – mostly pencil portraits – and writing. I am also extremely close to my family and love spending time with them.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
When my dad, who is and always has been blind, drew me a picture of a horse. He did it by never once letting the pencil leave the paper and I couldn’t believe it. I took it into school the next day for show and tell and my primary school teacher hung it on the wall.
Who or what has inspired you?
Do you have any regrets?
No. I believe everything happens for a reason. Regrets only keep you from enjoying what is happening now.
Do you have any theatrical superstitions?
I like to be in costume with my mic pack on before I do hair and make-up.
Have you made any sacrifices for the sake of your career?
I don’t see them as sacrifices because I have gained more than I have had to give up.
What will always, without fail, bring a smile to your face?
My nephew Blake. He is the best and cutest little baby ever!
What would you choose as a last meal?
Thai king prawn panang curry and jasmine rice.
What book, film or album would you recommend to a friend?
Book: Adventures Of The Soul by James Van Praagh
Film: The Imitation Game
Album: Seven by Emily King
Do you have any advice for young actors?
Give yourself permission to be a beginner. Once you start to recognise growth don’t become complacent. Keep going. Never stop wanting to get better.
In The Heights plays at the King’s Cross Theatre until 3 January. You can book tickets through us here.