Rarely has a musical been as eagerly anticipated as Viva Forever! Though most of us at this time of year are opening chocolate-filled doors as we count down to Christmas, there are probably just as many who have been scoring off the days until this new Jennifer Saunders-penned show, featuring the songs of – love them or hate them – one of the most iconic musical acts of recent times, Spice Girls, takes to the stage.
Desperate to spice up our lives in preparation, we talked to the four actresses who play a girl band drawn into a reality TV whirlwind in the show: Hannah John-Kamen (Viva), Dominique Provost-Chalkley (Holly), Lucy Phelps (Diamond) and Siobhan Athwal (Luce).
Describe your character in 6 words…
John-Kamen: Loyal, witty, fun, courageous, trusting, warm-hearted
Provost-Chalkley: Holly is an articulate, focused young women. With her whole life ahead of her, she is passionate and driven to succeed in all her endeavours! [Not strictly six words, but as it’s Christmas we’re feeling forgiving!]
Phelps: Cool, honest, loyal, dry-humoured, confident, mischievous.
Athwal: Luce is the ENERGY of the group, she’s HONEST, a BELIEVER, OPINIONATED, LOUD and OUTSPOKEN.
How does it feel to be creating a West End musical?
John-Kamen: I feel honoured to be creating a new West End musical. Jennifer is such a fantastic writer and I just can’t believe how lucky I am to be part of the creation of something special and something that has inspired me.
Provost-Chalkley: I am thrilled to be a part of this show! This is my first original piece and it’s a huge privilege to be able to create a role from the beginning, especially with such an incredible team behind us.
Phelps: It is such a privilege to have the opportunity to create a role, and for a writer to trust you to do that. It allows you to truly paint on a blank canvas with the director and writer to bring the voice on paper to life. You can really go wild, explore every path, because no one knows what the right ones are. It’s very freeing. Imagine being the first ever Juliet or Sally Bowles. Hopefully any actress that goes on to play a role after you has the opportunity to create her own version, but you also hope that character will always carry a bit of you. I think I will always be very protective of Diamond.
Athwal: I’m incredibly blessed. From having dreamt about this for so long and working hard to achieve it, it’s surreal that I’ve achieved one of my dreams, proving it’s possible and worth it. I couldn’t have done it without my family and friends, for they gave me strength when I needed it and lived the journey with me. They’re the reason I am able to be here. To be part of a medium I consider very powerful to me, the same medium I was inspired by, is incredible.
What can the audience expect from the show?
John-Kamen: The audience will not be disappointed, especially Spice Girl fans. People will hopefully come away moved, inspired and feeling spicy.
Provost-Chalkley: Jennifer has written a fresh, exciting and very moving piece that will get the audience laughing and crying all at the same time. It challenges how we deal with relationships and the decisions we are faced with everyday. I genuinely think that this show will appeal to pretty much everyone, so if you want an uplifting night out, Viva Forever! is the place to be!
Phelps: It’s a fabulous night out with fantastic choreography, set design, costume and music, all whisked in with a heart-warming story at the centre. (Sorry I’ve just been watching a repeat of the Great British Bake Off…)
Athwal: The audience can expect to have a feel-good time, to be reminded of standing up for what you believe in and what is of importance to you.
What did Spice Girls mean to you growing up?
John-Kamen: Spice Girls meant so much to me growing up. I was born in ‘89 so my childhood was in the ‘90s and I was the biggest Spice Girl fan. They made me feel so proud of who I was growing up. Their music was so much fun and people in this day and age still know every lyric to all their songs.
Provost-Chalkley: Spice Girls were my inspiration when I was growing up! I still claim to be their biggest fan and always will. I went to see them twice in concert and I don’t think there was a single part of my wall that wasn’t covered with posters of them! If someone had told me back then that I’d be singing their songs every night for a living, I would never have believed them. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
Phelps: I was nine when they came out with Wannabe so they had a massive impact on me during my formative years. Their songs gave me huge confidence in the transition from young girl to teenager. My sister and I were both huge fans. We even wrote an on-going sitcom called “The Spice-y Girls (Adventures)”. Needless to say Jennifer hasn’t used any of that material in the show.
Athwal: Spice Girls helped give me my identity. They highlighted strength within me, that I am capable to being anything I want to be and, most importantly, I have a choice.
Viva Forever! features a reality TV show. What have been your most memorable audition moments?
John-Kamen: I have always had quite straight forward auditions in the past but I do remember that I auditioned for a film and it was an intense kissing scene. I had to kiss the air on camera… It was pretty embarrassing.
Provost-Chalkley: My most memorable audition was probably when I flew over to LA with only a few hours notice. It was my first time in America, I arrived and went straight to my audition on Hollywood Boulevard. I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous in my life but definitely a great experience!
Phelps: I’ve had my fair share of blunders and wouldn’t want to relive nor remind any casting director of them. The most memorable ones are not always the bad ones nor necessarily the ones where you’ve got the job, but when the casting director has really taken the time to help you do your best and you’ve enjoyed yourself. My audition with David Grindrod, Paul Garrington and the rest of the creative team on Viva Forever! was one of those instances. I had a blast in my first audition particularly, pretending I was performing at Wembley with an imaginary mic and imaginary backing dancers (they were very good)… yeeess, on reflection that was a bit weird of me.
Athwal: My most memorable audition has to be the audition that began this process. Everything that could go right for an audition, did. It all fell into place. I was praised for being myself (which is so important) thus getting the job that began this incredible journey.
If you could choose one musician to join your group, who would it be?
Provost-Chalkley: It would have to be one of Spice Girls. The energy that they have on stage is something really special. But if they did sing with us I’d probably be too busy staring at them and forget I was performing!
Phelps: These girls are a force to be reckoned with and wouldn’t let anyone else join them. They probably wouldn’t be able to agree on who to bring in! Diamond would definitely want Pink, Kelly Clarkson or Rita Ora to come rock with them because they represent the sort of strong modern woman she looks up to.
Athwal: Michael Jackson, because having similarities in ‘thinking outside the box’ and creative ideas we’d be able to reach new heights people didn’t know can exist.
Tell us what you want, what you really really want…
John-Kamen: I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want. It’s for anyone who is anyone to come and see the show and be wowed.
Provost-Chalkley: A zig-ah-zig ha of course! And I really want to make Judy [Cramer], Jennifer [Saunders], Paul [Garrington], Spice Girls and the whole Viva Forever! team proud. We’ve worked really hard and hopefully it’ll all pay off!
Phelps: For everyone who comes to see Viva Forever! to walk away with the biggest smiles on their faces and to sing all the way home. And to meet [DJ and presenter] Reggie Yates.
Athwal: World peace.