Such is the pulling power of the tiny London Bridge theatre the Menier Chocolate Factory that members of London’s acting fraternity are clamouring to work there and others will cross the Atlantic to be a part of its productions.
So said Tiffany Graves and Paul J Medford, two of the cast of Sweet Charity, the latest hit musical to come out of the fringe venue and transfer to a bigger stage in the West End.
“When I discovered that [director] Matthew White and [choreographer] Stephen Mear were going to be the creative team behind it, I actually wrote to them both and said please, please, please can I be part of the production, because I desperately want to be part of it,” said Graves, speaking after Sweet Charity’s opening night at the Theatre Royal Haymarket last night. “You do kind of get an inkling when something’s going to be big, and I’m just so pleased that I am part of it.”
American-based British actor Medford added: “I came all the way back from America for this show. I don’t live here any more. They called me and said ‘do you want to do Sweet Charity?’ and I said ‘yeah’. It’s only Sweet Charity, Cabaret and Hair that are the good shows that I would want to do anyway. I’ve done the other two, so this is, for me, the cream.”
The pair’s decisions paid off; after a well-received run at the Menier over the Christmas period Sweet Charity has transferred to the West End for a nine month run, with the majority of its original cast coming with the production.
The story of a 1960s dance-hall hostess’s attempts to get a better life for herself, Sweet Charity stars Tamzin Outhwaite as the unlucky-in-love lady who is still hoping Mr Right will provide her way out. It is a plum role – and first West End lead – for the former EastEnders and Hotel Babylon actress who started her career in musical theatre. “It’s lovely to come back 12 years later but having done lots of acting work so you can approach a script like that from an acting point of view rather than as a singer or dancer,” Outhwaite told Official London Theatre.
Though she appeared in comedy Boeing Boeing in the West End in 2007, Outhwaite’s recent career has been dominated by television, including The Fixer and Paradox, and she is enjoying getting back to the stage. “It’s a lovely feeling, being able to, every single night, do something different with it. And your emotional journey as a character on stage is just complete, rather than being on set and someone says ‘cut’ and then you go back and do two episodes before, you know, it’s all out of context and out of order. So I love that about theatre.”
Outhwaite’s co-stars Mark Umbers and Josefina Gabrielle have not one but several characters to get their teeth into during the show, with Umbers depicting all of Charity’s love interests and Gabrielle swapping between well-worn dance-hall hostess Nickie and glamorous Italian actress Ursula. It is an art that Gabrielle is well used to, having previously played multiple roles in hit comedy The 39 Steps. “Initially you go about it organically, what feels right, and then four months down the line you’re going ‘why am I so tired?’ Because you’re changing accents. The 39 Steps was the same. But it’s fun, it’s fun to play lots of different parts, I love it,” she said.
As Nickie, Gabrielle has created an on-stage double act with Graves, who plays fellow dancer Helene. Having previously worked together in the musical Chicago, it is a well-honed partnership. “Tiffany is just an inspiration, she’s just fabulous,” said Gabrielle. “There’s just an unwritten language, a telepathy that we have that’s just great. I couldn’t ask for a more wonderful partner.”
It is a good foundation for the months ahead, which will see the cast performing choreographer Mear’s limelight-grabbing dances eight shows a week to January 2011 and possibly beyond. “Anyone will tell you who has done a West End show or any show, musical-wise, eight shows takes it out of you,” said Medford. “But when you’ve got great songs, good choreography – Stephen Mear’s done an amazing job – it just makes it easy to do it at the end of every day.”
Graves agreed: “We are in a dream show. It’s so great to have something that the script is good, the music is fantastic and all the lyrics are superb, so roll on the next nine months!”