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INTERVIEW: Kerry Ellis spills the beans on what it is really like to be a West End leading lady

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: August 14, 2014

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SHE'S the West End girl all young aspiring musical theatre stars want to be – the glamorous leading lady with a powerful voice. Kerry Ellis has played them all, from Elphaba in Wicked to Nancy in Oliver! Here she tells Rosanna Rothery what it's really like to be a dazzling diva in the spotlight.

There are hundreds of girls who would love to be West End stars, why did it happen for you?

I don't know. I kind of pinch myself every time I get a new big show. I have gone back into Wicked at the moment and that's a bit surreal for me. I do feel very fortunate to do what I do.

Is your success down to dedication or luck?

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I am very committed to what I do: my career and my craft. I have been my entire life. I have always put myself out there and created opportunity and made the most of everything I can. I don't know what the trick is though and, if I did, everybody would be doing it.

Can you make your own luck?

I think you can create opportunity but there is an essence of right place and right time. Essentially the jobs have to be out there and you have to be available at the same time the job is available, and you have to be right for the part. There are a lot of variables that have to be in line.

However, you can work on your own voice and your own music. If people see you are out there, that can create opportunity.

Is the reality of working in the West End and Broadway all you dreamt it to be?

It is amazing. It's an incredible privilege and I love it. I feel very blessed. It is a lot of hard work, especially a show like Wicked. It's demanding vocally, physically and emotionally, and it is hard. You have to spend time away from your family. It's not a 9 to 5. There are no weekends off.

Is it a glamorous life?

There are parts of it that are very glamorous and there are parts of it that are not so glamorous. Rubbing green off my ears on my way home is not so glamorous – and the lack of sleep. It is fantastic, though, and you get to perform in front of 2,000 people a day, and they all clap you at the end of your day's work.

How do you cope with being a new mum on tour?

My baby usually comes with me. He's been a bit of a touring baby. When I do Wicked he will be at home with my in-laws, my husband or my parents.

I am fortunate to be able to do both. I know a lot of people have to choose whether to be a stay-at-home mum or go back to work.

What advice would you give to aspiring stage stars?

Take every opportunity that's given to you. I was asked a question by a fan today: "Why do you do shows at the Albert Hall and then the Pheasantry in Chelsea, which holds 30 people? Why such extremes?"

I think you should take all the opportunities you can. I learn something new from every environment I work in. Always be working on your craft, pushing yourself and picking up different talents on the way.

You've toured and made an album with Brian May and starred in the Queen musical We Will Rock You. Why do you two work together so well?

We are both very different. He comes from a complete rock background and I come from a show background. Yet essentially we have the same work ethic and we care about what we do.

What is interesting is that it is our differences that bring us together. We can do a musical song followed by a rock song and that's all OK.

The diversity is what is interesting about us.

You've done all the major musical roles. Who would you still like to play?

I'd love to do something new. It's great to be around that initial stage of putting your stamp on a role.

I think when you've done so many roles and you've made a bit of a name for yourself, you can't just take any job. The right job has to be out there and available. It does become tricky.

What made you want to step out alone and do this tour?

I did a show at the London Palladium in May and it was a bit of a one-off event. It had a big band, guests, a big choir and lots of new arrangements for songs that I have been doing through different shows. After the show people got excited and said: "Have you recorded it? Are you going to do it again?" And that's what spurred on the tour.

What can we expect on the night?

New arrangements of songs from shows I've been in and other songs. We get the audience involved and I tell stories. It's really laid back and fun.

Kerry Ellis is at the Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple on Friday, October 3, 7.45pm. Tickets: £20. Box office: 01271 324242.

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