Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Interview: Anna-Jane Casey, star of Forbidden Broadway

Anna-Jane Casey is currently starring in Forbidden Broadway which has transferred to the West End’s Vaudeville Theatre following a sell-out run at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Forbidden Broadway is a comical musical sketch show which takes the mick of current West End shows as well as legendary West End and Broadway stars. Anna-Jane previously starred in the show’s 2009 run at the Chocolate Factory.

This updated version of the show feature special ‘tributes’ to the likes of The Book of Mormon, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Once, Matilda, Wicked and Miss Saigon as well as Idina Menzel, Robert Lindsay, Kristen Chenoweth and Elaine Paige. 

Anna-Jane recently finished starring as Mrs Wilkinson in Billy Elliot (Victoria Palace). Her other recent roles include The Lady of the Lake in Spamalot (Playhouse) and Jenny in Company (Sheffield Crucible). Just a few of Anna-Jane’s countless West End credits include: Cats, Children of Eden, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Out of the Blue, Grease, Starlight Express, West Side Story, Chicago, My One and Only and On Your Toes. 

Anna-Jane famously played the title role in Sweet Charity (Sheffield Crucible) whilst her other off-West End and regional credits include: Piaf (Sheffield Crucible), Sunday in the Park with George (Menier Chocolate Factory), Hobson’s Choice, Mack and Mabel and Radio Times (all Watermill in Newbury), Aladdin (Hackney Empire), Comedy of Errors (Regent’s Park), Bells Are Ringing (Union) and Guys and Dolls (Cadogan Hall).

I recently caught up with Anna-Jane to discuss why working with Christina Bianco makes her feel like Elle Macpherson, who taught her to swear in Czech, turning into an old stagey cow and why she’s having a fun but exhausting time in Forbidden Broadway…

You starred in Forbidden Broadway last time around so did you need any persuading to come back and do it at the Chocolate Factory again?
Well I was working at Billy Elliot and my agent said to me, “I think they’re going to do Forbidden Broadway again” and I just said, “Oh my god please let me be able to do that again!” Sophie Louise Dann and I had done the show five years previously and we were both just thrilled to be able to do it again because it is such a laugh! It is knackering, but hilarious! There’s nothing better than having people point and laugh at you and getting paid for it… well it’s better than falling over in the street and having people pointing and laughing at you [laughs].

What can we expect from this new West End run? I believe you’ve made a few changes…
We have, there are only four of us in the show and we all have our brains to full capacity but then they go, “please can you learn another three numbers?” What happens with Forbidden Broadway is that because it is so topical we have to take a look at what is going on in Broadway or in the West End. Of course there are new shows coming in – we have Cats at the end of the year and Evita coming in and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has opened so we have new numbers for all of them. When The Pajama Game closed that had to go. Every couple of weeks the writer and director throw in a new number, you get the music on the Monday and then on the Wednesday it’s in!

Oh my goodness!
I know - it’s terrifying! There are a lot of soiled trousers backstage because we are all like, ‘What the hell are we doing?!’ but hopefully that tension onstage comes across for the audience. 

Sadly Sophie couldn’t do the transfer but the amazing Christina Bianco has joined the cast. What is she like to work with?
Do you know what? She is such a fantastic girl, she’s lovely! Christina has done the show on Broadway so knows how manic it is. If we got someone new from straight musical theatre in I think they would have had a heart attack and dropped dead… but Christina knows what she is doing and her impressions are phenomenal. She plays to her skills in those departments but she’s not just an impressionist, she’s a performer too so knows what she’s doing in the group numbers. It’s a really lovely dynamic. And… for the first time… I’m not the short one! Christina is teeny-tiny, she’s like Kylie Minogue tiny so I feel like Elle Macpherson on that stage [laughs]! 

What goes on backstage? It must be crazy?!
We have the most amazing woman backstage who is our wardrobe mistress and dresser, her name is Corrie Darling. She sets our costumes up in a big pile, starting with the costumes we use at the end of the show at the bottom. Everything is piled up onto a chair and we literally run off stage, throw off whatever we’re wearing and put the next thing on. While we’re onstage shouting and screaming and trying to be funny she’s tidying everything away ready for the next change. I said to my husband this morning, “Why am I so knackered? I mean I know I’m old now…” and he said, “because for two hours you don’t stop”. Usually in a show you perform, you go off, you might sit down and play a game of cards with the dressers or have a chat with the crew… but in Forbidden Broadway you don’t because you run off and literally change wigs, change clothes, change lipstick and run back on again. It’s bonkers! It is like doing a marathon for two hours – it’s crazy. 

Plus it is a huge sing! You are belting out song after song!
By Sunday we are all dead! My children are like, “Mummy sing us a song, read me a story” and I just have to whisper, “I can’t, piss off!” I can’t speak and am having to write things on pieces of paper like some real old stagey cow because (posh voice) ‘I’m on vocal rest’ [laughs]. It is very satisfying and that is one thing we’ve always prided on the London production of Forbidden Broadway – we want it to sound brilliant. You can be as funny as your want and your pants can fall off and your wig can be wonky, but if you’re also sounding brilliant then we’re satisfying every department of what we can do.

What’s your favourite part of the show?
Once! It makes me pee my pants every night! I’ve never even seen the show but I’ve got a lot of friends who have seen it and one who is in it now and we just completely take the mick out of it. It makes me laugh my head off! I have to do a lovely Czechoslovakian accent and coincidentally I have a Czechoslovakian au pair at the moment who has taught me the dirtiest Czech phrases! So I’m actually saying swear words in Czech which she finds hilarious!

How much creative input do you have?
Phillip George, who has directed the show since 1987, is a really funny guy and knows what’s funny. He always says, “If you have some ideas throw it all in.” We’ve all individually done cabarets or our own little shows and gigs so know what it feels like to stand up there on your own. We have a lot of creative input! 

My personal favourite is ‘The show with no imagination’!
[laughs] It’s brilliant!

I honestly think Forbidden Broadway is more accurate than most critics! 
[laughs] That’s the great thing about Gerard (Alessandrini) the writer, he goes to see every show that’s ever on and then he sits there and thinks, ‘what is the basic comedy level of this?’ Like, for example, in Miss Saigon the boys sing really loud and then in our show one of the lines is ‘The songs are louder than hell’. It’s so true!

Finally, I have to ask you our desert island question. Which three musical theatre songs would you take with you to a desert island?
Right… I’m going to take ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ (from Funny Girl) because it’s just a classic, ‘One Hand, One Heart’ because I met my husband on West Side Story and then, because it makes me laugh every time, ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ from The Book of Mormon! It’s filth! I’ve got your classic, a sad one and some comedy. That’s what I need! 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Forbidden Broadway runs at the Vaudeville Theatre until Saturday 22nd November 2014. Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Alastair Muir

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