Gina Beck is currently preparing to star in Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris at the Charing Cross Theatre. The show opens on Saturday 18th October (previews from 16th October) and runs until Saturday 22nd November 2014. Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris is a musical revue of the greatest works by one of the most prolific Belgian singer-songwriters of all time.
Gina recently starred as Glinda in the first US national tour of Wicked, after playing the role for two years in the West End production (Apollo Victoria). No stranger to playing iconic roles, the actress has also played Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera (Her Majesty's) and Cosette in Les Misérables (Queens). She was a soloist in the 25th Anniversary of Les Misérables at the O2 Arena and appeared in the Les Misérables film directed by Tom Hooper.
Her off-West End and international theatre credits include: Letitia Hardy in The Belle's Stratagem (Southwark Playhouse), Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music (Plenary Hall, Kuala Lumpur) and Kate Hardcastle in The Kissing Dance (Jermyn Street).
On screen Gina has made appearances in Doctors, The Return of Sherlock Holmes and The Crust and has performed on The Alan Titchmarsh Show, The Royal Variety Performance and The Classical Brit Awards (ITV).
During a break from rehearsals at the Charing Cross Theatre, I recently spoke to Gina about her latest stage project, making her US stage debut in Wicked, what she missed most about being away from London and falling in love with musical theatre after listening to Miss Saigon as a child…
How much did you previously know about Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris?
Nothing! I hadn’t even heard about it! As I found out later, it was obviously quite famous off-Broadway. I think they did a production in 2006 which was really well received and that’s the version we’re doing now. It’s got new orchestrations and they put in ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ which wasn’t in the original version. It’s his most famous song so I think that’s made a good change because people come expecting to hear that. I think the guys who own the Charing Cross Theatre have always been desperate to do it and eventually they got the rights for this 2006 production. I think the rights were quite hard to get hold of, they didn’t want to do it if they had to do the 70s version.
Were you aware of the music?
Well I knew ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’, obviously the translated version – ‘If You Go Away’ – more than the French one. We found out it isn’t a good translation, actually the lyrics mean ‘don’t leave me’ rather than ‘if you go away’. It’s a different emotion!
Gina Beck and Daniel Boys in rehearsals
So when you found out more about the show and discovered some more of the music what were your first impressions?
Each song is so different! It still has a kind of Brel colour to it I guess, but when you come and watch the show I think it will be almost confusing because it starts off in one kind of mood and suddenly you’re in a different field altogether… and then there are some more ballads and his more emotional songs. There are also some really upbeat songs which kind of have a vaudeville, silent movie type feel.
How does the show come together?
It literally is just one song after the other. They all segue into the next. There are transition passages, but there’s no speaking [laughs]! It’s good! There’s no through line and each separate song has its own entity. I would advise audience members not to try and piece together some sort of through-line story – that is just going to leave you really confused [laughs]! From song to song we’re not playing the same characters. Some songs are deliberately pieced together, for example there are four songs all to do with the war.
What can people who don’t know anything about the music expect? I believe it’s “often haunting, sometimes funny, heart-wrenching and vividly poetic”!
Some of the songs I guess you would imagine to be more Piaf because there are French influences. Jacques Brel was from Belgium and lived in Paris for a long time. With a lot of the songs you can imagine Piaf singing them. Then there are songs which are kind of 70s sounding, a little bit more like they belong in Godspell [laughs]. I love the up-tempo numbers; you might expect to see them in a Singin’ in the Rain type show. It’s a fun mix; I think hopefully the audience will be on the roller coaster with us.
It must be so nice to be working on something so different! What is everyone like to work with?
It’s great! It’s something new; the show hasn’t been here for a while and it’s a new production. I’ve never been in such a small cast before! It’s just four people and we’re having a great time, getting to know the songs. It is a collaboration because there are so few of us. We can’t get lost – there’s nowhere to hide [laughs]!
And Andrew (Keates, director) has such a strong reputation for his off-West End work!
He’s really fun, is really intelligent and has super ideas. I also love our choreographer, Sam Spencer Lane. She’s such a warm, lovely person. She’s put together some of the dance-ey numbers and has got me and Daniel Boys doing a bit of flamenco which will be interesting… worth the ticket price [laughs]!
I love it! Have you worked with him before?
Well we’ve done concerts together, but have never actually worked together properly so this has been really good. We’ve kind of skirted around each other for a few years ‘on the circuit’. I’ve worked with David (Burt) before.
You’ve starred in some of the West End’s biggest shows, but have also worked in smaller off-West End venues too. How do the two compare?
I love the mix. I actually think I prefer these smaller venues; it’s great to be able to see the audience – all of them! I guess I prefer performing in a more subtle way because obviously if you’re in front of 3,000 people you can’t be naturalistic the whole time. I think personally I like being able to be more subtle. There’s always a nice little atmosphere inside a small theatre. I would love to work somewhere like the Menier or Donmar, those kind of spaces where you can hear a pin drop because people are almost right on the stage.
Gina as Glinda in Wicked's US Tour
I obviously have to talk to you about Wicked! Have you recovered?!
‘From all my years’ [laughs]. To be given the opportunity to go to America was unreal! Having to play it in an American accent really changed everything. It just changed my whole character! Well… not the whole character, but I found I couldn’t still be the same as I was in London. I had to adapt to this new version which was cool because it gave me something to focus on. It was more of a challenge when I first got there. I made such good friends; I was so lucky that there were such nice people on that tour!
What were you favourite cities?
There really were all so different because I went from the East Coast to the West Coast, like… through the middle. It was telling! It is like going to different countries, it’s weird. They all speak the same language but are quite different. I loved California, when we were over there the weather was beautiful and the audiences were great. It was really laid back. Nashville was very cool because it was the only touristy place we went to.
Home… I missed everything! It’s… really… hard… to be away from my boyfriend and to be on FaceTime all the time is just horrible. But we got through it. It’s nice to be home! They don’t have any of the right food either! They don’t have roast dinners and they don’t really do toast or tea. I had to travel with a toaster in my luggage [laughs]. The hotels only have coffee machines, so I would have to make tea in a coffee machine which is really unpleasant.
And what shows did you have to catch up with when you got back?
When I came back I saw Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Great Britain at the National which was great! What else did I see? I really wanted to see The Pajama Game but it closed the week after I got back! I managed to see Miss Saigon on a week’s holiday when I came back here and then I saw it again a couple of weeks ago and I thought it was better than when it first opened! All the performances were even better, I love that show.
Time for a horrible question…
Oh yeah?! Go for it!
Which three musical theatre songs would you take with you to a desert island?
Oh! Great! Shoot! I’m going to take the West Side Story Quintet because it’s one of my favourite pieces of music.
I think that’s what Daniel Boys took!
Really?! That’s so random! How funny, I will have to talk to him about that. I used to listen to it when I was a child, my mum had the tape of Kiri Te Kanawa singing it. I think that’s when I first realised ‘musical theatre – oh, this is good’ [laughs]! What other songs? My mind has gone blank and I can’t think of a single song. I do like ‘Moving Too Fast’ from The Last Five Years. That’s a really fun one to sing – like in the bath! Then I guess I need something more hauntingly sad… I love ‘Loving You’ from Passion. I saw that production twice at the Donmar and Elena Rogers was just… the way she sings that song! The intensity! I like to sing that song, I once learnt it for an audition but don’t think I ended up singing it.
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until Saturday 22nd November 2014. Click here to book tickers. (OFFER: Top price seats reduced to £15.50.)
Photo Credit 1-3: Scott Rylander
Photo Credit 4-5: Joan Marcus
Photo Credit 4-5: Joan Marcus