Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Interview: Ashley Day, starring as Curly in Oklahoma!

Ashley as Curly
Today (25th Feb) is West End Frame’s third birthday and we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to catch up with our 2013 Understudy of the Year winner, Ashley Day!

Ashley is currently starring as Curly in Rachel Kavanaugh’s brand new touring production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!.

In June 2013 West End Frame readers voted Ashley Understudy of the Year for understudying the role of Elder Price in the West End premiere of The Book of Mormon (Prince of Wales). His West End credits also include: understudy Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz (Palladium), Evita directed by Michael Grandage (Adelphi), Mary Poppins directed by Richard Eyre (Prince Edward) and Oliver! (Palladium). 

Ashley’s other theatre work includes: Troy Bolton in High School Musical (UK Tour), Robert Martin in The Drowsy Chaperone (Upstairs at the Gatehouse), The World Goes Round (Castle, Wellingborough), Irving Stone in Babes in Arms (Chichester Festival Theatre), Dream Gabey in On the Town directed by Jude Kelly (English National Opera), Liquorice Man in Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker (Sadler’s Wells), Dream Curly in Oklahoma! (Cardiff & Peacock, London) and Creation (Edinburgh Festival).

I recently spoke to Ashley about why he jumped at the chance to play Curly, being pushed to the limits by Drew McOnie’s choreography and life on the road PLUS he took on WEF’s brand new killer stagey question…

What were your first thoughts when the chance to play Curly came up?
Well my first thought was the score because it is something I haven’t done for a very long time – something legit, big and ‘baritonial’ [laughs] which made me very excited. There’s something about it which is almost very modern, everything just makes sense.

It is such a hugely important, iconic show!
How he wrote it was just genius, the show is ahead of its time. It’s got so many amazing threads to it, the arcs of the whole show are huge; there are obviously some very dark issues as well as some nicer parts to the story. It’s not like your normal musical, it changed everything in musical theatre. Before Oklahoma! there were people who sang and people who danced – but this was one of the first big shows where everyone did everything, even though I think Agnes de Mille (choreographer of the original Broadway production) had some separate dancers for the ballet. But as a whole show I think it was the first time that a huge story led a musical and it definitely feels like that. It feels like a play with music because the scenes are so big and so epic. So the music got me excited and then reading the scenes got me even more excited because it’s so demanding – they aren’t easy.

Were rehearsals gruelling?
It was amazing to see the whole story when we put everything together. The process has been one of my favourites that I’ve ever experienced and probably the most difficult as well. I was doubling up for four weeks with Mormon; I was playing Price at night and then coming here the next morning and singing baritone and then back to screaming B-flats [laughs] in the evening. The demand on my shoulders was pretty big but I have absolutely loved it. Rachel (Kavanaugh, director) is the biggest joy to work with. She is so positive, you hear her laugh and everything feels fine. Drew (McOnie, choreographer) has been pushing us to crazy extremes! When I saw some parts for the first time my mouth was wide open – it’s genius! The boys are so strong – they’re like a group of lads. Everyone’s got beards, everyone’s muscly and their dancing is… I’ve never seen a group of lads dance on stage like this before! It’s amazing. 

When you were in rehearsals my twitter timeline was invaded by people talking about this dream ballet sequence. Tell me more!
[laughs] It is so demanding for everyone in so many different ways. My stamina is getting better, but I come off so exhausted. I’ve known Drew for a long time, but I’ve never worked with him. What he has done with this ballet… people have been left in tears… which is a good sign.

Ashley & Charlotte Wakefield
What has Drew been like to work with?
Well I haven’t danced properly like this since my first job when I was seventeen. He knew I could do it but, if I’m honest, I had completely forgotten that I could. He has been pushing me and making me work my arse off. 

And did you click with Charlotte (Wakefield, who plays Laurey) straight away?
She’s amazing! Our rapport just gets stronger and stronger every day, we are best of pals now! We’re working together, texting when we’re not at work, sorting out digs together… we get on really, really well which helps a lot. Working with her is joyful, she’s a gorgeous actress and it’s easy to fall in love with her [laughs].

What do you think people who already know the show will make of this production? Will they be able to take something different away with them?
I think it feels like a brand new production because Drew and Rachel have gone back to every single lyric and made sure we are finding the root of every single line, lyric and impulse. It’s going to feel very, very fresh. I have seen the DVD of the National’s version a long time ago. We know how hard these people were working and what the climate was like when it was set, just at the turn of the last century. I don’t just come on singing ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'; I know I’ve just been with the cows for hours and hours and I know I’ve been on my horse for hours and hours, so I know that I’m going to be exhausted. All those details help to change moments that could have just been a ‘nice’ version of Oklahoma!. This isn’t a nice version, this is a brilliant version of Oklahoma!.

How are you feeling about going back on the road?
It has been seven years and I’m looking forward to it. As long as I have the essential things that I need with me – like my own pillow – I will be fine. I’m looking forward to seeing cities again and visiting new ones and doing nice things with everyone. 

You left The Book of Mormon a few weeks ago after two years in the show, how did it feel to leave?
I mean I had such an amazing two years in that show and I learnt a lot and I got a lot out of it, but I’m an actor and I need to keep moving and keep my brain fresh. To leave the seven boys in the dressing room who I saw every single day was sad, but things have got to change!

You’ve answered our desert island question before, so because it’s WEF’s birthday and you’re a WEF Award winner would you like to be the first person to answer our new killer stagey question?!
Ooo! Yes, I’m ready!

Ok, so you’re hosting a dinner party and you can invite three theatrical legends, dead or alive. Who would you invite and why?
Ok… umm… I’m really thinking about this [long pause]. George Gershwin because obviously I love musical theatre and I also love jazz music and some of the music that he wrote is my favourite of all-time. I actually don’t know much about him [laughs], so it might be quite nice to find out more about him. My other one would be… Bob Fosse because I saw Chicago when I was a kid far too many times and the All That Jazz film is just genius and Cabaret is one of my all-time favourite films. My third would be… Elaine Stritch because I feel like I would have such a lovely time getting drunk with her, she still makes me howl with laughter when I listen to her recordings. 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Oklahoma! tours the UK & Ireland until August 2015. Please visit for further info, full tour dates and tickets.

Photo Credit: Pamela Raith

1 comment:

  1. Just got home from seeing Ashley Day in Oklahoma! in Dartford. He was quite, quite brilliant and the finest Curly I have ever seen.

    He cemented the show - which was nothing less than perfect in every way - and we were crying with joy at the end.

    My father saw the original Oklahoma! open at Drury Lane in the 1940s. He too would have been shouting "encore!"