Ellie Ann Lowe is currently starring as Dusty Springfield in the world premiere of new multi-media musical Dusty at the Charing Cross Theatre.
Most recently Ellie played Connie and understudied Annette in the UK tour of Saturday Night Fever. She previously appeared in Love Story at the Union Theatre.
Celebrating the life of one of Britain’s most influential recording artists, Chris Cowey’s production includes classic footage of Dusty performing her story as seen through the eyes of Nancy Jones, one of Dusty's childhood friends, and other key figures who accompanied her on her journey.
The show is written by Kim Weild and Duncan Sibbald with dramaturg Jack Bradley.
I recently spoke to Ellie about how she prepared to take on such a massive role, what she has learnt about Dusty’s iconic image and the joy of working on a brand new show…
There has been a lot of talk about a Dusty Springfield musical for some time, what did you think when you first heard about this production?
I just thought, ‘How exciting!’ because I love Dusty Springfield and her music – it’s absolutely fantastic. I thought it would be a great part, especially because it’s biographical. It’s brilliant because we get to see her life and find out more about her – it’s really interesting to get to know the woman behind the black eye makeup and the big beehive hair.
Since being cast, how have you been preparing? Have you been listening to her music and watching videos of her on repeat?
Oh gosh… what haven’t I done [laughs]? Literally I’ve been looking at articles, books, documentaries, listening to her music… literally everything! The producers have been really active with helping, they’ve been emailing me different articles that they’ve found and radio interviews – I’ve been really lucky to have everyone helping!
Dusty’s music was so influential and her image is still so iconic – what do you think is the secret to her success?
I think the secret to her success is that she wasn’t afraid to produce the tracks as well – she wasn’t afraid to speak up which, for that time, was a massive thing for a woman to do. A lot of people in the industry were male and didn’t appreciate that, it was quite a sexist time. I think she was brave, feisty and strong, she was just so passionate. There’s a moment in the show where she goes to New York and hears this song called ‘Tell Him’ by The Exciters and from that moment on it’s more Motown – very different to what she was doing before, more folk with her brother in The Springfields. That moment was like an epiphany, she just knew that style of music was what she wanted to do and she just went for it
Have you enjoyed transforming into her? The look is incredible – how did you feel when you saw yourself with the eye makeup and beehive for the first time?
It was crazy! In many interviews she says it was a façade and all her friends say she was like two different people, and when she put her makeup on that was almost like her alter ego. One day I was eating my lunch in my normal clothes, but had the wig on and all the eye makeup – with like bottom eyelashes on as well – and I really felt like I had this guard up, I can’t explain it! It was bizarre! I could feel this wall between the real me and this person I had become… it was freaky but has given me a really good understanding which I can use in the show. You do feel like a completely different person!
There’s a whole multi-media element to the production, can audiences expect something different?
I think the whole idea is very interesting. The 3D projection is fantastic – it really does make a difference. I just think it’s exciting that theatre is trying something different – why not give it a go?! I think it’s going to work wonderfully well, the set is brilliant. Fingers crossed everyone likes it! It’s new and it’s exciting and it’s fresh!
Ellie as Mary O'Brien and Francecsa Jackson as Nancy
How does the story come together?
We start with me playing her as a schoolgirl, Mary O'Brien – which is obviously Dusty’s real name – and we go through her teenage years, we don’t do any of the Pet Shop Boys during the eighties, we go up to ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ – Dusty in Memphis time which was the late sixties. We cover her best years; it’s a celebration of her life, not anything else.
What has everyone been like to work with?
Brilliant! The atmosphere has been great! Everyone’s really excited, we’ve had a lot to do but everybody has got on board. As I said, the producers have been so involved; it hasn’t just been ‘We’re the money people’, everyone involved has been so passionate. Chris Cowey the director obviously produced Top of the Pops for many years and his knowledge and encyclopaedia of music is just second to none. It’s been a really good experience!
And it must be so much fun to be able to create the piece from scratch – you’re not following in anybody’s footsteps!
As a fresh graduate – I only graduated in July – it has been great because I’m so eager and ready to tackle something new. To create something is really fun and it is really exciting! I hope the Dusty fans like what I have done with her, she’s such a massive icon. I’ve put loads of effort into this and I really hope people like it!
Finally, I’m sending you to a desert island and you can only take three musical theatre songs with you. Which three are you going to take and why?
Three musical theatre songs… oh wow! I do love Pippin… it holds good memories for me because I did it at GSA with Steven Dexter and I just think the opening song ‘Magic To Do’ is fantastic – I love it! What else would I take? Oh god, this is tough! I can’t think of shows anymore! I also absolutely love… I don’t know why, but I love City Of Angels so I would take ‘You're Nothing Without Me’ because I just think it’s really fun. My last one would be… ‘Who Loves You’ from Jersey Boys because – this might sound really cheesy – that was the song I listened to on my train from London to Guildford, the whole way there for my (GSA) recall. It just absolutely pumped me and got me ready for my recall… and I got in… honestly it really did help me! All three of those would just keep me going [laughs]!
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Dusty is currently booking at the Charing Cross Theatre until 22nd August 2015. Please visit www.thedustyshow.com for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit 1&4: Darren Bell
Photo Credit 2&3: Johan Persson