Having met when they trained in the same year at Laine Theatre Arts, Kerry Ellis and Louise Dearman both went on to become two of the biggest stars of the West End.
Surprisingly the pair have never worked together professionally, but all that is set to change because on Sunday 27th September they will unite onstage for a one-night-only concert at the West End’s Prince Edward Theatre (home of Miss Saigon).
Both Kerry and Louise are known and loved for starring in Wicked. Louise is the first and only actress to have played both Glinda and Elphaba whilst Kerry was the original British actress to play Elphaba in the West End and Broadway productions of the musical.
Louise recently starred in the UK tour of The Songbook of Judy Garland alongside Garland’s daughter, Lorna Luft. Her first book ‘Secrets of Stage Success’ was published last month with co-author and fellow West End star Mark Evans. She can next be seen onstage in Of Thee I Sing at the Royal Festival Hall on 30th July 2015.
Louise’s theatre credits also include: Lois Lane/Bianca in Kiss Me, Kate (Royal Albert Hall), Water Babies (Leicester Curve), Tell Me On A Sunday (RCCL International), Eva Peron in Evita (UK Tour), Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls (UK Tour), Hotbox Girl/cover Sarah Brown & Adelaide in Guys and Dolls (Piccadilly), Lucy in Jekyll and Hyde (UK Tour), Jan in Grease (Victoria Palace/UK Tour), Kiss Me, Kate (Victoria Palace), Whistle Down The Wind (Churchill), Narrator in Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (UK Tour) and Grizabella in Cats (Cyprus).
Kerry recently starred as Grizabella in the West End revival of Cats at the London Palladium. She is currently back in the studio working on a new album with Queen’s Brian May who she has recorded and toured with extensively throughout her career. Kerry can next be seen onstage as Helene in Sweet Charity at Cadogan Hall between 19th and 22nd August 2015.
Kerry’s theatre credits also include: Meat in We Will Rock You (Dominion), Nancy in Oliver (Drury Lane), Fantine in Les Miserables (Queen’s), Ellen in Miss Saigon (UK Tour), Beth in War of the Worlds (World Arena Tour), Svetlana Sergievsky in Chess (Royal Albert Hall), Mimi in RENT (Concert Tour), West End Men (Vaudeville), Tell Me on a Sunday (RCCL) and understudy Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (National/Drury Lane).
Yesterday I dropped into the Prince Edward Theatre and spoke to Kerry and Louise about how their friendship began, what shows they did together at drama school and why people can expect to be surprised by their concert. We also discussed Louise’s new book, Kerry’s new album, how they manage their hectic lives and all things stagey dinner parties…
I want to start by going right back to the beginning, I believe you met just before you started drama school? Do you remember first meeting? What were your first impressions of each other?
Louise Dearman: They were dreadful [laughs].
Kerry Ellis: So we met just before college, we did some workshops that Laine put on for people who wanted to go to the college – they were like little taster weeks. I think we did two; we obviously met on the first one and then on the second one we got to know each other a little bit more – it was a gradual friendship. Then when we went to college we became friends and worked together a lot. People have this conception that musical theatre is full of rivalry…
|Louise & Kerry at their press launch|
LD: …and competiveness.
KE: …but actually, we had a very special year group of friends and a special year of talent. There’s a lot of people from our year group who are out there doing brilliantly well and we’re all really supportive of each other. So for us to do a concert twenty years on is a real joy. We’re both the biggest fans of each other, so it’s just going to be really fun.
Did you used to sing together a lot? You’ve said you know each other’s voices extremely well.
LD: Yes – we were always put together. We’d be put together doing big duets in the summer shows. It was always the Kerry and Louise show as far as singing went [laughs]. We’ll probably be recreating some of those moments in our show.
What musicals did you do together?
KE: Yes Evita! And Little Shop of Horrors. It was either one or the other of us, I think the only one we both did was Evita.
Who did you both play?
LD: You were Eva.
KE: Didn’t we both do it?
LD: No… I didn’t get that role… [laughs]
KE: I thought it was both of us! Maybe not!
LD: I did Little Shop of Horrors. Didn’t we do Calamity Jane? Do you remember that?
KE: No… I don’t remember that [cackles]. We did Merrily We Roll Along.
LD: Yes! You were Mary and I was Beth. There were quite a few that we did in college! Of course you always want the role, but we both always said “well done”.
KE: Exactly, even way back then when we didn’t have much experience and were new to the business we were still really supportive of each other. It was nice to have a mate and to be happy for them and not just be like ‘oh I wish it was me’ – it was never like that and even more so now. When I hear Lou’s got a new job and she calls me I always say “that’s brilliant”, it’s nice to have that support.
After drama school people go their separate ways, have you always stayed in touch?
LD: We’ve got that kind of friendship where we won’t see each other for months on end and when we get back together it’s as if we saw each other yesterday. Of course we’re both really busy pretty much all the time, we’re lucky like that, but we’re always in touch and this has been something we’ve been on about for years and years and years. We’ve always said “we have to do something together” and then eventually we were like “we really should do something together” and now it’s finally got to this point where we’ve finally got off our backsides and are doing it!
And then the other thing you have in common is Wicked…
KE: Is it?! I didn’t know that [laughs].
Louise & Kerry as Elphaba in Wicked
I guess nobody truly knows what it’s like to play those roles unless you’ve done it. Is it nice to have a friend who understands exactly what you went through every night?
KE: We’re gutted that we never got the chance to do it together. We both had brilliant experiences with Wicked and it has brought us both so much, but I remember Louise calling me and saying “I’ve just got Glinda!” and I was like “Ahh I’m leaving!” or actually I think I had just left. We were gutted because it would have been the perfect show because we knew each other. Wicked shows them going through college and then getting older and the development of their relationship, and we’d already been through that and had that step up. It would have been so brilliant to have done it together!
LD: With those roles it’s massively important to have that friendship offstage as well as on because otherwise it just doesn’t transfer very well. Kerry was one of the first people I text to say ‘You’re not going to believe this…’ Gutted!
But now is your chance to sing some of those songs together!
How is the concert coming together? Is it starting to take shape or are there still millions of ideas flying around?
LD: There are almost too many ideas floating around at the moment so we’re trying to whittle it all down – otherwise we will all be in the Prince Edward Theatre for about four and a half hours [Kerry cackles] having a lovely old time!
KE: It won’t be ‘An Evening With…’ it will be ‘A Marathon With…’ [both laugh] There are a lot of songs being mentioned at the moment. Also we’re open to what people want to hear from us, if anyone on Twitter has anything they’re desperate for us to sing then send us your ideas because we really are open! Yes there will be stuff that people will expect from us, but we want to make it a unique evening and something special. We want to put new stuff in and stuff people do and don’t expect to make it a really exciting show. It’s not just coming and seeing Kerry and Louise for a night, it’s an experience and a show which hopefully people will go away from saying “wow”.
Craig Adams is your MD, are you creating new arrangements? Performing a few songs people know in different ways?
LD: Yeah, that’s the idea. We don’t want it to be the obvious. It’s a huge collaboration! We’re not both just bringing our individual set lists together and Kerry doing act one and I do act two – it’s not like that. It’s a real mash-up of all different styles and genres. There will also be funny stories and things that mean something to us. At the moment we have about fifty songs on the list.
KE: We’ll be sharing the evening, sharing the stage and sharing the show…
LD: …and sharing the pressure!
KE: Exactly, that’s what makes it so unique and exciting for us! We’ve both done our own solo stuff, so to now come together and share the experience with a friend is so exciting!
Do you think it’s scarier to walk out on a West End stage as a leading lady in a show or as yourselves in a concert?
LD: In a way this is scarier because you have nothing to hide behind, but once we get into the flow of it and have sung the first couple of numbers and started chatting it will be nice to just be able to be ourselves. There’ll be banter and things we want to talk about which certainly won’t be scripted… [both laugh] that wouldn’t be like us! [jokingly] We’re spontaneous… and fresh!
KE: You see, we could just chat for two hours!
LD: That’s the danger – I need to be told when to shut up [both laugh].
So both of you are ridiculously busy at the moment! Louise, how does it feel to be a published author?!
LD: I’m an author!
KE: I’ve got my copy right here actually!
LD: She was reading it when I came in – that’s not the reason I gave it to her [laughs]. It feels amazing! It’s another little thing I’ve always wanted to do. I have lots more up my sleeve to do with writing, but very different sorts of things. I was so excited when I held it in my hands for the first time and we’ve had lovely, lovely feedback. It’s been the highlight of my year so far!
Kerry & Louise at the press launch of their concert
And Kerry, you’re back in the studio with Brian (May) working on Anthems II. Will it be a similar sound to Anthems I or are you going in a slightly different direction? A lot has happened since you made that first album!
KE: Anthems I was obviously very big and orchestral, and then after that we did the acoustic live album which was completely different. I think the aim of this is a combination of the two. We’ve obviously toured a lot over the last three/four years and have gained a lot of experience about each other along the way. So this is going to be a combination of everything we’ve done, plus where we’ve moved onto now. When we recorded Anthems I we hadn’t even toured together! As a duo we’ve moved on so much so this is going to be really exciting. It’s funny because the first album took us so long to do and discover where we were at, whereas this time it’s happening quite quickly because we’ve worked together so much more.
You both have a couple of theatre projects coming up. Louise, you’re working alongside the most incredible cast on Of Thee I Sing at the Royal Festival Hall!
LD: I’m so excited! I text Hannah Waddingham yesterday going ‘I can’t believe we start next week!’ We’ve got about ten days rehearsal and the show is on the 30th of this month. It’s Gershwin – I’m going to get my soprano again! I’ve done Friday Night Is Music Night with Hadley (Fraser) and only concerts with Hannah so it’s going to be really good.
Kerry, how are you feeling about putting your dance shoes back on for Sweet Charity next month?
KE: [laughs] Yeah I mean it is essentially a concert version; however, there is a lot of dialogue in the show. What’s nice is the three of us have danced previously so I’m sure there will be a bit of movement in there. For me and Kimberley (Walsh) it’s not too heavy, I think Denise (Van Outen) will have most the weight of the show. I’m looking forward to it, it’s going to be fun! And it’s nice to just come in and do a little bit.
LD: [jokingly] A simple sway and a kick-ball-change, she’s still got it!
KE: And a box step!
LD: Hello - I’ve just been full on tap dancing in Judy Garland!
Both of you always have a lot of different things going on, does it ever get overwhelming?
LD: I’ve got better at it – I used to get really stressed. Kerry is the most laid back person you’ll ever meet in your life, she never gets stressed. I will get overwhelmed by it all, for example this last week I’ve finished the Judy Garland show and I’ve sat down and have got loads of Bernstein stuff to learn for a concert with John Wilson, I’ve got Of Thee I Sing, Cole Porter music… I sat there and was freaking out looking at it, but then I just went ‘one thing at a time Dearman! Let’s just do these songs today and then tomorrow you can focus on something else’. You have to remember and look back at all the things we’ve done at short notice or with not many rehearsals and we always get through it. I must say, I’m quite a good cram-learner!
KE: I think you learn to prioritise. Exactly like Lou was saying, you learn to take one thing at a time. Whatever’s coming up next will usually consume my time, and then however long I’ve got between that and the next thing I’ll use that time to work on the next thing. If I try and learn two things at once it’s no good.
Do you want a stagey question?
Ok, so you’re hosting a dinner party and you can invite three theatrical legends, dead or alive. Who would you invite and why?
LD: I would definitely invite Judy Garland! Ever since doing the tour I just think ‘What a woman to meet!’ Marilyn Monroe because I’m intrigued by her, when you look at footage of her and watch her in movies I just feel intrigued and I bet she would be fascinating to watch. This might be wrong, but I heard a story that Lorna Luft had told somebody about one day she woke up to Marilyn sat at the end of her bed – she thought it was an angel! Who else would I invite? I seem to be choosing all people who aren’t with us anymore! Dawn French – she would be a right laugh!
KE: God, you’ve got some good ones there! Erm, along a similar theme I would have to invite Ms Minnelli. Liza is such an icon of mine; I would sit and listen to her when I was growing up. She would have good stories and could talk about her mum so I get two for the price of one! I would probably invite Elvis, I’ve spoken about him a lot actually. Just because of his superstardom, things went nuts for him but he was so brilliant. To find out who the real Elvis was would be really interesting. Then I need someone funny, I would probably invite Lou actually because she’s really funny. The reason we’re still mates is because she makes me laugh all the time. Whenever we hook up I’m always laughing the whole time.
LD: At me!
KE: Yes at you, it’s dreadful really [both laugh]. No, we have a laugh… even though she doesn’t want me at her dinner party [cackles]!!
LD: I do! I was just about to say what you’ve done there is made me look really bad!
KE: You’re my Dawn French!
LD: You would be serving the drinks to Judy Garland at my dinner party! You’d be like my gorgeous…
KE: ...I’d be your help?! [both cackle]
LD: Have I made it worse? I’ve made it worse!
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Kerry and Louise star in concert together at the Prince Edward Theatre on Sunday 27th September 2015. Please visit www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk for tickets.
Visit www.kerryellis.com and www.louisedearman.com for more information about Kerry and Louise's other projects.
Photo Credit 1: Darren Bell
Photo Credit 2,7 & 8: ContactMusic
Photo Credit: 3 & 4: Matthew Crockett
Photo Credit 10: Alessandro Pinna