Friday, 11 September 2015

Big Interview: Cassie Compton, starring in See What I Wanna See

Cassie Compton is currently starring as Kesa/The Wife/An Actress in the London premiere of See What I Wanna See by Michael John LaChiusa which officially opens at the Jermyn Street Theatre tonight (11th September 2015). 

She follows in the footsteps of Audra McDonald and Idina Menzel who starred in the first two off-Broadway productions. Adam Lenson’s production also stars Jonathan Butterell who choreographed the original off-Broadway productions as well as Marc Elliott, Mark Goldthorp and Sarah Ingram. 

Cassie recently starred opposite Matt Smith as Jean in American Psycho at the Almeida Theatre. She is best known for starring as Nessarose in Wicked (Apollo Victoria) and Eponine in Les Miserables (Queen's).

Her theatre credits also include: Elizabeth in Dirty Dancing (Aldwych), Jemma/Molly in Molly Wobbly (Leicester Square), Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden (Aldwych), Jo March in Little Women (National Tour), Ramona in Whistle Down The Wind (Aldwych), Carmen in Carnival Of The Animals (Riverside Studios), Kate in Spinach (King's Head), Mary Gray in Monkee Business (Manchester Opera House), Rose in The Little Prince (Belfast Lyric) and Lena in Diamond (King's Head).

Cassie entered the first ever series of The X Factor in 2004 and became the youngest contestant to reach the live finals. She has played roles on screen in Mr Selfridge, Call The Midwife, Casualty, Murder Rooms and Love In A Cold Climate.

I recently spoke to Cassie about following in the footsteps of two Broadway icons, See What I Wanna See’s epic score plus how it feels to look back at her experiences in some of the West End’s biggest shows…

Was See What I Wanna See already on your radar before this production popped up?
Not at all! I hadn’t heard any of the score and I didn’t have a clue what it was about! When I was approached I did a bit of research, had a listen and immediately thought ‘This is going to be a challenge… and I have no idea how I am going to approach this!’ That’s why I thought it would be a really good thing to do – I like to make life harder for myself [laughs]. If you’re not pushing yourself then what’s the point?! 

And you’re casually following in the footsteps of Ms Idina Menzel!
[laughs] I know! Idina didn’t actually do it originally; it was Audra McDonald who is a soprano and sang it, from what I’ve been told, very differently to Idina who did her own thing with it… which was incredible. She’s obviously got such a massive following so I went, ‘Oh gosh’. I did think about it before I took this on. Jonathan (Butterell) who was involved in both the first two productions (and is starring in the London run) stressed to me that they were both so different and the piece has so much to it that I’m hoping I will be accepted for doing my own thing. I’m so different to both of them!

It’s nice to be able to put your own stamp on something!
Exactly, it is such an in-depth, interesting and intelligent piece – there isn’t just one way of looking at it. Act one is a murder and three living people’s perspectives, and then there’s one perspective from a dead person. Of course I listened to the soundtrack and there are some things that Idina does which are brilliant and I went, ‘If I can get that in then I definitely will!’

What can audiences expect? How are people going to come away feeling?
I need to be careful because act one and two are incredibly different in style and storyline. It’s all connected, but they are two different stories. I hope it will make people think, it’s an interesting piece to watch because it gets your brain working. I think everyone will be able to take something from it and have their own ideas, particularly in the first half… there isn’t necessarily a set answer. I don’t want to give too much away!

The score features some really different influences, how would you describe it?
Well first and foremost incredibly difficult to learn [laughs]! It’s really intricate and a big challenge. The joy of it is going from a jazzy Chicago-esque number to some contemporary stuff. There’s also a fairly traditional quartet – there are so many different styles! Nobody is going to get bored! I love the score, it’s so varied. You don’t feel as if you are listening to the same thing over and over again, although there are some clever musical links. 

What is it like working alongside Jonathan and the rest of the cast? The whole team are amazing!
They’re incredible! I actually knew Marc Elliott, Mark Goldthorp and Sarah Ingram before which is great because when you take on a piece like this it’s nice to feel like you’re working in a safe environment where you’re not going to be laughed at if you ask a stupid question. They’re incredible and I’ve seen them in so many shows. And then Jonathan is brilliant! It’s great that he’s taken this on because it’s a whole new version of what he’s worked on before. From his point of view he’s on the other side of it now. 

Cassie in Les Mis
It’s genius casting – I couldn’t believe it!
I know right?! When I got the cast list I was like, ‘No..? Jonathan Butterell is doing it..?! Oh my god this is amazing!’ He’s wonderful and so, so lovely. 

You’ve played some huge West End houses as well as some smaller theatres. How are you feeling about taking to the stage at the Jermyn Street?
Ahh [laughs]! When I was quite young and starting out I did two shows at the King’s Head and realised you have to be on your game. You can tell a story in such fine detail when an audience is that close because they can get everything. I don’t mind it, but when friends and family are in you always spot them straight away… and hope they keep a neutral face throughout [laughs]. I’ve never worked at the Jermyn Street before, but have seen a couple of shows here. It’s a lovely space! They do some really classy work.

Talking of big West End shows, you’ve played some of those roles like Eponine and Nessarose that so many girls at drama school dream of playing. What is it like to look back at your time in those big shows?
Whenever someone asks, “You were in Les Mis, weren’t you?” I say, “Oh gosh, yes I was, wasn’t I?!” I mean, I’m so incredibly lucky and so incredibly grateful! Being part of great huge productions like that teaches you so much. You learn so much about discipline and working within a large company. To be honest with you Andrew, I just feel really, really lucky! Sometimes, honestly, I forget it actually happened [laughs]!

Cassie in Wicked
Right, I’m sending you to a desert island and you can take three musical theatre songs with you. What are you going to take and why?
Ok… I am going to take… this is really hard! ‘What About Love’ from The Color Purple because it’s stunning. What else? I’m trying to think of an up-tempo number. Something I would probably sing along to is ‘Someone Else’s Story’ from Chess. I love it! And finally, I’m going to pick a song called ‘No More’ from See What I Wanna See! It’s one of my favourites [laughs].

And finally, what’s it like to have so much dedicated support behind you from theatre fans?
Do you know what? For me it all stems back to – now this is stagey [laughs] – when I was doing the X Factor tour. After one of the shows a lady brought her very ill daughter who was in a wheelchair and didn’t have very long. She had watched me on the show, and wasn’t far off my age at the time. She really wanted to meet me and, when she did, her mum said it was an absolute highlight. That’s something I’ve taken with me. I recently lost someone very close to me and a couple of weeks ago I sang at their funeral. I know this sounds incredibly stagey, but it’s a really nice gift. It’s really lovely that people come and watch you and can escape and enjoy what you do. I mean, I feel the same when I go to watch people who I have followed for years and then end up meeting or working with them! For example, I first saw Joanna Ampil in Miss Saigon and used to sing along to her… and then she was Fantine when I was Eponine in Les Mis! There are women a similar age to me who come back and see me in shows who have grown up with me. Afterwards we’ll have a chat, it’s really special because they used to bring their parents with them and now, when I did Molly Wobbly earlier this year some lovely girls from my Wicked days came down minus their parents! I was like “Where is your mum?” and they replied “Cass, we’re almost the same age as you!” That kind of support is amazing!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

See What I Wanna See runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre until Saturday 3rd October 2015.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

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