Last Monday (2nd November) West End actress Kay Murphy innocently attended press night of Xanadu at the Southwark Playhouse, enjoyed the show and made a remark to a friend about how she loved Alison Jiear's character Melpomene. Seven days later Murphy is told Jiear is unwell and is asked to learn the role in 24 hours...
Last month I was taken aback by the craziness of roller skating Broadway musical Xanadu which is currently receiving its UK premiere at the Southwark Playhouse. Following a magical Greek muse sent from the heavens of Mount Olympus to inspire a struggling artist in California, Xanadu is "bold, bizarre and camper than Christmas".
I was keen to see the show again so yesterday bought a last minute ticket to the evening performance. After being let into the theatre a little late, director Paul Warwick Griffin took to the stage and first explained that there had been some technical issues with the lighting.
He then went on to say that the previous evening's show had been cancelled due to the indisposition of Alison Jiear and that, after making a comment to a friend about loving Jiear's character, Kay Murphy had learnt the role in 24 hours and would be making her debut in the show.
After making her entrance to huge applause, it was clear Murphy meant serious business. She threw herself into each and every number and performed the entire show without a script in hand!! Murphy - who recently completed a run as Mrs Wormwood in the West End production of Matilda - seemed to be having the time of her life.
She pulled off her big comedic moments, somehow performed all of Nathan M. Wright's fantastic choreography and dazzled with her top notch vocals. The final number was re-choreographed slightly so that Murphy (and co-star Lizzy Connolly) sensibly didn't roller skate alongside the rest of the company.
I can't begin to imagine how Murphy processed so much information and learnt an entire show in just 24 hours; she certainly pulled it out the bag and, if there hadn't been a speech before the show, I don't think anyone in the audience who hadn't looked at a programme would have realised Murphy was an emergency stand in.
Carly Anderson and Samuel Edwards are a total dream in the central roles whilst Lizzy Connolly is proving herself to be one of the strongest character actors working in musical theatre.
Micha Richardson, Joel Burman, Nicholas Duncan and Emily McGougan take to the stage with so much character - the whole cast really are terrific.
Xanadu has become one of my favourite musicals of 2015 and it's wonderful that the remainder of the run is entirely sold out. I sincerely hope this isn't the last London sees of Warwick Griffin's production.
It was thrilling (and unexpected) to witness Kay Murphy stepping in and saving the day - her talent is unbelievable. There really is nothing quite like the buzz of live theatre!
Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Please visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk for further information and tickets.