Monday, 30 November 2015

Interview: Cassidy Janson, starring as Carole King in Beautiful

Tonight (30th November) Cassidy Janson takes over as Carole King in the West End production of Beautiful at the Aldwych Theatre.

Having opened on Broadway in 2014, Beautiful – which is based on the early life and career of Carole King - opened in London this February and went on to win two Olivier Awards. Musical numbers include the likes of ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’, ‘You’ve Got a Friend’, ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ and ‘I Feel the Earth Move’. 

Cassidy famously understudied Elphaba in the original West End production of Wicked before taking over as the standby for the role. Her West End credits also include starring as Kate Monster/Lucy The Slut in Avenue Q and originating the role of Maggie in Lend Me A Tenor The Musical. 

Cassidy’s extensive theatre credits include: Dessa Rose (Trafalgar Studios), Candide & Tick Tick …Boom! (both Menier Chocolate Factory), Company (Southwark Playhouse), Bridget Jones: The Musical (workshop), Footloose (UK tour), Blood Wedding (Courtyard), Rooms: A Rock Musical (Finborough), Crazy for You (Kilworth House) and Snoopy (Jermyn Street).

I recently spoke to Cassidy about when she fell in love with Beautiful, how she’s been preparing for the role and why she has been channelling her Elphaba days…

Had you seen Beautiful before being cast? Was Carole a role you had your eye on?
It was funny actually because I’m good mates with Katie Brayben (who originated the role in London) so went to see it in previews and then went to see it again, with another group of friends who know her, because I really loved the show. I thought ‘Why do I love the show so much?’ – it was the best commercial musical I had seen in over a decade. It was brilliant! But… I never actually saw myself as playing Carole!

Why not?
I don’t know – I just hadn’t considered it. A few months ago Katie and I went for drinks and she said, “Oh by the way I’m leaving, make sure you’re up for Carole” and I was like, “Oh… yeah… maybe I should email my agent”. That’s how it happened, all thanks to good old Katie!

Original West End cast of Beautiful 

When you started to look through the material did you immediately realise it was something you were suitable for?
Definitely, when I got the songs through and started learning them I realised it was very much where my voice sits naturally and definitely the kind of role I am more suited for. I knew it could be a big possibility.

Katie received such huge acclaim for her performance and there is a big buzz surrounding the show, how has it felt to come in and join the company?
I have to say I’m slightly taken aback at how supportive and encouraging and helpful every single department has been; from wardrobe, to musical director, to resident director, to the general management – everyone is just so positive and… nice [laughs]! Everyone is lovely! I feel really supported and I think the cast that are staying are really excited about things being fresh for their second year, they’ve been enjoying re-trying stuff with me. I don’t feel like, ‘Oh god, I’ve got all this work to do and they already know their show’. Instead they have been more than happy to try out new things. It’s a lucky position for me to be in! I feel very lucky!

In terms of research, have you spent hours and hours on YouTube?
Yes, I’ve spent a lot of time on YouTube and Google searching Carole King, I also bought her albums and I’m reading her biography at the moment. I have been doing as much research as I can.

“In some ways playing Carole is easier than playing Elphaba and in some ways it’s harder…”

How familiar were you with her work before? Were you ever a Carole King fan?
Well I wasn’t a fan, but I knew some of her work. However, I didn’t realise the full extent of her work before watching the show. When I saw it for the first time I just thought ‘Woah!’ I then realised that I had sung so many of her songs without knowing she had written them. I had been singing ‘Natural Woman’ as an audition song for about… ten years [laughs]. I knew that was a Carole King song, but I didn’t realise she wrote ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ and ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ which are songs I’ve done at gigs. It’s quite a learning curve for a lot of people when they find out just how much she wrote!

I think that’s one of the main reasons audiences love Beautiful, everybody knows these songs but have no idea they were all written by this one incredibly talented woman! 
Exactly! It’s also such a funny show. Most people come just knowing it’s a musical about Carole King featuring her hits – they have no idea there are going to be these great big company numbers and that it is going to be as funny as it is. Some of the one-liners are absolute corkers, at points it’s almost like an episode of Friends! I’ve also been so impressed with the writing and how concise it is. There is no dead air in any scene, the narrative is very strong and I love that. It’s got a cracking pace!

Is the process of learning the music for the musical different to how you would learn it for a gig? Some of these songs really speak to people!
Yes they do, and Gerry Goffin’s lyrics are incredible but they were still popular songs – songs people sang along to so you don’t perform them as you would a musical theatre song. It’s very much directed like that, you almost perform them as you would at a gig because that’s how they these songs are supposed to be sung. Not performing the songs as you would a normal musical theatre song is quite strange actually! You always think about how to approach a song, but in this case the process is completely different. It has been great!

Cassidy performing at Summertime Swing in 2014

Carole is such an almighty role, have you been channelling your Elphaba days in terms of looking after yourself and so on?
Yes! There are certain similarities between how I felt when I had to learn Elphaba and how I felt when I got the script through for Carole King. When Sarah Earnshaw and I were first cover for Glinda and Elphaba respectively we lived near each other so would get the same tube home. We would get our scripts out and say, “Where do we start?!” because they were both such huge roles! And then we both accomplished the roles and felt very confident with them. So I’ve already done a role that big – in same ways playing Carole is easier than playing Elphaba and in some ways it’s harder… there’s all the piano playing but there’s no green makeup [laughs]. I knew I had one of those big juicy roles in the bag already so I knew I was capable of doing it and the rehearsal process was very much a team atmosphere so I feel like we’re all in this together. I certainly don’t feel like I’m doing it all by myself which is wonderful!

We couldn’t do another interview without a quick stagey question, so… you are hosting a dinner party and can invite three theatrical legends dead or alive. Who do you invite and why?
Hmmmm who would I have? Everyone says Stephen Fry and then I would invite Imelda Staunton. I suppose Miriam Margolyes because she’s still a mate and she’s hilarious!

I love her! What was she like to work with on Wicked? (Miriam was the original Madame Morrible.)
Amazing! She was actually incredibly supportive and secretly invited her agent to come and watch one of my Elphaba shows without telling me… and then called me afterwards and said “By the way I sent my agent to watch you tonight” and I’ve been with that agent ever since! So thank you very much Ms Margolyes! 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is booking at the Aldwych Theatre to 26th November 2016.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 2: Brinkhoff Moegenburg

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