Maria Coyne is currently playing Marie in the world premiere of Nutcracker! The Musical at the Pleasance Theatre.
The show puts a modern musical theatre twist on the classic ETA Hoffmann tale and Tchaikovsky’s soaring classical music. Directed by Ollie Fielding, Nutcracker! The Musical has music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, book and lyrics by Nancy Holson plus arrangements by Bruce Kiesling and Paul Rigano.
Recently Maria left the West End production of Wicked where she understudied the roles of Glinda and Nessarose. She previously understudied Janet, Magenta and Columbia in the UK tour of The Rocky Horror Show before taking over as Magenta.
Maria’s extensive theatre credits also include: alternate Narrator in Joseph (UK tour), Crazy For You (London Palladium), Martha in Spring Awakening (Broadway Theatre), Catherine in Gatsby (Arts Theatre), Anne in A Little Night Music (Ye Olde Rose and Crown), Talia in Pierced (Leicester Square Theatre), Maid Marian in Robin Hood (Plymouth Theatre Royal), Celia in As You Like It (UK tour), Bernarda Alba (Union Theatre) and Essex Girls (Landor Theatre).
I recently spoke to Maria about Nutcracker! The Musical’s challenging score, what it was like to play her dream role of Glinda in Wicked for the very first time and why touring with Rocky Horror was like one big party…
Nutcracker! The Musical takes something everyone knows and completely turns it on its head. What first drew you to this project?
My first draw was the fact that they were still using Tchaikovsky’s music from the ballet because everyone is so familiar with it, and it’s so beautiful! The thought of getting to sing lyrics to that music sounded incredibly appealing! It’s completely true to the original story but with a new twist. It has been so exciting to see how it has all panned out!
Well, for example, The Sugarplum Fairy sings about her land to the Tchaikovsky’s Sugarplum Fairy song – the lyrics just fit perfectly! Lyrically, the way they’ve done it is very intelligent but also incredibly difficult… it might actually be the most difficult music I’ve ever learnt for a show [nervously laughs], but it has been so fulfilling and rewarding.
Maria in Nutcracker! The Musical
What can people expect from the show?
It’s definitely one to bring the children to, it’s pretty magical and makes a beautiful Christmas show. I’ve done panto before and I loved doing it, but it’s also nice to see something a bit different. When I was young I remember being taken to the ballet, so adults who know The Nutcracker might get to revisit their childhood… but with a twist. It’s such a cliché thing to say, but there’s something in it for everyone [laughs]! It’s a new way to introduce children to this story and to the music.
Have you enjoyed taking on the role of Marie?
It has been very exciting to play a fifteen year old and revisiting the child in me [laughs]. I’m very much a child at heart anyway, but it’s fun playing a teenager – we all remember having those little strops. Marie comes to life much more in the second act, she meets all these magical characters – it’s a lovely part.
What has everyone been like to work with? You’re reunited with Jamie Birkett who you just did A Little Night Music with!
Everyone’s really lovely and so excited about the show. We have all been really pumped, it’s such an exciting piece to be a part of. It’s so nice to be working with Jamie again. We’re playing similar relationships again; in A Little Night Music I was the young, sweet, naive character whilst she was the dry, sarcastic one and in this I’m the young one and she’s the villain. We were so excited when we found out we would be working together again!
You’ve worked on huge shows in the West End and on tour, as well as smaller, more intimate productions. Do you embrace the variety?
It is completely different and I love the variety. The experiences I’ve had on the bigger shows that I’ve done have just been incredible! You know the audience is going to be supportive when the show is so big, but when you do a smaller production you all have to pull together as a company to get the piece out there which is exciting in a different way. I really enjoy doing smaller contracts; you learn all this new material, meet lots of new people which is always so refreshing. But, of course, we all live for those big jobs [laughs]! I’m really happy that I’ve been able to do as many smaller shows as I have done because you get to work on material that otherwise you might never get the chance to do. I love trying to do both.
Talking of bigger shows, you left Wicked a few months ago. Does it feel strange to be out of the Wicked bubble? Are you missing it?
Because I went straight into A Little Night Music after finishing Wicked, at the time I didn’t get a chance to realise that it was happening. On my very last week at Wicked I went on as Glinda for one show… I knew it was my last one and that was utterly devastating and thrilling at the same time. It was a beautiful part to play and a dream role for me, so to get to go on in my last week was just amazing. Obviously I’m still in touch with people from the show and when I hear the music it tugs at my heart strings. My time on Wicked was just… I can’t put it into words – it was my dream. To do that show was more than I ever could have asked for, so I do miss it. I just love the show; I hope it’s not the end of my journey with Wicked. Who knows what the future will bring! It was wonderful… that’s really stagey [laughs].
Glinda is such a dream role for so many people! What was it like from going ‘I want to play that role’ to actually going on for the first time? Putting those iconic costumes on must have been so surreal!
Just getting into the show was surreal for me. I saw it on Broadway over ten years ago and I remember just crying in the interval. My mum was like, ‘What’s wrong with you?!’ and I said, ‘It’s just so good!’. I was obsessed with it. I remember the day I got the job I went home, put the album on and just cried [laughs]… for maybe an hour! When I started the job it still didn’t sink in that it was actually happening. The first time I tried on the bubble dress our wardrobe mistress said, “it’s ok to cry if you want to” [laughs] because I think a lot of people do when they see themselves in that stunning dress.
The first time I went on, I was up in the bubble waiting and you can see everyone down below – everyone is so supportive at Wicked when a cover goes on. When I got taken up in the bubble for the first time everyone cheered, but then I was up there and you just have to wait for that terrifying yet amazing entrance. I can’t put it into words – the first time I went on for Glinda was, without a doubt, one of the best nights of my life. I’m very passionate about the show and role! The beginning of act two was always my favourite (‘Thank Goodness’), I think it’s just devastating and so beautiful to get to play that.
And you casually popped over to the UK tour as an emergency cover for Nessarose!
[laughs] That was really exciting yet scary because I hadn’t been on as Nessa in town – I couldn’t believe it was happening! However, the stage in Salford was flat whereas the Apollo Victoria stage is on a rake so it made the wheelchair easier for a first time. The tour cast were so lovely, I felt incredibly well supported. It was so nice to dash off and work with a different company for the week! I’m glad I got to go on as Nessa, otherwise I might not have done! To be perfectly honest with you I had a pretty exciting year! There was never a dull moment.
We also have to discuss Rocky Horror. Touring with that show must be quite something, the fans literally follow you around the UK and are crazily amazing. What is it like to look back at the whole experience?
I mean Wicked has a huge fanbase as well, but Rocky Horror fans are unlike any other fanbase I have ever met… they really love it! It’s so thrilling because no matter where we were in the country, every Friday and Saturday especially, you knew it was going to be just raucous – it was almost like having a party every Friday and Saturday night! It was more than just a performer/audience relationship, it felt like we were all in it together. Obviously there’s lots of audience interaction… it really is a completely different experience to any other show! One of our girls from Wicked, Sophie Linder-Lee, is now going on to do the Rocky Horror UK tour and just did the Playhouse run and she was like to me “I mean they just are excellent” [laughs]. No matter where we went everyone was dressed up. It was so much fun!
Right, I have a stagey question! I’m sending you to a desert island…
Ahh I’m so terrified of this question!! I was speaking to my boyfriend this morning and I was like “Oh my god I might get asked the desert island question and I haven’t thought enough about it!”
[laughs] You’ll be fine! So you can take three musical theatre songs with you, what are you going to take and why?
Ok… oh gosh! So… I would take… my first song is going to be ‘Till We Reach That Day’ from Ragtime just because it’s so epic and makes me cry – sometimes we all just need a good cry. It’s just one of my favourite songs in musical theatre, I think Ragtime is a stunning piece and I listen to it a lot, specifically that song.
Oh my gosh, there are just so many songs! I would definitely take a song from Wicked, I’m going to go with ‘For Good’. It reminds me of an incredible time and that moment in the show is incredibly poignant. I have always loved it! It’s a beautiful song between two friends. Now I need to think of an up-tempo one because I’ve gone with two ballads!
You need something to uplift you!
I definitely do, otherwise I’ll be sat on my desert island crying [laughs]. I’m trying to think of songs that I sing in auditions which I love. There’s got to be a Disney one?! I’m the hugest Disney fan ever!
There must be millions of Disney options! What’s your favourite Disney film?
My favourite is The Little Mermaid and I love The Little Mermaid musical, but my favourite song from that is a quartet and they’re all singing about if only people knew that they loved them [laughs], it’s all a bit sad! Ummm… I’m really rubbish! Why didn’t I prepare properly?!
Oh I know what I’m going to go for! My third one would be ‘Life of the Party’ from The Wild Party because that’s just a great fun song. We all love The Wild Party! It makes you feel good and like you’re going to have a great day so let’s go with that! Yay – those are my three [laughs]!
We did it! Finally, how does it feel to have so much support behind you from the crazy theatre world? I’m sure lots of the Rocky Horror and Wicked fans came to see A Little Night Music and are coming to see Nutcracker – they’re so loyal!
It’s so lovely! It’s so kind that people want to take time out of their day to come and see you in a show. We’re in an industry where people are taking time to compliment you – they’re taking time out of their life to be kind and not many people have that experience. It’s incredibly humbling and so sweet. Some people who got to know me from Wicked came to see me in A Little Night Music and Gatsby and have got tickets for Nutcracker. I’m so grateful to have met so many lovely people along the way! You get to have a chat with them after the show and start to get to know them – it’s really lovely that people support what I’m doing and what I love doing. We’re incredibly lucky in this industry!
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Nutcracker! The Musical runs at the Pleasance Theatre until 3rd January 2016. Please visit www.pleasance.co.uk for further information and tickets.