Thursday, 14 January 2016

Big Interview: Bronté Barbé

Bronté Barbé is currently starring as Princess Fiona in the UK and Ireland tour of Shrek The Musical.

Following two year runs on Broadway and in the West End, Shrek has been touring the UK and Ireland since 2014 and is about to play its final engagements in Wimbledon and Salford.

Bronté originally played Little Red Riding Hood when the tour began before taking over as Fiona last spring for the production’s second year. 

Bronté’s theatre credits include: Sharon in Cool Rider In Concert (Lyric/Duchess), Odette in Carnival of the Animals (Riverside Studios), vocalist in Momentous Musicals (UK tour) and Penny in Hairspray (Kuala Lumpur/Singapore). 

In 2010 Bronté entered Andrew Lloyd Webber’s BBC programme Over The Rainbow and was selected as one of the final ten. She also participated in the workshop for But I’m a Cheerleader The Musical directed by Jerry Mitchell and features on the Cool Rider’s original West End cast recording. 

I recently spoke to Bronté about taking over as Princess Fiona, her favourite parts of the show and what makes Shrek such a fantastic piece of theatre. We also geeked out over Hamilton and The Bridges of Madison County, discussed Cool Rider plus much, much more…

Can you believe you’re entering the final few weeks of the tour? Has it flown by?
It has been a whirlwind! I think I found out I had been cast as Little Red Riding Hood in November 2013 and then we started the following June. Then four months before the end of our first contract I found out I was going to be taking over as Fiona, and since then I can’t believe how quickly the second half of the tour has gone! It’s bonkers!

Princess Fiona is such a dream role; she’s feisty and her numbers are terrific. During the first year did you think ‘I would love to have a go at that’?
Absolutely! The whole show is wonderful and I was having a great time doing my ensemble track. Funnily enough I covered Teen Fiona and didn’t get on once because the girl playing Teen Fiona was really solid. It was funny because I always had a little niggle and thought ‘I would love to play that part and would love to be seen for it if the show ever pops up again’. I never thought I would be considered to take over because I was in the ensemble and didn’t understudy the role at that point! It all happened really fast… and here we are!

Bronté and Dean Chisnall in Shrek The Musical

What has life on the road been like with everybody?
Brilliant, we’ve got such a great cast! Because some of us have been touring together for the best part of two years, it really has become like a family. For me it was more of a case of just slotting in with the principals when I took over because Dean (Chisnall, Shrek), Idriss (Kargbo, Donkey) and Gerard (Carey, Lord Farquaad) are all so brilliant at what they do and we already had a brilliant relationship, so it was a lot of fun getting to perform alongside them. It was wonderful to have a boost when some new people joined about six months ago, but of course it was also sad to lose the people who left. It has been an amazing experience because before this my longest job lasted about six weeks/two months!

When people first find out Shrek is a musical they usually seem to say “How on earth does that work?” It’s such a clever, witty and well designed show, what do you say to people who know nothing about it?
[laughs] I know! I always say it’s a show for everyone. I do get that a lot, when I say that I’m doing Shrek The Musical some people go “Oh… right… Shrek is a musical now? How does that work?” [laughs]. But when you think about all the prosthetics and the way the characters work on stage it really is amazing. I also think the musical is so much more than the film. Obviously the movie is iconic and we grew up with it, but there are so many different elements in the musical. The whole look is amazing – the six foot dragon is incredible! There’s so much going on, it’s so bright and the music is incredible; Jeanine Tesori (who wrote the music) has added so much to the story. 

Bronté and Dean Chisnall in Shrek
But of course those who love the film will notice all the iconic lines and so on.
Exactly, a lot of the script from the film is in the show – the scripts are very similar. I think we give the audience what they want plus so much more. 

What are some of your favourite parts to perform each night?
I think my favourite part is definitely the beginning of Act Two, ‘Morning Person’. I don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t seen it, but I get to have so much fun and it takes me by surprise each night! I have the best time ever when I’m out there [laughs]. 

I love the audience response to ‘I Think I Got You Beat’!
Oh my goodness – I love performing that song every night! That always comes as a big shock for the audience [laughs].

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?
Ahhh I feel so unprepared for this! Ok… oh my god this is really difficult! I need to go on to Spotify [laughs]. I would take something I’m listening to at the moment – so anything from Hamilton because I can’t stop listening to it. It’s just ridiculous! Idriss who plays Donkey is always in the dressing room next door and blares out music. For quite a long time he was playing Hamilton and I was like, ‘What is this?!’ I found out it was Hamilton so went home and listened to it all the way through and it’s just crazy. 

I hear you, it’s addictive! Which song are you going to take?
Probably either ‘Burn’ or ‘The Schuyler Sisters’. Either of those! Ok my second one… I’m so rubbish at this! It’s bonkers. I would probably take something from Into The Woods because it would remind me of my time at Mountview. I love the one when they’re having the argument about the beans – ‘Your Fault’. And then my last one – oh my goodness – has to be from The Bridges of Madison County! I went to Broadway last year and saw the show and it made me cry!

Bronté and Joshua Dowen in Cool Rider

Me too! You have made my day – nobody else has seen it!
I know!! I would definitely take ‘One Second and a Million Miles’. It broke my heart and I just remember being in floods of tears. The theatre wasn’t even full and I was so gutted! It’s ridiculous that it didn’t run for longer.

It needs to come over here to the Menier or Southwark Playhouse, right?
Oh my god yes! Those venues would be ideal. Steven Pasquale’s voice is just… wow.

That is a perfect three! Looking ahead, are there any roles you have your eye on? Anything you’re itching to do?
I’m just waiting at the moment; it’s funny really because I never expected to have a role like Princess Fiona so early on in my career. I’m very lucky to have had this opportunity! I’m ready to take on something new, I’m just not sure what it’s going to be! I would love to do something in the West End because I haven’t done a West End show yet apart from Cool Rider In Concert. I love new musical theatre so am keen to do some more workshops, just before Shrek I did the workshop for a musical called But I'm a Cheerleader which was directed by Jerry Mitchell. It was an amazing experience, so I would love to do something like that again. I’ve got a taste for playing feisty, comical women now so hopefully something else comical and feisty will come along for me!

What was it like to perform Cool Rider? I hadn’t realised what a huge cult following it had, the audiences were insane!
I was blown away by it! Literally the entire cast had no idea that the audiences were going to react like that! It was crazy because I had seen the film a very long time ago but hadn’t realised that it had such a big cult following. It was only when my agent said to me “Oh my goodness I’m so excited about this, I grew up with the film!” that I realised some people really do love it. We went into the rehearsal room a bit unsure because everything was a bit rushed, but when we walked out on stage the response was crazy. I remember people throwing props at us [laughs] and shouting out lots of lines. I’ve never experienced an audience like it!

And the cast album is like the cherry on top of the cake!
Yes, I was really chuffed that I got to do the cast album. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it because I had just started rehearsals for Fiona but luckily it all worked out. It’s a lovely thing to have!

There’s so much support within the theatre bubble. I’m sure there are lots of fans who have followed you since Over The Rainbow as well as people who have discovered you through Shrek – what’s it like to have that dedicated support from the theatre world?
It’s absolutely amazing! I met a couple of girls whilst doing Shrek who really need theatre in their lives. To be able to go out there and do what you love and then to know that it helps people and gives them something to look forward to is really rewarding. I know when I was growing up theatre really helped me, going to the theatre always gives you a bit of escapism. Doing Shrek has definitely given me an outlet to meet a lot of people who have supported me along the way right from Over The Rainbow, as well as new people who are fans of Shrek. This whole experience has been amazing!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Shrek The Musical plays the New Wimbledon Theatre between 20th and 31st January 2016 before concluding its tour at the Lowry in Salford between 2nd and 20th February 2016. Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 2-3: Helen Maybanks
Photo Credit 4: Pamela Raith

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