Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Big Interview: Jodie Jacobs

Jodie Jacobs is currently reprising her performance as Paulette Bonafonte in Legally Blonde for its London fringe premiere at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. 

Jodie previously played the role at the Kilworth House Theatre. For her performance as Paulette, Jodie has won rave reviews, received an OFFIE nomination and was featured in West End Frame’s Top Ten Performances of 2015. 

Jodie’s West End credits include: Regina in Rock of Ages (Shaftesbury/Garrick), Serena in Fame (Aldwych), understudy Eva Peron in Evita (Adelphi), understudy Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors (Duke of York’s/Ambassadors), understudy Scaramouche & Meat in We Will Rock You (Dominion) and Joanne in Rent In Concert (Garrick).

Her further credits also include: Miss Gardner in Carrie (Southwark Playhouse), Grizabella in Cats (Arena Tour), Rusty in Footloose (UK tour), Jest End (Waterloo East/Jermyn Street), Holly in The Wedding Singer (UK tour), Tink in Lost Boy (Charing Cross), Nurse Fiona in Happy Ending (Arcola), Sister Mary Robert in Sister Act (Aberystwyth), Betty/Carmen in Me & Juliet (Finborough), Marcy Fitzwilliams in I Love You Because… (Landor), Emily in State Fair (Trafalgar Studios 2), Another Kind Of Magic (Scandinavia Tour) and Broadway and Beyond (Dubai). 

Yesterday I visited Jodie backstage at Upstairs at the Gatehouse to discuss why Legally Blonde was her dream show, the similarities between herself and Paulette and her showstopping rendition of ‘Ireland’. We also discussed her autobiography, the highlights of her career, working with her idol Kim Criswell plus much, much more…

Before doing Legally Blonde the first time round were you a fan of the show? 
Oh yes, I was in love with this show… absolutely in love with it! The lyrics are just brilliant. I remember driving on tour with Simon Lipkin – Simon’s the campest straight man I’ve ever met – and we would listen to musical after musical, and I could have sung you the entire show word for word. I was lucky enough to go to America and see it three times in one week on Broadway. I’ve never got bored of it! And I’ll never got bored of watching the MTV version [laughs]. 

The MTV recording is legendary – the audience are insane!
I know, it was like a rock concert! I love how brilliantly cast it was over there. In fact we still watch it, during the first week we all put it on in the dressing room! There’s something wrong with us! It’s because it’s brilliant. It’s a brilliant show with brilliant tunes and brilliant lyrics – I love everything about it.

Was Paulette the role you had your eye on?
Well no, back then I wanted to play Elle. I was much younger and really wanted to play that role – I dedicated my life to it… and then got cut at the dance round [laughs]. Over the years it was recast a few times and I was always in for Serena. They used to say to me, “Jodie, can you just try and be sexy?” but I’m the black coal of sexy… I just absorb sexy around me… I can’t do sexy [laughs]. I really struggled! I think sometimes you just have to wait until you grow into your part. 

Jodie in Legally Blonde at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

So what happened when you were asked to audition for the Kilworth House production?
When the audition came up for Kilworth I didn’t really want to go away from home, but I really wanted to do Legally Blonde in any capacity. I knew I was up for Paulette but wondered whether I was too young. I knew all the girls I was in with – we were all friends which made it really hard. Anyone who knows me knows dancing isn’t my strongest point [laughs], but I got through the dance call – I went full out Cheryl Tweedy. Then we had to go in and read a scene. There was one bit of paper for us all to share but I was like “I know this”. I knew I had done a good audition so if I wasn’t cast then I knew I just wasn’t right for the role… and then I got it… I was over the moon! 

It’s such perfect casting!
I was offered Carrie and Legally Blonde at the same time, but we weren’t allowed to tell anyone about Legally Blonde for ages. It was really nice to know I had some things lined up! It was a hard rehearsal process because I was never there – I was never used in rehearsals as Paulette doesn’t appear until forty-five minutes into act one! 

What did you do with all that time each night?!
I had a shower! People were going to the stage when the overture was playing whilst I was getting in the shower. I had time to have a full shower… hair wash… everything! The cast were amazing, I think I took the whole thing for granted a little bit. It sounds ridiculous, but I was really stressed out about my cat because I knew he wasn’t well. I was back and forward on every day off to take him to the vet so ended up taking the run for granted. If I could go back and do it again I would force myself to have more fun.

Well now you have the chance to do it all again!
Exactly! When the opportunity came up to do it again in London I knew I wasn’t going to take it for granted a second time. 

What has it been like to do the show again?
Amazing. It feels like I never stopped because there was a small gap where I worked my socks off doing a ‘normal’ job and was so utterly miserable, but I thought ‘oh well it will make a good story for the autobiography’!

Jodie in Legally Blonde at Kilworth
[laughs] That would be one hell of an autobiography!
No it wouldn’t, it would be so embarrassing! And there would be too many people I would have to warn before it was published! I had such a good response and such good reviews in Kilworth so was worried that I would get to London and everybody would say “oh you’re alright… but not *that* good”. I panicked! I didn’t think I could do it again! This could not be any more far removed from the production we did in Kilworth, and it took me ages – I literally sat at home in the mirror pulling faces and thinking ‘is that face funny?’. I had to work it out again, it has been weird but awesome. 

Your performance feels so fresh – completely different to anybody who played the role in the West End.
I only saw the show in London once and can’t remember who I saw as Paulette, I think it may have been an understudy. I couldn’t have gone that far away from the original version because it’s is my psyche! My Paulette is definitely based on a mix between Orfeh (who originated the role on Broadway) and Jennifer Coolidge from the movie, but you can’t do too much of Jennifer Coolidge because it’s literally like she’s playing a different part [laughs]. Even Elle is a different person in the movie – it’s weird! Essentially I’m just playing myself with a Boston accent, I’m always the girl who falls for the fit younger guy!

I think you would make an amazing hairdresser!
Well my mum’s a hairdresser! She’s a big brash leopard-print-wearing hairdresser! So I’m just playing myself. Most of the roles I play are just versions of me [laughs]. 

Let’s discuss your big showstopper ‘Ireland’. Isn’t it a gift of a song? I’m so glad you’re doing lyrics which were re-written for the West End version.
Me too, I think they’re much funnier. When I listened to the Broadway version I thought Orfeh’s voice was astonishing but I didn’t think the song was coherent. But this version is a tale, the audience find out everything about Paulette. It’s a gift of a song because it sounds much higher than it actually is, so I can have a gin and tonic the night before [laughs]. 

You do the big note at the end!
It’s a really lovely note, it sits in a really nice place. I had to do it – I go to Matthew Shaw for singing lessons, he would take me outside and shoot me if I didn’t do that note [laughs]! He would literally kill me! I know it sounds so, so stagey, but I love that I get to tell all of Paulette’s story through song. I love it, especially the reprise – I just get to stand in a spotlight and sing into a hairbrush!

What do you think is the secret to Legally Blonde’s success?
I think the lyrics are as good as the tunes; it appears to be fluffy but you know within minutes of the show starting that it’s not. First and foremost it’s a story told well through song. I am obsessed with anything like this which is so female-centric. I’m not going to run off on a feminist manifesto here – I’m not going to go full Enid [laughs] – but it is so empowering for girls… all the boys are stupid or a little bit clueless in one way or another [laughs]. The girls take over and I love it! It’s a show which makes girls feel awesome about themselves – you can wear what you want, be what you want and do what you want! 

And it works so well over here, songs like ‘Gay Or European’ bring out some old British humour!
It’s vaudeville! That number goes down so well in this theatre, it’s uproarious! 

Since Rock Of Ages you have literally jumped from show to show doing all different sorts of things from revivals to new work and so on. Have you enjoyed having the chance to do so many different things?
I’ve loved doing the shorter contracts, the thought of going into something for a long time can be terrifying! Rock Of Ages was my dream – it was the music I grew up on and I still put the original cast recording on now. When I’m feeling miserable my boyfriend doesn’t even say anything, he just puts on Rock Of Ages [laughs]. It didn’t quite turn out to be the experience I wanted it to be. When I think back now I did love it and maybe I also took it for granted, I would love to go back and do it again… [jokingly] hint. I was working with my best friend (Simon Lipkin) who I essentially live with now!

"Fifteen years ago belting an E was a big deal - back then it was hard, now I could do it with bronchitis!"

After Rock Of Ages I went through a difficult period where I didn’t get the same enjoyment from musicals that I had done in the past. I struggled… and it isn’t until now that I’ve properly started to love it again. Of course I loved doing Carrie and some of the other jobs I’ve been lucky enough to do; I just think I’ve been doing this for thirteen years and everybody probably has a bad phase at some stage. Praise the gods of musical theatre I’ve never really been out of work apart from little gaps. I’m so unbelievably grateful! I just went through a difficult period. Legally Blonde has changed everything – I don’t want to leave! It’s a joy! I had lost my love but this cast, this show and this theatre have made me love it all again! 

I still get days when I have a little bit of stage fright, I think it’s because I’m just a bit older and understand that if I mess up it can mean bad things but I’m always fine once I’m onstage. Back when you’re a kid you have no fear – you just do it. I remember doing an audition for Rocky Horror when I was younger and I took my clothes off! I wouldn’t do that now – not if you paid me!

What happened?!
Well I was told in my first audition I was being called back for Janet and that I “couldn’t go far enough”. I said, “Are you asking me to take my clothes off?” I think perhaps now they were joking, but I went back with a petticoat and a 1950s bra and went Jerry Mitchell full out! I didn’t even get a no… I waited three weeks to find out someone else got it [laughs]. I didn’t know how to leave?! When I did Evita with Philip Quast I remember him saying to me about his Olivier that it was exhausting because once you win one you then you have to work towards winning your next one. That stuck with me. I try not to read reviews and that kind of thing, but there are days that are hard! I always want to be as good as I was the night before. 

When are you going to do ‘An Evening With… Jodie Jacobs’?
I get asked to do something like that all the time! But it’s the same thing… what if it’s awful?! 

It would be amazing!
I’ve always said I want to wait and do it once and do it really good and make it interesting. I don’t want it to just be me singing my audition rep with a pianist because I think that’s dull. I would love to do it with a proper band and have some cool arrangements written. The honest answer is that I want to do it but I’m scared!

Jodie performing at the O2 Indigo
Right, we need to discuss some of the incredible shows you’ve done over the years! What was it like to casually make your professional debut in We Will Rock You?
Gosh – I can’t believe my first job out of school was understudy Scaramouche in We Will Rock You, and then I understudied Meat too in my second year. I just didn’t know what I had back then!

What was your first show as Scaramouche like? Do you remember?
I passed out on Chris Holland! After one of the scenes the lift takes Scaramouche and Galileo down off stage and I literally passed out. It was so hard – fifteen years ago belting an E was a big deal! Back then it was hard, now I could do it with bronchitis. These days we have to be able to belt Fs and Gs! My second job was playing Serena in Fame. Again I was essentially just being myself… a Jew who had fallen in love with a gay man… that’s my whole life! Then I went straight into Evita as understudy Eva.

Eva Peron is such an incredible role, how did you find playing her?
I loved it, it was everything. I don’t think I was good enough back then and I would love the chance to do it again now!

We need to make that happen! Then you played Grizabella in arenas…
That was fabulous because it was all-new choreography and the cast were unbelievable. We had an eighteen piece rock orchestra! I cried every single night. I’ve been so lucky to do so many amazing jobs – Wedding Singer was a dream that came true, I Love You Because was amazing because I got to spend eight weeks with Daniel Boys and Debbie Kurup… and then I understudied Sheridan Smith in Little Shop of Horrors… I literally could not pick a job that I have loved more than another. That’s such an annoying answer, but it’s the absolute truth!

Ok, time for the killer stagey question. 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?
I can’t go to the desert island! I’m going to escape… I can’t go to this desert island!! I only get three songs?! This island is awful! I don’t know! Ok… I would take the version of ‘Anthem’ which comes at the very end of Chess because it’s brilliant and I love it. That doesn’t exist when you listen to the selections, but I remember the first time I listened to the full version of Chess and it blew me away… and it belts a nice big note at the end! 

What would your second one be?
You’re mean! Oh gosh… ‘Come Follow The Band’ is my favourite song of all time. The lyrics are brilliant; no matter what I’m doing, every single time I hear it I get distracted and it makes me happy. I guess my last one would be the whole overture from the first guitar strum to the end of track one from Rock Of Ages. There are seven million more, this is not fair! I couldn’t live without the Rock Of Ages soundtrack. 

Which three people, dead or alive, would you invite to your stagey dinner party? …Simon Lipkin?
Yes Simon Lipkin!! Mainly because I haven’t actually seen him in a couple of months because he has been so busy! He literally lives above me, but somehow we haven’t seen each other for months. I forgot his 30th birthday… that’s why he has to be invited to my stagey dinner party because I’ve got to make it up to him! Then I would invite Andy Nyman because Simon loves him and I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times. He’s the funniest, sweetest and most interesting man… I’ve never had the confidence to speak actual sentences to him [laughs]. 

Jodie and the West End cast of Rock Of Ages

Then I would invite Kim Criswell because she is the love of my life. I was auditioning for Carrie and really wanted the gig, it was the finals and Kim walked in. Nobody else knew who she was, they were all too young! I grabbed Neil Toon and Jemma Alexander and said “Oh my god that’s Kim Criswell” and they both said, “What do you mean? Who?” After Kim left I went into the audition room and said “Who do I need to sleep with to get this job?” [laughs]. I swear to god! When the offer came through they said, ‘Please let Jodie know that Kim has accepted’. It gets better… it was my birthday during rehearsals and Kim gave me a signed picture of herself dressed as the Virgin Mary! Then when we picked our dressing room spots I tried to position myself strategically so she would sit next to me – she is my idol! She’s my Annie, my Reno Sweeney and my everything. She came in to the dressing room and said in her Southern accent “So I guess you’ve reserved me this space…” and then we sat next to each other for the entire run! She was incredible.

There are so many more people I would want to invite! Evelyn Hoskins who played Carrie would have to be there as would David Bedella and Nathan Amzi… and Jamie Muscato.

What would you cook for everyone?
Oh it would have to be something really Jewish… full out salt beef. We would be full on Fiddler-ing! And you could come too! My mum and dad would be furious if they weren’t invited. John and Katie (who run Upstairs at the Gatehouse) would be invited too, in fact so would the entire casts of Legally Blonde Highgate and Kilworth. I might have to hire a function room..!

I can’t wait! Last question, what is it like to have so much dedicated support behind you from the theatre world?
I don’t think I would have bothered doing half the shows without it [laughs]. If you don’t think anybody is going to be there to appreciate it, apart from your mum and dad, then you wouldn’t bother… you can’t keep doing it for yourself. A few people came here on Sunday evening and it was such a joy to see them in the audience. There’s a lovely lady called Roz who always comes – they are all lovely! They’re like pals now, I expect them to be there [laughs]! We’ve become friends, it isn’t like they’re supporters – that word feels weird. We chat for ages and they know my mum and dad and boyfriend… it’s lovely!

They will all be in the front row at this concert we’re going to persuade you to do!
[laughs] I hope, we’ll have to see!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Legally Blonde runs at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 31st January 2016. 
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 1,2&4: Darren Bell

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