Lucy St Louis is currently starring as Diana Ross in the original West End cast of Motown The Musical.
With music and lyrics from the legendary Motown catalogue and book by Motown founder Berry Gordy, Motown The Musical is currently booking at the Shaftesbury Theatre to 28th October 2017. The musical opened in London in March this year, having premiered on Broadway in 2013.
Lucy’s theatre credits include: Little Eva and Shirelle in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Aldwych), understudy Nabulungi in The Book of Mormon (Prince of Wales), understudy Sarah in Ragtime (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), Tiger Lily in Peter Pan (Llandudno/Crawley) and Ultimate Broadway (Shanghai). On screen she recently appeared as Debutante in Disney’s live action remake of Beauty and the Beast directed by Bill Condon.
I recently spoke to Lucy about her whirlwind journey with Motown, how she prepared to play Diana Ross, as well as her time in The Book of Mormon and Beautiful plus more…
These last few months must have flown by in a crazy whirlwind?
They have been a crazy whirlwind – it has been exciting, totally mindboggling and I can’t quite believe it has all happened! It has been so surreal and a dream come true.
I think the moment it all sunk in was probably the bows on press night because we had all the creatives, Smokey Robinson, Berry Gordy, Mary Wilson and so many amazing people there supporting us. All our friends and family were there too and the audience were electric. Coming down for the bow and getting that response was such an incredible moment which rounded it all off. Then the next day, I was sitting on my sofa [laughs] with a cup of tea going, ‘Wow that actually happened!’ It was the most incredible thing that has ever happened in my career to date. It is happening and it is real and this is my life now!
Lucy, Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson & Cedric Neal onstage at press night
Seeing the publicity all around London is crazy. One day I was on the northern line and it opened at Leicester Square and there was this massive poster of my face… and I had no idea it was happening. I looked at it and went “Oh my god” and then the doors closed and everyone around me was looking at me. I couldn’t believe it was my face! It happened so fast. Things like that are mental but so amazing. I feel so humbled that people are supporting the show and that it’s selling out and is a massive success. People are dancing in their seats and then out into the streets – the response has been amazing.
A lot of people are coming to the show to relive the music they grew up listening to, but you’re also introducing Motown to a whole new generation! Why do you think everyone is loving it?
I think Motown music will always live in us – it’s a legacy that’s always going to mean a lot. The older generation are remembering a time when music changed, it was such an incredible era with the clothes and the way people danced. The younger generation are enjoying the show just as much. Motown is a feeling and a groove, it’s positive, upbeat and all about embracing the moment. This kind of music will never feel stale. We’ve nearly been doing the show for half a year but it doesn’t get old – none of us are tired of the music at all.
|Lucy in Motown The Musical|
Did you grow up listening to Motown?
Yes, when I was growing up my mum filled Motown through our household. I loved Diana Ross and used to prance around my living room pretending to be her, so now that I’m actually playing her as an adult to hundreds of people every night is so funny [laughs]. Back then I never thought it would work out like this!
When did this show first come onto your radar?
I saw it on Broadway when I went to New York a couple of years ago, before I had any idea that I was even going to have the chance to audition for it. I had just found out I’d been cast in Beautiful so went to New York to watch the show and to see friends. After Beautiful I wanted to see a few different shows, and I ended up seeing Motown as one of my last shows… and I was totally blown away. I fell in love with it! Obviously the music is incredible, but you also get a truthful story about what happened to these amazing people and how this music shaped their lives as superstars. It’s not all bright lights and sparkles! That’s what is so great – you get an insight into who these people were and the journeys that they had.
Halfway through my contract in Beautiful I found out Motown was coming here and that I had an audition. I realised this actually could happen. The whole process of auditioning is always scary, you think ‘How can I be that one person to land this amazing part?’ I knew that it would change my life – I’ve covered, I’ve been ensemble, I’ve been swing, I’ve been dance captain, but this role has taken me into becoming a leading lady. I’ve kind of worked my way up. It’s amazing to finally be able to establish myself as a lead, especially in this show with such a great cast.
How did you find out you had got the role? What did you do?
I had my final on the Friday and found out on the Monday. My agent called me and asked where I was – I was in town and had just done all my wig prep for Beautiful. He asked if I had five minutes, and told me to come down and meet him at the Savoy where he had a meeting. I was worried that maybe it wasn’t good news and that he wanted to see me in person so he could give me a hug. It’s funny because I always listen to music through my phone and as I was running down to the Savoy, the song that came on was ‘Ain't No Mountain High Enough’ [laughs]!
I was so nervous and had butterflies in my stomach. He got out his taxi and said, “Hello Ms. Ross!” I fell to the floor and was like “You’re kidding me!” This was all happening outside the Savoy [laughs]. I couldn’t quite form a sentence, he had to walk me round the block for about ten minutes to calm me down because I couldn’t tell anybody for months! For about nine weeks I couldn’t tell anyone at all. It was mental – then I had to go back to do the show and walk into the dressing room with ten girls and act like nothing had happened. I had to carry on as normal – it was so surreal. I remember saying to my fiancé, “Did that actually happen?” because it didn’t feel real when nobody else knew. Then in October we did the press launch which was the first time we could actually let all the information out.
Lucy as Diana Ross
What preparation did you do before rehearsals? With shows like Motown and Jersey Boys it’s important to not imitate the person you’re playing, but you still need to do your research to help build the character…
Exactly – I read lots of books and watched lots of YouTube clips of concerts and interviews. I closed my eyes and listened to how she spoke – not so I could copy, but so I could capture the essence. Then I looked at how she moved. You can’t imitate these incredible legends, you have to bring their feeling. I had to do loads of prep – I looked in the mirror and tried to mould and shape certain moments because she had such a specific style. It was hard!
It’s a huge role – what’s it like doing eight shows a week? It must be exhausting!
It is exhausting because it’s such a high energy show. I start the show being 16 and finish in my late thirties – it’s a massive journey, the biggest in the show. Every night I discover something new about Diana which is a beautiful thing – I don’t think I ever give the same performance because each night a certain emotion will carry me. Cedric Neal (Berry Gordy), who is incredible, and the cast make it fresh every night. We try and keep it spontaneous which stops it becoming stale.
|Berry Gordy & Lucy|
What’s the company vibe like?
It’s buzzing all the time [laughs], we’re really close. For quite a big cast – there’s thirty-four of us – it’s amazing. The young ones who play Michael and Stevie are brilliant, everyone is just loving their lives. You can’t not love being in this show and singing these incredible songs every night. There’s always a buzz in the audience which translates through to the cast. We’re a massive family and all look out for each other.
We also have to discuss The Book of Mormon and Beautiful too – you literally jumped from one show to another, before going straight into Motown!
Both those shows were incredible. The Book of Mormon was my first West End show, and to be in the original London cast was a huge deal for me. I was first cover Nabulungi which is such an amazing part – I had kind of just left college and was still young, so playing that young innocent part and feeling like a rabbit in the headlights coming into this West End world was kind of perfect because I could channel it all into the part. Also having the responsibility of being assistant dance captain and a swing meant I got to go on every night as different characters – it was a challenge but also exciting. It was impossible to get bored.
And it’s such a brilliant show!
The Book of Mormon is comedy genius; working with Trey Parker and Matt Stone and being part of an original cast was very special. We got to work first hand with Casey Nicholaw (director/choreographer) which was such a privilege. Nabulungi is such a well-written part, it’s a role I will always hold dear to me and, if I could, I would love to go back and play it full-time.
How did you find going from The Book of Mormon into Beautiful?
Leaving The Book of Mormon and going into Beautiful was a totally different game because I got to be onstage every night in my own track. I was used to being on and off as a swing, so doing the same thing eight times a week was a big change. We were playing real people and trying to create the sound of the era which, I guess, was an amazing path for going into Motown. Beautiful was great – we had an amazing company and doing ‘The Loco-Motion’ every night was joyous [laughs]. I think each show has had stepping stones that have led to where I am now. They’ve all had little links which is amazing.
Lucy & the original West End cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
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 would have to take ‘Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In’ from Hair because I just love that musical – I love how free and liberating it is. I think it would work perfectly on a desert island [laughs]. There would have to be a Barbra Streisand song, perhaps ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’. I mean… when you’re on a desert island firstly you don’t want it to rain and nobody can dampen your feelings because you’re totally liberated and having the time of your life [laughs]. What else? This is tough, you know! I’m going to go for ‘Summertime’ from Porgy and Bess.
Finally, what’s it like to have so much support behind you from theatregoers?
It’s so humbling! It’s so amazing. You kind of go into this thinking ‘Are they going to like me?’ There’s an amazing moment in the show ‘Reach Out And Touch’ where Diana Ross makes her first appearance without The Supremes. It’s the moment I go out into the audience and get them to sing with me. Seeing their reactions and how supportive they are is very special. That support from the audience in those moments is electrifying. It’s amazing when you get tweets and letters from people who have had an amazing time, because at the end of the day that’s why we do what we do.
I’ve had people sending me things like brochures from when they saw Diana Ross in concert and memorabilia which is so special. I’ve got all the posters and everything people have sent me up in my dressing room on my wall and around my mirror. It’s so beautiful – people have said things like “We were so impressed, we’re going to follow your career” which is so lovely! I mean, there are some people who have followed my career since Ragtime and The Book of Mormon which is mind-blowing. I’m so grateful, the support really helps you get through it all. It’s so wonderful.
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Motown The Musical is currently booking at the Shaftesbury Theatre to 28th October 2017.
Please visit www.motownthemusical.co.uk for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit 1&4: Hugo Glendinning
Photo Credit 3: Alastair Muir
Photo Credit 6: Brinkhoff Moegenburg