Thursday, 22 September 2016

Big Interview: West End star Lizzy Connolly

Lizzy Connolly is currently starring in the European premiere of Vanities at Trafalgar Studios 2.

Directed by Racky Plews, the musical has previously played in Seattle, Houston, New York and Los Angeles. It has book by Jack Heifner and music/lyrics by David Kirshenbaum.

Lizzy recently originated the role of Doris in Mrs Henderson Presents (West End/Theatre Royal Bath). Her credits also include: Jest End (Waterloo East), Calliope in Xanadu (Southwark Playhouse), Jolene in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (West End), WAG The Musical (Charing Cross), Jill in From Up Here (Tristan Bates) and Galatea in The Boys From Syracuse (Union ).

I previously spoke to Lizzy backstage at the Savoy Theatre in 2014 and, because she is one of my all-time favourite interviewees, when I knew the closure of West End Frame was approaching I made sure I set up another interview. We sat down to discuss why she's so excited to be a part of Vanities, her inspirations and, of course, who she would invite to her stagey dinner party...

So much has happened since we last spoke! You’ve literally jumped from show to show, have you had the chance to take it all in?
I’ve just been super-duper lucky, I’ve just had a big luck spurt! I’ve met some absolutely incredible people who have been a lot better than me and imparted really good advice to me along the way which has helped me in different areas. Every venue I’ve worked at has been beautiful or quirky and cool.

Who’s made the biggest impression on you?
Andrew Wright (who choreographed Mrs Henderson Presents) is amazing, he literally whips you into shape and is such a creative person to be in a room with. Nathan M Wright (who choreographed Xanadu) is so incredible as well. I’ve learnt so much from some of the experienced actors I’ve worked with like John Marquez, Ian Bartholomew, Tracie Bennett, Katherine Kingsley, Kay Murphy and Samantha Bond. Then Alison Jiear taught me so much vocally… I’ve literally just had the best mentors on the planet! They’ve all been so giving and spent time with me to help me improve. They’re all lovely people.

When Vanities popped up, what made you say “I want to be in this?”
It’s female led which is just so brilliant. It’s just the three of us in the cast, with an all-female band and a female director. It’s about heartfelt friendships, which is something so important to me in my life – I’ve got to mention Katie Bernstein because she said me in her interview [laughs] and she’s amazing. Female friendships make us who we are and help us grow, we go through everything with them. You go through difficulties with all friendships and relationships which is reflected in the show, but it’s also funny – and I love funny! It’s heartfelt too.

And I love the music!
Oh my gosh, it’s really fun! I mean… Ashleigh Gray is full on belting and Lauren Samuels has a stunning voice. My song is character-based. I would describe the music kind of like Legally Blonde meets Grease and Hairspray. It’s really catchy! It’s just cute… and I really like it. 

What are Ashleigh and Lauren like to work with?
Before we started rehearsals we had some note-bashing and pizza-eating sessions and straight away we hit it off… they are funny… I mean really funny girls. They’re both strong, funny girls which is what I went into this wanting it to be. In Mrs Henderson Presents I had Katie Bernstein and Lauren Hood; I like having my tight knit girls. If we didn’t get on it would be problematic for the piece. They’ve been kindly patient too [laughs], which is always important for me! Racky Plews (director) is open to ideas and listens to what we think. She came in with a strong vision for the piece, but has also been very open. She has such a warm, creative presence. 

Do you enjoy these jobs where you get to be more creative in the rehearsal room? So far, you’ve never taken over a role in a show!
I can’t believe my luck! I’ve been so fortunate to work with some really creative people who listen to what you think. When I was working on Xanadu, every time I went into the room I would say something like “I really want to do a slap here” and Paul Warwick Griffin, our director, would go, “Oh god, show me” but then he would say, “Actually that’s quite funny, let’s try it.” He would let me keep lots of things in. Of course sometimes I went too far and he knew when to put a lid on it [laughs]. Terry Johnson was so creative on Mrs Henderson Presents too. So yes, I really enjoy those kinds of jobs.

What was Mrs Henderson Presents like to be a part of? I’m so pleased it got its West End transfer after the run in Bath!
It was incredible. Andrew (choreographer), Terry (director) and Mike Dixon (musical director) had this amazing relationship together. They let each other fly in each of their areas and it all came together, I think, so beautifully. It was a really fun role, Doris was the perfect amount of different for me. I’m really glad I got to play Jolene (in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) who was stupid and mental, and then play Doris who was very blunt, dry and down to earth. It was great for me because she’s totally different. Andrew’s beautiful choreography topped off the show and I loved the show girl costumes we got to wear at the end. Usually as a funny actress you never particularly get to wear beautiful things, but I felt really beautiful and lucky in those costumes. The nudity was terrifying, but I had my Katie and Lauren – we were all in it together.

Between doing Mrs Henderson in Bath and in London, you casually did Jest End with the most incredible cast..! What was it like going into that?
Intimidating because on the first day I went in there and was like… “WOW… you guys are really good you know!” – [mimics herself] ‘Lizzy said to the West End performers’ [laughs]. The singing from those three was incredible. It was really fun working with each other, the jokey banter was hilarious – we formed a hilarious friendship. Jodie Jacobs is the warmest, funniest person; Scott Garnham is very witty and into writing comedy like me; and Simon Bailey is just incredible. From all of them I learnt a lot about bouncing off other people, they played with each other and were so relaxed; I was always so nervous, but they chilled me out and were massively relaxed. 

You also managed to squeeze in Xanadu which is now one of my absolute favourite shows! 
Nathan (choreographer) gave me a hula-hoop solo which was literally one of the highlights of my life! He pitied me because I was in Xanadu but couldn’t really roller-skate [laughs]. I really wasn’t up to scratch with the roller-skating so they had to turn it into a comedy moment [laughs]. On Broadway my character and Alison Jiear’s character didn’t have to skate so I didn’t think I was going to have to. However, Alison Jiear just happens to be a brilliant skater so comes in on the first day and whizzes around on her roller-skates! What were the chances?! So then they put both of us on skates. I mean… with the skills I learnt maybe now I would be better than the average person.

And then when Alison was ill, you performed with Kay Murphy who only had 24 hours rehearsal!
Oh my gosh… I have a weird story about Kay Murphy. I saw Kay in Chicago as Velma when she was originally an understudy years and years ago. She was friends with my dance teacher and had come in and taught some classes. I was eleven years old, and got to go backstage and meet Kay Murphy in her dressing room. Years later she comes to see Xanadu and I couldn’t believe it… I spoke to her after the show and was like, “Do you remember me?” Then two weeks later she was suddenly onstage with me after 24 hours rehearsal… it was mental! Kay Murphy is a machine, that woman is… it. She’s such an inspiration. 

Last time we spoke we were backstage at the Savoy during your time in Scoundrels. That show really launched your career and has done incredible things for you! It must be a special job to look back on now?
Absolutely, I had only really just graduated and Jerry Mitchell took a massive risk. I got to play! It was a tiny role, but it was the perfect role for me at that time. It was a small enough role for them to give it to someone who wasn’t a name, but it was a big risk to give the role to somebody who didn’t have much experience and was incredibly nervous! I wasn’t very confident back then, I’m much happier in my whole self and life now. I feel like a different person. Jerry Mitchell really did change my life! 

So Lizzy, you are organising the stagiest dinner party ever and can invite three theatrical legends dead or alive. Who would you invite and why?
Oh my gosh… Sutton Foster! She’s just it… she is literally it. If anyone’s got it, then it’s her. I totally want to be her! She’s funny and her timing is incredible… she dances and has the most amazing voice. I would invite Ann Miller, I would love to meet her. She was in the original Kiss Me, Kate… she did the ‘Too Darn Hot’ with the most taps per minute. She’s proper classic! I feel a bit of a connection with her because my dance teacher was in Sugar Babies with Ann Miller at the Savoy years and years ago. She’s super sensational. Who else should I say? Do you think I should invite Katie Bernstein because she spoke about me so much in her interview? Actually… do you know who is a really good dinner party guest? 

Samuel Holmes! He’s just the life and soul. I absolutely love him! Also, I would be anxious around the other legends but he’s as cool as a cucumber. There’s so many other people I should have invited… Carly Anderson should have been there. I feel bad now!

What would you cook?
Well… I’m not very good at cooking so I would make a roast with some help from my friend Rosanna Bates. She’s excellent! We would cook together with wine and she would get me in the zone for meeting Sutton and Ann. Wow, [jokingly] doing this interview has taught me that I’ve got excellent friends!

There is so much support from dedicated theatregoers, you have lots of support behind you and your career!! Whether you’re performing at the Waterloo East or at the Noel Coward, the same people will come and watch you perform again and again…
They’re so sweet! The people who come again and again become almost like friends because they’re just so kind. The support is incredible, although at stage door I just talk and talk and sometimes I think that they’re thinking ‘Actually I should probably go and catch my train now…’ [laughs]. 

And finally… when are you doing your solo show? Or some sort of show with Katie Bernstein?
Ahhh… well… I write sketches so would be more likely to do some sort of sketch evening. Stephanie Clift should do it too, she has read all my original sketches since we lived together. Or maybe I will one day do a reading for one of the plays I’m currently attempting to write, thinking I’m Terry Johnston or something [laughs]. I couldn’t do a solo cabaret! I would be terrified! I will do something with Katie… at some point in my life. We’ve luckily both been really busy so have just had no time to do it! Oh my god, what if nobody came and it was just you sat at the front [laughs]?! 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Vanities runs at Trafalgar Studios 2 until Saturday 1st October 2016.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Read our previous interview with Lizzy

Photo Credit 3: Pamela Raith
Photo Credit 4: Paul Coltas

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