Monday, 3 October 2016

Big Interview: West End legend Jodie Jacobs

West End legend Jodie Jacobs is currently starring in the world premiere of new British musical 27. 

Written and co-directed by Sam Cassidy and co-directed by Arlene Phillips, 27 is playing a limited run at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone. The piece is a "shattering exploration of the fragility of life and the unwitting connections that bind us together".

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: Paulette in Legally Blonde (Upstairs at the Gatehouse/Kilworth House), Nancy in Oliver! (Grange Park Opera), 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). 

Earlier this year Jodie performed An Evening with Jodie Jacobs to a sold out audience at the Chapel of St Barnabas, receiving rave reviews.

I recently sat down with Jodie – one of my absolute favourite interviewees of all time – for a chat about starring in 27, the experience of performing her solo show, what it was like to finally play Nancy and the early days of her career…

27 is a brand new musical – when did you first hear about it? 
I met Sam (Cassidy) so many years ago – it was like 2007 and we hit it off straight away. I knew he had done a workshop recording of a musical he was working on, and when I heard it I was furious with him for not asking me to do it. I was furious! I said to him, “Oi, next time you do this I want in.” 

Then, about a year and a half ago, almost all of us from the original workshop got the special treatment; he took us to his flat and performed the whole thing as a one-man show for us. That boy is so talented and massively underrated I cannot tell you – he can sing every single part in this show… boy, girl or dog. We want the cast to get an epidemic so he has to go on for every role! Back when we did the workshop we learnt the show in two weeks and it was huge; I knew then that it was something special. I just loved it! I had the best time. 

Sam is the most loyal person I’ve worked for. It was constantly like “Don’t take the job… don’t take the job… I know you’re up for this, but don’t take it because the show is happening”. And as it worked out, I was offered a couple of things at the same time as this, but Sam is so loyal that it was a no brainer. 

Has the show grown since you did the last workshop?
When we started rehearsals straight away we could see that it was on a much bigger scale. He wrote us a new song – thank you very much [laughs] – and it’s brilliant! It’s exhausting, but I love it!

You’re belting your face off!
I am, but I love it! He writes so well for women. It’s a rock-opera and it’s melodic. Sam writes in a place for girls which means even if you’re feeling tired, you can still get up and on those notes. Not only that but you want to because it’s a joy to sing. No matter how knackered I am, I can’t wait to get to work! 

Jodie in 27 | Photo Credit: Nick Ross

I like its style, you glide on and off stage…
We went through all different arguments and discussions – the usual actor-ish rubbish – about what we did and didn’t want to do. I’m incredibly proud of it and of Sam and of all my friends who are in it. This show 100% has life after this run. It’s based on the methodology of the 27 theory that all these young stars with creative backgrounds sell their souls to the devil. You’re not coming to see a musical about Amy Winehouse and Jim Morrison, 27 alludes to the myth. It’s about a young chap who is already a little bit damaged. He has a wonderfully supportive girlfriend and band, and embarks on a journey in act one in fulfilling his destiny as a star… then act two goes really weird [laughs]! Please god this show achieves the cult status I believe it deserves! 

Sam is there every single night, sitting in the audience mouthing every word and coming backstage and giving us so much encouragement. And Arlene too – they’re both there all the time. They’re always giving notes, but not bad stuff, it’s always constructive. The only thing I want to change is the temperature in the theatre [laughs], I need a fan installed into my costume! It’s brilliant and I love it. This is just the beginning, he’s written another four musicals!

Oh my goodness, have you heard anything from the others?
All I know is every time Sam plays us a song I have to change my pants. He is unbelievable. When he played us the new song he wrote for us in act two I didn’t know what to do with myself, I haven’t felt like that about a song, let alone a show, for such a long time. I can’t help but over-sing it every night. That’s why we’re all so exhausted!

Last time we spoke I essentially begged you to do a solo show… and one month later I was in the audience and it was happening!
Well basically, you weren’t the first person to say “do it”, but you were the last person before someone then came to me and said “you don’t have to do any work apart from learn the songs”. It was Christopher Lane who I’ve known for a long time, he’s a brilliant director and gorgeous human. My MD was James Taylor who was assistant MD for The Sound of Music LIVE on ITV and has done a bunch of other amazing things. The venue (Chapel of St Barnabas) was amazing… and I got six months membership to the club which sold it to me [laughs]. All the proceeds went to charity… so I just got on with it and did it… and I cannot lie to you… I hated every single minute. It gave me the most horrendous anxiety and I’ve been seeing a therapist since. The night of it I took so many beta blockers that I was starving during the middle of the show. I needed a banana!

And then someone from the audience gave you their banana!
[laughs] I don’t even remember! Did someone give me a banana? [jokingly] I’ve still got it! It was not an enjoyable experience, and very soon after I got asked if I would do it again, but this time not for charity, and there was no way I could do it. The thought of it made me break out in hives. 

Jodie as Nancy in Oliver!
It was full – people were begging for tickets!
I cannot tell you how grateful I am. I felt like I owed everyone something, I should have bought everyone a gift. While I was doing it there were certain elements I enjoyed… but I was so stressed I can’t tell you. All I remember is my director at the back telling me to wind it up because we went over by about forty-five minutes! It was special… I did it once and probably won’t do it again until I’ve got something else to say. I’ve got nothing else to say at the moment because I’m so boring.

My favourite number was ‘As Long As He Needs Me’, I was sat just across the aisle from your family who were crying their eyes out.
I mean they cry if I fart the national anthem! Those three are… there are no words. Once I did a gig on Battersea Barge and I sang a tiny song – I can’t even remember what it was – but it went well and my dad got up onstage and cuddled me! I will never, ever forget it! My family’s default setting is proud, they can’t help it. 

And then a few months later you were onstage playing Nancy at Grange Park Opera!
I did lots of auditions whilst I was rehearsing for my show. It was stressful because it was my dream… it still is my dream – I don’t feel as though I’m done with it. The only job I’ve ever been certain I had to get was Rock Of Ages, because they needed a comedy belty Jew who didn’t mind taking their clothes off – there wasn’t anyone else [laughs]. Apart from Rock Of Ages I’ve never walked into an audition thinking ‘that’s mine’. I walked into my Nancy audition thinking ‘I’m going to screw this up’. I found it daunting and stressful because of its legacy. And I didn’t get the job! Three weeks after I got told “no” my agent phoned me and said “sit down, I’ve just had a phone call from Grange Park Opera and they want you to play Nancy in Oliver. The girl who got offered it has had to pull out.” I couldn’t eat that phone quickly enough! 

It never really sunk in, not even through rehearsals. On the third day of rehearsals I overheard the opera choir learning ‘Consider Yourself’ and I burst into tears… like really dramatic EastEnders-y weeping. I couldn’t believe I got it, and with my best mate Simon Lipkin (who played Bill). But it was just nine shows in a month and it wasn’t enough! You don’t know what a brilliant musical it is until you’re in it, every single song is exquisite. I didn’t do anything new or ground-breaking with the role, I just played her as me because she’s an east end immigrant gypsy and I played it as I believe she may have been after reading the book again and again. Being at the Grange Park Opera was an amazing, amazing experience. 

When did you realise musical theatre was actually a ‘thing’? And something you wanted to persue professionally? 
I always sang… badly… I remember loving Les Mis as a kid but not understanding that it was something attainable as a job – it was just something I loved. But then I remember being in the kitchen and seeing An Audience With Michael Ball and he sang ‘You and I’ from Chess with Elaine Paige. I remember it like it was yesterday, and I think that was the first time I went ‘I don’t know if I’m any good at it, but I must do this as a job’. 

I was 19, working at Marks and Spencers, had just broken up with my first boyfriend and was miserable in my job. I’d failed all my school exams so was never going to go to drama school and didn’t have the money either. I was doing amateur dramatics with Simon Lipkin and enjoying it. I was so miserable at Marks and Spencers, and even more miserable when I broke up with my boyfriend, that I literally went ‘I cannot do this anymore for my health’. 

I left M&S, got a part-time job invigilating exams which was boring, so I auditioned for drama schools not really thinking anything of it and didn’t get into any of them except for LSMT who welcomed my weird little face with open arms… and I have been the luckiest person in all of musical theatre! I’m not denying that. I walked into school, made friends with people who I’m still friends with now, did one year and walked out and into work. 

Jodie & Simon Lipkin in Oliver!

What was the show you walked into?
It was called Build Me A Bridge in a theatre off-Broadway. It was never a big thing – I think it’s right at the bottom of my CV. It was with George Miller who was in Les Mis for seven years. The show was by Charles Miller who is the most incredible songwriter – he’s the most underrated songwriter. He wrote a revue of his stuff and asked us to go out there and we did it off-Broadway. I worked with the most incredible people from over there! Then I came back and was supposed to do a professional production of Brenda Bly Teen Detective which was the school show they wrote for our final year, and I was playing Brenda Bly. It was all set and then I got offered We Will Rock You… so I had to pull myself. Guess who played Brenda Bly instead? Cassidy Janson! This business is tiny, when I see Cassidy at an audition I’m like “well I’m not getting this gig” [laughs]. 

Is there anyone in particular who really inspired you along the way back in the early days?
I honestly have been so lucky, I just did one year training; everyone knows I’m not a brilliant dancer although work hard at it. Thank god for Karen Bruce because she gave me my first lead – after We Will Rock You I played Serena in Fame. Karen made me feel like I could do it. When I was working on Footloose and The Wedding Singer with her she said “If you’re standing front and centre, you’ve just got to learn it”. She didn’t treat me like a non-dancer, she treated me like a woman and made me feel like a lead. Things she said early on have stuck with me my whole career. She made me believe in myself, and I hope I haven’t worked with her for the last time. 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

27 runs at the Cockpit Theatre until Saturday 22nd October 2016.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

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