BWW Interview: Charlotte Wakefield Talks CRAZY FOR YOU
Charlotte Wakefield's past work includes The Sound of Music at Regent's Park Open Air, Mamma Mia! in the West End, and the UK tour of Oklahoma!. She's back on tour next month, starring in Crazy for You alongside Tom Chambers and Caroline Flack.
What was the first musical you saw?
The first musical I saw was Annie in 1999 when I was nine years old at the Manchester Opera House with Lily Savage (Paul O'Grady) as Miss Hannigan! I'd been to the theatre many times before then and grew up watching the Disney Classics and all the musical films, but this was the first big musical I saw and it was when I truly fell in love with musical theatre.
When did you realise you wanted to act professionally?
I would say that same year. I was always quite shy when it came to performing - I would never dream of getting up and singing in public. After seeing Annie, I sang "Maybe" in front of my whole primary school in a little talent show and I think people were shocked when this little kid opened her mouth and a big voice came out! I told my parents that I really wanted to pursue performing arts and so I began attending Northwich Stagecoach. I loved every second and attended until I was 16.
Where did you train?
I actually have no formal training. I worked professionally in television while at high school and was cast in Spring Awakening just days after my 18th birthday and only three weeks into my last year of sixth form, where I was studying for my A-levels. I left a few weeks after that and moved to London to begin rehearsals. I've been extremely fortunate to have been busy ever since.
What was your first professional acting job?
When I began Stagecoach, they were just launching the north-west branch of their agency and I'd gone along to a workshop day. They were talent scouting for a film at the time and I was picked to have my Polaroid taken and sent off to the casting directors for consideration.
They called me in to audition and, after many rounds and very exciting trips to London, they offered me the title role of May in a British film called An Angel for May. I worked with the brilliant American director Harley Cokeliss and alongside acting legends Tom Wilkinson, Geraldine James and Dame Anna Massey, to name just a few!
Spring Awakening is such a distinctive show - what was it like to premiere it in the UK?
It was incredible! I'd seen the show on Broadway the year before on a school trip to New York and had fallen in love with it. I had no idea that a year later I would be playing Wendla in London.
We were blessed with the most amazing original creative team who came over from the states to rehearse with us. Even though we were stepping into the incredibly big shoes of the now Tony-winning Broadway cast, we always felt we were able to make these characters our own. We felt safe and able to play.
The run at the Lyric Hammersmith was just mental! The Lyric team were incredibly supportive and, as this was the majority of the cast's professional stage debut, we were so well looked after. We sold out nearly every performance and were greeted every night by fans of the show, many of whom still stay in touch and come and see us in other shows.
The transfer to the West End happened incredibly quickly and we were suddenly making our West End debuts - it was utterly thrilling! It's a show and a job that will always have an incredibly treasured place in my heart.
You've done some wonderful classic musicals, like Sound of Music and Oklahoma! - is there a particular pressure doing a show that's so beloved?
Well of course I would be lying if I said there wasn't! Everyone who loves musical theatre will have their own preconceived ideas about how the show should look, what it should sound like and, of course, how the characters should be, based on previous experiences, but I always strive to push boundaries when creating my version of those famous characters. I believe it's the only way for us to keep theatre alive.
I loved playing Maria as this young, feisty, outspoken and passionate young woman. Everything was there for me in the script and lyrics - I just had to access the true emotions and work out exactly why and how Maria would experience them.
Rachel Kavanaugh, who I worked with on both The Sound Of Music and Oklahoma!, is one of the most exciting and inspiring directors to work with as she allows you to play, feel, mess up, have breakthroughs - and all while moulding the show and you as an actor to help create a musical that isn't just about the songs. It's all about the story. Everything else comes as an utterly thrilling result.
Tell us a bit about the premise of Crazy for You and how you came to be involved
I adore Crazy for You - it's a musical I've been singing along to for years. It's a story of love, mistaken identity and a passion for theatre. I auditioned for the show back in May and was cast not long after - I was so thrilled. I may have even shed a tear on a crowded train on the phone to my agent.
Polly Baker is a part I have always wanted to play. I've tap danced since I was very little but I've never used it in a show, so I'm extremely excited to be donning a tap shoe opposite the incomparable Tom Chambers in this one.
How do you relate to the character of Polly? Did you research the period much, or find other ways into her story?
I can definitely relate to Polly. She's a woman who isn't afraid to speak her mind, who would fight just as hard as the boys but loves harder and with her whole heart.
When it comes to research, I guess I can make some connections between her and Laurey from Oklahoma!. She's the only woman in the town but doesn't let that affect her. Her and Laurey are both hard workers and will do anything to protect their family and the place they live.
I am very excited to find out more about Nevada and its people in that time period too. I don't like to do too much research before rehearsals begin, as I wouldn't want to make solidified decisions or choices. Of course I bring a notebook full of ideas, but at this point they're all in pencil!
Is it particularly fun doing a musical that's both satire of and a love letter to showbiz?
Oh, absolutely - I love a good show within a show! As actors and musicians, showbiz kind of runs in our blood, so to be playing characters who are either learning to be performers or fully-fledged Broadway Follies Girls is a treat. This is my first actor-musician show too, so it's going to be exciting to see how having the instruments on stage with us is going to add to the magic. Especially during numbers like "Slap That Bass".
How ambitious is the production in dance terms? And has your past work, like Oklahoma!, helped with that?
Having 18 actors who are going to be acting, singing, dancing and (for the most) playing an instrument all at the same time is going to be utterly exhilarating! Crazy for You is known for its big tap numbers and, of course, the brilliant comedic routine in "Shall We Dance". I have no doubt at all that we will be challenged, but that's all part of the fun!
I've danced since I was three - I attended a dance school in Knutsford, Cheshire, where I grew up, and I studied ballet and tap to an advanced level, only leaving to do Spring Awakening.
Oklahoma! was also an extremely exciting production to be involved in as Ashley Day (who played Curly) and I danced the dream ballet ourselves. In most productions the actors playing Laurey and Curly are replaced by dance doubles as the ballet begins, but we danced it every night for seven months and we loved every minute! Drew McOnie is a groundbreaking choreographer and he made the ballet for and with us, as opposed to us learning an already solidified dance.
It's quite a Gershwin 'moment', with American in Paris in the West End - what do you think makes their music so enduring?
I think it's extraordinarily well written. Brilliant motifs and structure in a musical number keeps everyone on their toes (literally!) and makes it memorable. I love every song in Crazy for You and can't help but tap my feet.
Which number do you most enjoy performing?
It's got to be "I Got Rhythm". It's a big, full company number with dancing, huge singing and of course every musical instrument going. It's thrilling!
What are your major dos and don'ts when touring?
Don't: Be a limpet. On your days off, try and see the city you're in if you can.
Don't: Tire yourself out. Touring can be extremely tiring; eight shows in five days is a challenge. Fear of missing out or FOMO is a real thing, believe me, but if you have to go home straight from the show and rest that voice and sleep, then do. Your body will thank you!
Do: Book all your digs as far in advance as possible - large companies of sometimes multiple tours all in the same city at the same time means less lovely digs to go around. Also, cheap doesn't always cut it! If you have to pay more to stay closer to the theatre or to have a lovely comfy bed then DO IT!
Do: Make your dressing room your second home - you'll spend more time in it than anywhere else. Get a nice scent diffuser going, nice soap and make it personal.
Do: Chat to everyone. Especially the incredible local crew backstage. Everyone is always so lovely, and when you return to that venue next time you'll be greeted with a friendly face!
Is it particularly rewarding for you personally to take high-quality work around the UK?
Absolutely - regional theatres see incredible work passing through their dock doors each week. For me, touring can be the most rewarding kind of work. You take your show, you perfect it on the road and you deliver it to people to may not be able to get to London - little children who, like me, go and see their first ever musical and you get to tell them the story. It's very humbling.
Any future dream roles?
I loved working on The Herbal Bed, which was a Royal & Derngate/ETT/Rose Theatre Kingston co-production. It was my first straight play and it was a totally different experience from working on a musical. I learnt so much! I would love to do more straight plays.
I also attended a week-long intensive course at RADA on Shakespeare earlier in the year and it really sparked an already growing fascination with his writing. I have worked with the RSC before and would love to one day work with them again on a Shakespeare classic.
Finally, why should audiences come see Crazy for You?
It's going to be a night full of live music straight from the stage, dancing that'll have you holding your breath, and a story that'll have everyone laughing and crying all at the same time! "Who could ask for anything more?"
Photo credit: Richard Davenport, Johan Persson, Helen Maybanks