BWW Interview: Alexandra Burke Talks CHICAGO at Phoenix Theatre
Alexandra Burke is a singer, songwriter and actress who shot to fame in 2008 after winning The X Factor. In addition to releasing three albums, she has been seen in the UK tour of Sister Act and recently in the London Coliseum production of Chess.
Burke has just joined the cast of Chicago, in which she will be portraying Roxie until 14 October. After that, she returns to the role of Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard, a role she previously played in London and on tour.
How did you first become interested in theatre?
Since a young age I've always loved acting, dancing and singing, but I'm not a trained actress, so I never thought I would be here today with four acting roles under my belt. It's madness! My first theatre experience was a one-off performance for Children In Need in Les Misérables. It was amazing; I absolutely loved the whole experience.
Theatre is such a big operation. There are so many people involved to make it happen: the ensemble, the cast, the wigs and costume department, the stage management team...the list goes on! I think it was from that moment I thought "Wow, this is magical, and I'd love to be a part of it. If the opportunity to be involved in theatre comes my way, I am absolutely going to grab it with both hands."
What's it like going between recording albums, being on shows like The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing, and doing West End shows like Chess and Chicago?
I won The X Factor nearly 10 years ago and I'm still working 10 years later. I have to take moments occasionally to check myself and remember how lucky I am to still be doing what I love. The X Factor was where it all begun for me, and even though it was such a long time ago I still look back and get goosepimples when I think about particular moments.
Being part of Strictly was also a dream of mine. I loved that show and it was on my bucket list of things to do. When I was little, I made the choice to go with singing over dancing, so having the opportunity to go on that journey and learn all of the dances, work with the pros, who are all just unbelievable, wear the amazing costumes and be a part of that show in general was an incredible experience.
I'm not going to lie though - it was hard work! Ten-hour rehearsals, the pressure of learning new dances and praying you'll get through to the next week, boy it was a lot. But I have to say to all of the guys that are about to go on the same journey this year: I am jealous, you are going to have the best time.
Being involved in shows like Chess and now Chicago is a dream come true for me. Working alongside artists like Michael Ball, accompanied by a 50-piece orchestra - wow! I remember in rehearsals pinching myself and thinking "Am I really standing here?".
I went to see Chicago on Broadway with my now fiancé Josh. Brandy was playing the part of Roxie Hart and she just blew my mind. I turned to him and said "One day I am going to play that part". At the time his response was, "OK, Alex, calm down..." - and now here we are!
It's such an iconic show and I am so happy to be a part of it. It was a really quick turnaround - three weeks to learn the script - but I did it, and now a week into the show I am absolutely loving it. The cast, the crew, working alongside Martin Kemp, the whole experience so far is amazing. I am having a great time and only wish time would stop passing by so quickly, as I know I will blink and it'll be October already!
Did your time on Strictly give you more confidence as a dancer, or skills you can now apply to playing quite a challenging dance role?
The dancing I am used to is along to pop music; Latin and ballroom was completely new to me. I remember being really embarrassed at first with some of the moves, as I wasn't used to dancing with somebody so intimately, but once you get past that point you start to learn more about yourself. I was way more flexible than I realised, I could embrace my sexy side, I could execute moves I never believed possible.
It has definitely helped me with Chicago. There's one scene I feel I've brought a bit of Latin and ballroom to. It's also helped me pick up routines quicker and improved my ability to take things in without necessarily realising - that I'm sure has something to do with the intense rehearsal regime during Strictly. My anxiety has been less present than usual, and I didn't feel as much pressure learning the Chicago routines as I normally would.
In addition to playing Roxie, you're also about to return to The Bodyguard. What do you think it will be like going back into that show? Do you feel differently about the character or the story now?
I am so excited to return to The Bodyguard. I love that show; it's my baby! It's where my theatre journey really began.
I've been quite open about this already, but it's also where I want my theatre journey to end for a while. I need to focus on my music and get back into the studio. I'm finding it hard to do everything at once, so my plan is to take a break after I finish the run. Which is why I'm even more excited to come back and give it my all as Rachel Marron.
I also feel the journey I have been on since, so much has changed in both my personal and professional life. I've had lots of experiences I've taken things from, like Strictly and also Chess and now Chicago, that I can factor into the show. I am always learning - each experience I have, I take something from, so I hope to bring a bigger performance this time around. I can't wait.
How would you describe Roxie in Chicago?
Roxie is sexy and sassy, and once she gets a taste of fame, she won't let anything or anyone get in the way.
What's your favourite part of doing Chicago?
I love it all! It's too hard to pick one. In Act I, when Roxie is doing her own thing with the boys, as that 's where she discovers herself; the scene in the courtroom with Billy Flynn; or our last scene in Act II, the finale with Velma. It's too hard to choose; there are so many amazing numbers.
Why should people come see this production of Chicago, particularly if they've seen it before?
It's a great show regardless, so you should definitely go and see it if you have the chance. I think all Roxies are different; the part has been played by so many amazing actresses, which I didn't really realise until I started.
I like to think I have put my take on this role, so would love anyone who can to come along. I'm here until October, so there's plenty of time!
Do you have any other dream roles you'd love to play in the West End?
Donna Summer would be my dream role. I'm hoping they bring [the musical] over to UK. Which if they do, I will be the first in line to audition!
What advice do you have for aspiring actresses?
You can achieve anything you put your mind to. Things aren't given to you on a silver platter and it certainly won't be easy, but if you want it enough, go get it. Believe in yourself, work hard, and amazing things can happen.
Photographer: Matt Crockett