BWW Interview: Debbie Kurup Talks THE PRINCE OF EGYPT in the West End
Kurup is now in Stephen Schwartz's The Prince of Egypt at the Dominion Theatre, playing the role of Queen Tuya. She spoke to BroadwayWorld about self-representation, the large scale of the show, and the theatrical magic that awaits audiences.
You're self-represented - could you talk a little bit about that?
I wouldn't say as an actor starting out it's the best choice - you need as many fighting in your corner as possible. It's a tough industry and you need an agent to help build your contacts. It's also a small industry, but when you're starting out you're a tiny fish. For me, it was a choice I made having built many contacts. I've been working in musical theatre for about 25 years. You become friendly with people and I liked the idea of trying it out.
I've been self-represented now for over a year and I enjoy the personal relationships with casting directors and producers. I don't get into arguments or disputes a lot, so it works fine for me. Nothing's set in stone: everything in this business is changing. For me, it's working.
It's been a busy few years, and your work is characterised mostly by musicals - what appeals about the form?
I've been doing musicals since I was 18. It just resonates with me. I feel most at home getting to exercise all three disciplines. I love the fact that I can play such diverse roles - I've never really been typecast. It's lovely to spread my wings and play various characters; my current character couldn't be further from my role in Sweet Charity.
How is The Prince of Egypt different from those other shows?
My goodness, purely on its scale - it's massive. It's quite possibly the biggest production I've been involved with. In its vision it's so ambitious. We're going into the Dominion Theatre, which is a huge space. It's all knockout. The cast's massive, we have lavish costumes, and the material has such a grand, epic feel. It must be seen to be believed.
Were you familiar with the film version of The Prince of Egypt?
When I got the job, I went back and watched the film. It's just stunningly animated. I believe it's one of the most successful animated films of all time and it won an Oscar for the song "When You Believe". There's been an appetite for this show on stage, and here we are putting it together.
What have rehearsals been like?
For me, they've been really easy. In a stark contrast to recent roles, Queen Tuya has little movement. The character is stoic, regal, feminine and ethereal - she's like Mother Earth crossed with a Glamazon. I swan in and out of scenes, which is nice, as opposed to throwing on a pair of fishnet tights.
My notes just say 'Stephen Schwartz'... what's it been like working with him?
He's a living legend. When we started rehearsals, we had a table read and Stephen Schwartz sat opposite me - I had to pinch myself. He's an absolute legend and I'm sure your readers are familiar with his work. You just have to say Wicked and people go "Oh my god, Stephen Schwartz!" The way he writes and works with his team is collaborative.
Though this is the premiere of this show in this country, it has been staged twice before: in America and Denmark, I believe. So, though this is new, there is a template set out. In that respect, it's nice to know you're in safe hands and that certain aspects of staging have been workshopped already.
How does it feel as an actor when there's a palpable excitement about a show?
We've been on lockdown with our social media because we want to keep the brand and product special. It needs to be represented in the exact way that will show off the piece in all its glory. We have this internal buzz that is building, which is awesome and we can't tell anyone about it. It's SO exciting.
Anything you can tell BroadwayWorld?
All I'll say is that you can't do this kind of show without some pretty cool illusions. I won't spoil anything, but the illusion team are fantastic and you will be wowed by our set design and certain elements of the show. You'll have to buy a ticket and have your mind blown.
What words come to mind when you think of the show?
Classy. That's the first thing. I used the same word when I was in Girl from the North Country but in a different way: that was an intimate play with music that was so understated, but this has elegance and opulence. It's breathtaking and majestic.
If you could see a change in the theatre industry, what would it be?
I'm all for the fact that measures are being taken to improve diversity. I would just hope for parity where pay is concerned: it's hard to know if you're on an even footing and I'd like to think we're moving towards pay neutrality across the board. As a feminist, I believe in equality for all. There should be no segregation, and we're all one team trying our best to provide the most incredible and thought-provoking entertainment - and we need to work together to ensure that happens.
What will audiences come to see The Prince of Egypt for and what will they leave thinking?
It's the story of hope. Although it's a Biblical retelling, it actually deals with very human themes. Racism. Slavery. Conflict. War. Feuding families. I think that's why it resonates with people. There'll be the religious aspect, which will attract people, but it's also a universal story.
If you're a fan of musical theatre, you're in the safest hands possible with Stephen Schwartz, and he's coloured the score with ethnic sounds and rhythms that will leave you feeling as if you've been surrounded by the Middle East. It ticks all the boxes, and you'll have a spiritual evening enveloped in the most incredible score that will leave you breathless.
Picture credit: Helen Maybanks, Ann Hould-Ward/DWA LLC