BWW Interview: Louise Dearman Talks THERE IS NOTHIN' LIKE A DAME
Louise Dearman has tackled many musical theatre leading roles, and is the only actress in the West End to have played both Glinda and Elphaba in Wicked. She also has a successful concert career and has released four solo albums.
Dearman will be taking part in the upcoming concert at Cadogan Hall, There Is Nothin' Like a Dame - 100 Years of Women in Musical Theatre.
How did you first become interested in theatre?
I started dance classes when I was three years old, as a hobby - ballet and tap and modern. I just loved it and It really developed from there. When I was 12 years old, I auditioned for a school choir. That choir was asked to audition for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London Palladium with Phillip Schofield. Amazingly, we got through.
When I was having my 13th birthday, I was at the Palladium as part of the choir. That was when I realised I wanted to do that for the living. I couldn't believe people got to have fun every night and get paid. At 16, I decided to leave school and I went to the brilliant Laine Theatre Arts. I trained there for three years, and the rest is history!
I graduated on the Friday from college and started my first UK Tour on a Monday. I was one of the lucky ones who fell into it straightaway and got a good head start.
What was the UK Tour?
Strangely enough, it was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. That's just such a crazy thing. I think about it and it's like that was my first big professional job as a kid and then I got to go play the Narrator on the UK Tour. There was a lot of Joseph going on!
You're still the only person in the West End to have played both the lead roles in Wicked. What was that like?
I think there's been some people who have understudied both roles, but yeah, I'm the only person to have been cast as both roles. It was amazing enough to have been in the show the first time as Glinda. I loved playing that role and completely fell in love with the show. It was a huge game-changer for me as far as my career goes, in terms of opening up many, many doors.
I'm not going to lie. People who knew my voice at the time knew that I could probably sing the Elphaba material as well. I'd played many different roles up until that point, so I'd like to think I'm a versatile actress as well. It was really the production team and the creative team who said (this is like six months after I left the show) "We're sat here on the audition panel and wondering why you aren't you auditioning?".
I thought, "I don't actually know if I can do it", but I went in and had a sing and really enjoyed it. I went back one more time to be filmed so that the American producers and everybody could check me out. I just couldn't believe it when they called up and said they wanted me to come and play Elphaba.
It was thrilling, because I was so aware that nobody else had ever done it. You don't often get those opportunities. It really takes for somebody to believe in you. It feels like a bit of a dream.
You've also released several albums. What's that been like?
I love recording, I really do. I wanted to do another album, this latest one, For You, For Me. The previous album, I'd recorded it while I was playing Elphaba, so of course my voice was tired. Also it was big classics done in the original way, and there's nothing wrong with that of course, but I do like to do something a little bit different.
So it was nice to get back in the studio and be able to play around with the songs with Ben Robins, my producer, and find new interesting versions of these songs and kind of put my stamp on them.
I think it's important to keep doing recordings, because the fans want to hear you sing different material. At the moment, while I have a lovely concert career and I'm not doing a show at the moment, I think it's hugely important to be out there still working and being creative.
This concert celebrates women in musical theatre. What's your favorite role you've ever played?
People always expect it to be something from Wicked, and of course they are both highlights - and I can't choose which one is my favourite because they are so completely different. I love singing soprano, I love playing comedy, so Glinda was a dream in that respect. Elphaba is such a powerful role, but also hugely demanding.
One of my favourite musicals is Guys and Dolls and I've been in the show twice. The first time I was in the show in London, understudying Sarah Brown and Miss Adelaide, and I said to myself, when I'm the right age, I really want to play Miss Adelaide.
I did that, I think, two years ago now. That was such great fun. She's such a beautiful character to play. I would probably say that one. It's really hard. There's not one role I've played that I've hated. They're so different; it sort of tests me in different ways and I do love a challenge.
Is there a role that you wish you could play?
I was thinking about this earlier actually. At the moment, I'm choosing not to do a show until the right one comes along. Of course, I will be back in a show one day if they'll have me. But at the moment, I'm doing lots of concert work, which I'm very fortunate to have, and choosing to do that because I'm a mum.
But also, the choices are fewer. I'm at an age where I'm too old for certain roles and still too young for others. I'm kind of in this middle ground really, waiting to be old enough to play some certain roles. You know, Norma Desmond is way up there and a hugely powerful role to play when the time comes. I think I just need to bide my time, keep doing concert work, and then come back into musicals when I've hit the right age and can play those type of roles.
It's also hugely exciting. People are like "It's depressing, I'm too old now for certain roles", but I think you have to look at it as the time will come when you're the perfect age. I'm just going to go with that positive spin on it.
Do you have a favourite diva?
There are a couple of singers that I grew up listening to and massively admire. I was watching a documentary on Whitney Houston the other day - and it was of course very sad, and I wanted more focus to be on the amazing things she did rather than her downfall - but just that voice. It gives me goosebumps even now. Just hugely powerful and thrilling and raw. So there's a diva that I love.
And also Celine Dion, quite old school. I listen to such varied music, but I always go back to your Whitney and Celine. Celine is such a powerhouse. I went to see her at the O2 while heavily pregnant. I loved how she is a massive star and a massive diva, but all in the right way. She just has the audience in the palm of her hand. She's so funny and so warm and you kind of feel like you'd like to have a coffee with her. (Which I'd love to do, Celine, if you're ever reading this!)
Those are my diva influences, I would say. I know we're not doing any Whitney or Celine in this concert. What's great about this concert is the programme is so varied. I get to sing a real classic from Carousel and then I get to sing something from Waitress. I get to use every part of my voice and I love that in a concert, because you wouldn't get to do that in a musical. You're sort of sat in one place as an alto or a soprano. So I'm looking forward to that.
How do you think musical theatre roles have changed for women - or have they?
People often talk about if there are enough powerful roles for women in musical theatre. I actually think there are. I don't think we should get too bogged down in that. I think there are probably equally as many powerful female roles as there are males. Very often when I think of a musical, maybe it's because I am a woman, but I first think of the female roles and how wonderful they are.
I think it's changed in style over the years. Maybe the role of a female in a musical has kind of been pushed to the forefront a bit more and we celebrate powerful women. Especially look at something like Wicked. You have these two very strong women in their own right and on very different journeys, and the focus is really on those two. What other musicals do you get with two enormous female roles?
I was discussing the whole pay gap thing the other day with somebody. I don't know much about it in musical theatre, but I would hope it's not a million miles away from each other. As far as I'm concerned, it's a no-brainer: if you're playing a huge male leading role, you should be paid the same as a huge female role. I don't see what difference it makes. I'd like to think that it's even. Maybe I'm being incredibly naïve about that, but as far as the roles go, I believe it's pretty even out there.
Do you think you have more options now than your counterparts 50 years ago had?
Yeah, I do actually. When you put it that way, I believe there are many, many more options. I think the roles are much more interesting. Obviously, there are many classic musicals that often come back around and they're revamped.
I think there are many more exciting roles that can also influence and encourage young people to stand up for what they believe in. Harping back to Wicked, so many young people often say "It brought me out of my shell, it made me believe in myself, it made me understand that being different is OK". Theatre is hugely powerful, in influencing young people especially. I think it's important that we keep pushing that and making sure that we have strong stories and strong characters.
How excited are you to do this concert at Cadogan Hall?
Very excited - the line-up's brilliant. There's myself, Rachel Tucker, Ria Jones, Alexia Khadime. We are all so, so different. Our voices are so different, we look so different, we've all played very different roles. It's going to be very exciting to all be singing some of our favourites, singing songs we wouldn't usually sing, coming together for duets.
I'm very fortunate to have had a great concert career, but you often get asked to do these things and you wait for something a bit different, more unique. This is definitely one of those times. I'm very, very excited. And I've never worked with Ria before, and only worked with Alexia on maybe two concerts. Of course, I've worked with my lovely Tucker, so I'm excited to be reunited with her.
It's going to be really fun and it's a lovely team as well. That always makes it much more enjoyable when the stress element is taken away and you can just enjoy performing and rehearsing and having a good time.
Can you give us any hints as to what we'll hear at the concert?
We're doing a couple of group numbers, obviously, but I'm not going to give those away. Like I said I'm singing from Carousel, from Waitress. Me and Alexia are duetting; me and Rachel are duetting.
I just want people to wonder what we're going to be singing and to be excited by it. There's a couple that people wouldn't necessarily expect us to be singing. I just can't wait to be stood in the wings listening to the other girls as well. I get my own little free concert from the wings!
What's it like doing a concert with all these amazing women? Is that a rare working environment?
I've done this kind of thing before, but it's always genuinely really thrilling to me, because I still get excited to see my friends performing, to see these brilliant women who have done these wonderful roles. It's exciting to be on the same stage with these people.
I kind of pinch myself sometimes, because I'm aware of what I've done and what I've achieved, but to be in that environment, it's kind of weird. I still feel like, "Oh my god, I can't believe I'm doing this". It takes me back to being a young girl again. It's very, very exciting. I can't get enough of hearing brilliant female vocals. It's going to be a great night.
Since this concert celebrates women in musical theatre, are there any female directors, composers, writers etc. that you think we should keep an eye on?
I mean Marianne Elliott. The fact that she's made Bobby a female in Company I think is just genius. Because why not, quite frankly, especially with the subject matter. Really, it's women that you focus on saying "Why aren't you married yet, why aren't you having a kid yet? The clock's ticking". That really is I think aimed more at women than men, so I think that's just absolutely genius.
She's not someone to keep an eye on, because she has the most amazing career and is doing fabulously, but I just find her work fascinating and I'd love to work with her one day.
Hannah Chissick, who directed me in Sideshow with Laura Pitt-Pulford. She really brought something different out in me. The focus in rehearsals wasn't just on learning notes and learning lines and standing in the right place. The majority of the rehearsals we were sat round a table in these deep conversations about these real people and really finding that truth.
It was nerve-wracking, because in the back of my mind, I was thinking "Should we be standing up and staging things?", but it actually came together so organically when we did get up from the table and started staging. I just think she's wonderful, what she brings out in people. She's somebody I would like to work with again in the future.
Do you have any other projects coming up you can tell us about?
I'm performing in the BBC Proms On the Town with John Wilson at the end of this month. We start rehearsals next Thursday, I believe. Nathaniel Hackmann is coming over from the US. I love working with John Wilson and the Proms is always such a spectacular event at the Albert Hall - one of my absolute favourite venues to sing in. So that's very exciting.
Then who knows? I've then got There's Nothing Like a Dame. I'm off to Dublin in September. I'll be doing lots of Christmas concerts. I'm keeping myself busy with lots of songs. I've just been to Hong Kong and Vienna and Frankfurt. I had around 35 songs to learn for those three concerts. My brain is packed right now; I can't possibly take any more for a little while. I'll focus on On the Town and then move on after that.
Any advice for aspiring young actresses?
I would say to keep working hard. You never stop working in this industry. As in, developing yourself as an artist, working on your talent, constantly working on your voice. I still do now and I'm going to be 40 next year, and I'm finding my voice is changing.
I would also say be honest with yourself - know what you're right for and what you're not. Don't focus on the negative, because this business is hard enough as it is. Focus on what you do well and know that you do have something to offer. Just be very honest with yourself and work very hard.