Tag Archive | "Les Mis"

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Feature: Spotlight on Killian Donnelly

Posted on 20 November 2013 by Freya Smith

Killian Donnelly has been receiving rave reviews for his portrayal of Deco, the egotistical and bolshy front-man of Roddy Doyle’s new West End musical The Commitments. I recently caught up with him, and was relieved to find little similarity between the actor and his character…


Donnelly was raised in Ireland, where he participated in amateur dramatics. Unlike many West End regulars, he did not follow the standard drama school to agent trajectory: “Someone had seen me in an am dram show in Ireland, and people kept saying to me if you want to go professional you need to move to London. So, I moved over about five years ago. I literally knocked on doors of agents, and one of them got me an audition for Les Mis. I was offered a twelve month contract. I was gobsmacked.”

Since then, he has appeared in other West End shows, playing Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera and Tony in Billy Elliot. On the eve of taking a well deserved holiday to Greece, Donnelly received a phone call from his agent informing him of an audition for a workshop of The Commitments. “I was like, ‘Are you serious? That’s being made into a show?!’ He said, ‘It’s about a young band in …’ I said, ‘Are you mad? I know!’ He said, ‘They want to see you for the role of Dee-koh.’ I was like, ‘IT’S DECO!’ [laughs]. So I went to this audition, and they’d said don’t bring anything from The Commitments movie. I was running late, so, of course, I sang ‘Mustang Sally’ and ‘Midnight Hour’. But, I got a phone call going, ‘You’ve got it. It’s in three weeks.’ I had to cancel my holiday but, obviously, I had the best craic.”

What happened next? “Two-and-a-half years later I get a phone call saying– at this point I’m in Billy Elliot – they’re auditioning for The Commitments now. I was like, I really need an audition. I’d love to audition for this show. And because I had done the workshop they didn’t need to do a first or second round with me. They just said they’d bring the people they want into the final. But they didn’t tell me that! So I’m looking at people going through the first round and second round and I’m thinking ‘Why haven’t I been seen? Have I done something wrong?!’ But luckily I was told about the final audition, and that was amazing because we got to sing with a live band.”

Based on a book of the same name by Roddy Doyle, The Commitments charts the formation and disintegration of a soul group in 1980s Dublin. Donnelly’s character, Deco, fronts the band, and his narcissism and obstinacy are the source of several disputes within the group. Donnelly acknowledges that Deco is a move away from some of the characters he’s portrayed in the past: “I was always put into the category of an Enjolras in Les Mis or a Raoul in Phantom. I briefly played Tony in Billy Elliot, which I loved, but it seemed that Deco was a completely different character to try my hand at. He’s very arrogant and he’s crude. He’s a loveable prick. It’s amazing how the audience seem to love hating him. I’m adoring it.”

With the exception of Donnelly, the cast of The Commitments is largely made up of previously unknown Irish actors making their West End débuts. He jokes “everyone’s been calling me a veteran, as if I’ve fought in a war”. Nonetheless, he seems to have embraced his new found mother hen identity: “I do sometimes have to give advice when cast members are looking to go out for a pint. I say ‘remember we’ve two shows tomorrow…’ and when they come in with a hangover the next day I’m like ‘Now, look at yeh! Look at yeh!’”

On originating the role of Deco, he muses: “If you’re in the West End in a musical, that’s the biggest thing you can do. And, having done that I’m thinking ‘where do I go from here?’ You’re ticking things off the bucket list. Some day I’d absolutely love to do a spell on Broadway. I’d love to do straight theatre. I did the Les Mis movie last year – I’d love to do more television and film. I also like writing. I’ve written some pantomimes which went on in Ireland and now I’m doing one over here in Norwich this year. There’s always so much more to do.”

Donnelly’s passion and appetite for working spills over into his advice for aspiring actors: ”It’s a cliché, but I say – just go for it, and never let anyone put you down or take your dream away from you. I did go through a time when people said, ‘You need a proper job’ or ‘You need to focus on something stronger now and make sure you’re concentrating on something other than acting’, but I never did and I always just went for it. I never let anybody tell me that I can’t do anything. And I love what I do. Get singing lessons. Go train. Keep your head down and concentrate. When you go into an audition, go in with your own idea, never copy your favourite performer. Read the script and do your research. You can never do too much research. If you love it, just keep doing it. It’s the best job in the world.”

The Commitments runs from Tuesdays – Sundays at 7.30 pm (with matinees on Saturday and Sunday) at The Palace Theatre. For more information visit The Commitments website.

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Guest blog: Amy Lamé – push it real good

Posted on 15 May 2013 by Amy Lamé

amy lame'

I have done quite a few crazy things on stage and television over the years. I’ve performed a safer sex show for gay men on Hampstead Heath at midnight, and convinced audiences across the globe that I was kidnapped by Mama Cass. I’ve set an American flag alight, and appeared as a fat version of Posh Spice. I’ve even had sex with a cake – all in the name of art, of course.

I recently put the video of my cake sex performance on YouTube. My mother stalks me online, and tracked it down. She was shocked and horrified, which I found strange. In my mind it seemed totally OK and kind of normal to have sex with a cake. Then I realised her taste in performance is more Les Mis than Miss Mess. Let’s just say she didn’t share the link on her Facebook page.

As a performer, if you don’t push the boundaries of art, taste and comfort, then you might as well go and work at the RSC. Traditional theatre is safe, cosy and comforting; fine for a midweek matinee on a coach trip from the Home Counties, but I rarely find it life changing. Yeah, I’ve seen lots at the National, much of it very good. But it doesn’t get me very excited.

On the opposite side of the performance spectrum, there’s a cabaret culture of “risqué” which I find equally bland and boring. Any publicity that tells me I’ll be titillated, teased and shocked… well, you can guarantee I’ll be the one snoring in the stalls. Burlesque and cabaret presents itself as risky and saucy, but how many faux-drunken European accented ‘sexy’ shows can one watch? One day Edith Piaf is going to rise from the dead as a zombie cabaret star and strangle her modern imitators… then we’ll all be free.

I prefer to see and make shows inspired by clubs, gigs and parties. It’s where real life in all its messiness and brilliance happens. My latest solo show, Unhappy Birthday, combines all three of these elements.

Unhappy Birthday explores the extremities of pop fandom. The show takes the form of a birthday party, and I’ve invited my all time favourite singer, Morrissey. While we wait for him to turn up, we play pass the parcel and crazy stuff happens, with a backdrop set list of Smiths and Morrissey tunes. There’s lots of dancing, snogging and beer – and that’s just the audience. I channel my inner teenager for this show; it is such an extreme, concentrated version of myself. The emotions, attractions, and passions we feel as teenagers are so powerful and silly. I love that. Unhappy Birthday is a reminder of the joy and embarrassment of being a teen.

I wanted to really push myself with Unhappy Birthday. Bringing in Scottee as my director was a move towards more challenging physicality.  He is fat like me, and I knew he’d instinctively understand the challenges – and fun – of having a big body. My main goal was to create a visceral show that thrust me beyond my performance boundaries…  scary and exciting!

It was a tough challenge, because most days I’d rather sit on the sofa with a cup of coffee and watch reruns of The Great British Bake Off. Scottee encouraged me throw myself around the rehearsal room like an idiot. I wasn’t sure if I’d succeed, fail or die trying. But if performers don’t push themselves – or have directors who share their vision, then audiences get bored… and that’s a one way ticket to an Equity retirement home.

While performing Unhappy Birthday, I’ve fallen flat on my face, sat on an audience member and collapsed the chair, and groped nearly a hundred strangers. It’s not Shakespeare, and it’s not been directed by Nicholas Hytner. Unhappy Birthday doesn’t star Dame Judi Dench and Andrew Lloyd Webber hasn’t written the score. I don’t wear a corset, and there’s not a bowler hat in sight, either. Sorry. But you should come and see it anyway. You just might enjoy yourself.

Unhappy Birthday plays at the Camden People’s Theatre from 14 May – 1 Jun. For information and tickets, see the CPT website.

Amy Lamé

Amy Lamé

Amy Lamé is a performer, writer and broadcaster. Co-presenter of the infamous Sony award winning breakfast and afternoon shows on BBC London 94.9 alongside Danny Baker, Amy has appeared on and presented countless radio and TV programmes and writes for various publications on the arts, politics, food and travel. She co-founded the legendary Olivier award winning Duckie club night and arts collective, and recently curated Smithsfest at the ICA. Unhappy Birthday is her fourth solo show, returning to CPT after its sell-out run and UK tour last year and its popular Edinburgh Fringe Festival run. It follows Amy Lamé's Mama Cass Family Singers, and Gay Man Trapped in a Lesbian’s Body. Originally from New Jersey, Amy has been a Londoner for two decades.

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The Wicked Stage: Did live singing work for Les Misérables?

Posted on 15 January 2013 by Sarah Green


Nearly every interview and promotion has highlighted the fact that Les Misérables was sung live on set; now it has officially opened in the UK we can ask the question: was it worth it?

When I call myself a fan of musical theatre I rarely include films, despite films such as The Sound of Music and Annie Get Your Gun being my introduction to the genre. I have always felt somewhat cheated by them, whether by the dubbed taps in Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly films or by the recorded singing. The vocal part often went one step further with actors being dubbed, two famous examples being Marnie Nixon dubbing for Natalie Wood in Westside Story and for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. As many of the actors from the film have pointed out, it meant the Les Mis film got to be a lot more emotionally driven – it wasn’t just a competition between those who could belt it out the loudest.

Rather than writing multiple blogs on why the live singing was amazing it may be better to take an objective view of the technique. One problem with doing live singing is getting the balance between singer and orchestra; the live singing on Les Misérables involved actors having ear pieces and live piano played to them with the orchestra added in post-production. Most of the actors traversed this without any real problem. The one actor I felt let down by, although the blame doesn’t lie squarely with her, was Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. This role is often given a lot of slack: Rebecca Caine (original Cosette) has spent the past few weeks tweeting about people’s negative views of the character. In this instance I think it is a very hard role to sing and to sing with strength in comparison to the power house of Eponine; although having said that if the last note of ‘Heart Full Of Love’ were to be sung at full blast it would decimate Eponine and Marius.

Another problem as a consequence of the live singing was the use of sets as opposed to real locations for the most part. There was of course location singing such as that end reprise of ‘Do You Hear The People Sing?’ but it was location singing that meant parts were pre-recorded, such as the opening in the dockyard, as they clearly couldn’t mic actors with all that water. The most obvious set was the actual barricade. Now of course it is easier to record sound in the controlled environment of a studio, but as an audience we knew it wasn’t a real location. Though I do concede that you can’t go blowing up real Parisian streets, either.

The flaws of live singing are always going to be outnumbered by the positives. Getting right in there with a tight close up on Anne Hathaway singing ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ was incredible and to see the tears in her eyes and a slightly runny nose did feel more real. I honestly believed that for these characters singing was merely an extension of the spoken word – the most natural way to express intense feelings.

Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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Review: I Dreamed A Dream – The Susan Boyle Musical

Posted on 28 March 2012 by Laura Turner

It’s not often that you go to see a musical knowing the subject matter but having  no idea what to expect. As with other new musicals based on well-known stories (think Tony! The Blair Musical; Shrek; Matilda The Musical), the question was: how would the production make the story of Susan Boyle’s rise to success interesting, original and entertaining?

With difficulty, is the answer. The challenge, then, was to make the story we all think we know from Facebook, Twitter and the tabloids unpredictable and exciting. Instead, I Dreamed A Dream offers a blow-by-blow account of Boyle’s life from birth to the present day, charting her Blackburn upbringing and relying almost exclusively on material the audience already knows. There are some touching stories of first dates, karaoke contests and personal battles, especially with Boyle’s first (and apparently only) boyfriend John and some early scenes in the Boyle family home where our protagonist first learnt the power of song. Real joy buzzes amongst the retro wallpaper and swinging tunes of the ’60s, bringing the predominantly black-box set alive with James Paterson and Karen Mann’s stunning vocals as Boyle’s parents. Some moments are pleasantly reminiscent of Billy Elliot the Musical. Regrettably, these are fleeting in a musical that manages to transform a truly moving real life story into a sadly uninspiring tale about the difficulties of fame.

If the source material is familiar, there should still be scope for originality in its telling . However, the show is narrated throughout by a fictional Boyle, played by co-writer Elaine C. Smith. Her singing voice is markedly different from Boyle’s childlike melodies, though she does capture Boyle in her speech patterns, whilst hinting at something more. Any role representing a living person on stage is not without its difficulties, but Smith maintains an admirable respect for Boyle throughout, which doesn’t shy away from Boyle’s temper, paranoia and bouts of depression. The script’s jokes and asides to the audience are amusing enough, but direct address soon becomes a rather one-dimensional and claustrophobic way to tell the story.

The ensemble cast do their best with what they’ve got, but some of the short interludes are memorable for all the wrong reasons. One scene, a fusion of rock music and balletic dance to visualise Boyle’s struggle with bullies, loses sight of the sorrowful resonances of a young girl who feels completely alone in the world amongst grungy panto-villain bullies bopping atop industrial-looking crates. Perhaps part of the problem is the lack of original songs in this production. It relies heavily on the music Boyle grew up with, which works early on to set the scene as Boyle wins the Whitburn miners’ club talent competition. However, later renditions of Stuck in the Middle With You as Boyle waits in the BGT queue and Mad World (as fame stifles her) fail to entertain or advance the storytelling effectively.

What could be achieved in a moment, a look or a word is dragged out into endless set pieces. Less would undoubtedly be more here – the script could easily do without the large-scale production and would perhaps work better as a one-woman show. The main problem is that things simply don’t feel like they matter. There is no jeopardy, no conflict; it feels like there is nothing at stake. In short, there is no drama. As Smith highlights in her closing speech, I Dreamed A Dream is Susan Boyle’s story: a story that has a start and a middle, but no end yet. True, perhaps, as Boyle is still entertaining millions worldwide, but on stage this just doesn’t work. An audience needs conclusion, resolution and satisfaction, and there is none to be found.

Thank heavens, then, for Boyle herself. An immediate standing ovation and rapturous applause as soon she appears on stage; she is clearly the most important reason why people are flocking to see this show. Never before has Boyle’s cherubic halo shone brighter or her voice resonated more clearly than in the wake of such bland disappointment.

I Dreamed A Dreamed is at the Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday 31 March and then continues its international tour until the end of May, stopping at venues across the UK such as the Liverpool Empire, Bristol Hippodrome, Manchester Palace and Birmingham Hippodrome. For more information and to book tickets, visit the I Dreamed A Dream Official website.

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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