Sunday, 5 January 2014

Happy Days for Amy

Happy Days for Amy

Published by: Editor on 24th Dec 2013 | View all blogs by Editor 
Amy Anzell small.jpg

Until a few short weeks ago very few people will have even heard of Amy Anzel. Now, thanks to the three-part series on Channel 4 - The Sound of Musicals, everyone who is anyone in musical theatre has an opinion of her. Julian Cound spoke to her recently to find out what makes her click.
“I started out in Community Theatre over in the States - that the equivalent of amateur theatre over here. This kind of start as a performer is invaluable, you learn so much. A whole load of people now in the profession started out in amateur theatre and it’s just the best way to learn and you make life-long friends too.”
“As a performer I was fortunate to get involved in the original developmental workshops for ‘Happy Days’ some ten years ago. The show never really developed at that time. But I could see the potential with the popularity of 1950s Americana over here in the UK. You have Grease, Hairspray and The Jersey Boys so I thought ‘Happy Days’ would fit in so well.”
Speaking to Amy you get taste of the drive and passion she has for a project. In a world where it’s easier to say “I can’t do that” Amy seems to have the mantra of “I’m going to do that if it’s the last thing I do.”
“Yes, there are a lot of nay-sayers in this industry, but if you believe in a project so much then it has to deserve your complete dedication and drive, otherwose what is the point?”
“I love this show and I know UK audiences are going to love it too - that is why I have spent all my time and energy to give it a life on the stage.”
The recent Channel 4 documentary ‘The Sound of Musicals’ heavily showcased Amy in her drive to get people such as Henry Winkler - the original Fonz in the TV series, and Craig Revel-Horwood on-board.
“Again it was my tenacity that got me involved. I heard that Channel 4 were creating the documentary so I contacted the producers and told them my story and it went from there. If you have something to say then you can not hold back, take every opportunity you have to get your message out there.”
“Getting Henry (Winkler) on-board was just as it was shown in the documentary. I heard he was doing a book signing so Channel 4 contacted WH Smith to get clearance to film, I purchased a book and waited in line... the rest is TV history. What the documentary didn’t show, thankfully, was how much I was shaking with nerves.”
“Craig’s involvement made for some great TV but unfortunately - for many various reasons, things did not work out, but I now have the fabulous director / choreographer Andrew Wright (Barnum, Singin’ In The Rain, Betty Blue Eyes) at the helm and I couldn’t be happier.”
In the documentary we saw Amy hold open auditions for her cast.
“That was a conscious decision on my part. Over in the States there are regular open calls for Broadway shows which gives anyone with the passion and drive the chance to have a go. Here in the UK it seems so much more of a closed-shop - you sometimes only get to hear about auditions after they have happened. I wanted to see new, raw talent from all over the UK - you never know who you may pick up.”
“With Ben (Freeman), Heidi (Range) and Cheryl (Baker) we have three fabulous leads, but we also have cast members making their professional debut in the show including Scott Waugh playing Richie Cunningham.”
Amy has put a huge amount of her life - and her money, into the show but she is also the first major producer to use Crowdfunding as a means of raising the necessary capitol to put the show on.
“Crowdfunding works for me in so many ways. Firstly it raises the much needed funds - we have raised over £250,000 through it, but also it creates a huge number of ‘ambassadors’ for the show throughout the UK who will help sell the show for you.”
Crowdfunding allows any individual to put up money for the show for a percentage of the returns - but on a much smaller scale than theatre production investment.
“Normally a West End show would ask individuals for investment of around £10,000, with Happy Days crowdfunding people can get involved for as little as £10. I now have nearly 400 investors nationwide who are talking about the show and eager to ensure it sells well.”
Happy Days - A New Musical will debut at The Churchill Theatre in Bromley on January 14th, 2014 - previews starting on January 11th. The tour will run from January to July and Amy hopes to see it brought to the West End.

Jade on the front cover of 7 Nights magazine in The Sunday Mail + interview

In today's 7 Nights: Former member on starring in themed musical

Sugababe Jade Ewen: Starring in Rod Stewart musical took me back to my roots

EWEN is playing Dee Dee in Ben Elton's show Tonight's The Night and despite her tender years is loving the veteran rocker's classic songs.
Jade Ewen

PA/Ian West
HAVING been a member of the Sugababes, sung for Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest, modelled for Ultimo and been a kids’ TV favourite, you’d think Jade Ewen is older than her 25 years.
She gives the game away when she starts talking about her latest role starring in Ben Elton’s musical Tonight’s The Night, which has been inspired by the songs of Rod Stewart.
The veteran rocker may have more than 200million worldwide record sales to his name, been awarded Grammys, Brits and entry to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – but he is definitely old school.
The songs that feature in the show include Tonight’s The Night, Hot Legs, Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?, Maggie May, This Old Heart of Mine, I Don’t Wanna Talk About It, Ooh La La, Some Guys Have All the Luck and Sailing.
While they may all be classics, each one came out before Jade was even in nappies.
She said: “It’s a little bit before I was born. I was kind of vaguely familiar with his songs because you hear them growing up but my parents didn’t play them in my house.
“I wasn’t a massive fan but when you get involved in a show like this, you research and you learn all your songs.
“I’m definitely a new school fan.
“Rod Stewart has this great storytelling ability and so many of his songs are really great stories.”
Ben Elton certainly thought so and has incorporated the songs into a musical about a shy young man who does a deal with the devil to swap his soul for Rod’s.
Jade plays Dee Dee, the disapproving best friend of the newly invigorated hero’s girlfriend, and gets to sing solo on The First Cut Is The Deepest.
That she can sing is no surprise given her stints in Sugababes and Eurovision but more surprisingly she is a bona fide actress, having trained since she was a child at the famous Sylvia Young Theatre School in London.
She said: “People know me as a singer – and a pop singer at that – so it’s always quite weird because I have had so much theatre training.
“At Sylvia Young you have to be able to do everything – singing, acting and dancing.
“They heavily encourage what they call ‘triple threat’ because the more talents you have the more likely you are to succeed in the entertainment industry.
“When people hear I am a stage performer they say it is not like the pop world and I say, ‘I know, I did that first’.”
Her first job was aged just 11 starring in Disney’s The Lion King, which itself is just coming to the end of a mega-successful run at the Edinburgh Playhouse where she will be performing Tonight’s The Night. She played young lioness Nala in the West End and it was a role that determined her future career.
She said: “That was the point in my life when I remember thinking, ‘This is what I want to do – I want to be a performer and entertain people’.
“It’s nice to go back to what I started.
“I was in The Lion King for a year and I loved it. I remember going into London on the tube every night and I would see the posters on the underground and think, ‘I’m in that show!’.
“That was it. My mind was set. People would say that I’d need a serious job but I could always say that I have had a professional job doing this.
“No-one can really give you a valid reason why you can’t do it then. It doesn’t seem so unattainable.”
More opportunities came calling in her final year at school, not least when she was whisked off to Australia for four months to star in a kids’ show called Out There for the ABC network Down Under and the US Nickelodeon channel.
Filming it cost her a scholarship to continue her performance training at college but when she was heard singing at an open mic night it led to an approach by Sony and a lot of frustration.
She recorded in a couple of different guises but every time it came close to releasing her music, things fell through and she had to start from scratch.
Jade still went for acting jobs and things changed when one audition in which she had to sing led to her being approached to take part in the search for the Eurovision Song Contest 2009.
It was an opportunity she needed convincing to take further.
She said: “I was asked if I would consider it and I said, ‘I’m not doing Eurovision, we never get any points, we always lose, why would I do that?’
“Then they said, ‘Well, Andrew Lloyd Webber is writing the song, we’re making a big deal of it so think about it’.”
“I spoke to my mum about it and she said, ‘Why not? Go for it and get as far as you can. You never know what will come from it’. So I did.”
She not only got chosen to be Britain’s Eurovision hope, she also got a credible fifth placing, worked on her own album and then joined Sugababes as the replacement for Keisha Buchanan.
She said: “It was only four years ago but it feels like forever. So much has happened since then and I’m so glad I did it.
“At the time, it could have gone the other way and that would have been it. Who knows where I would be now.”
Sugababes, who have had a tortured soap opera of a history replacing members, now seem to be over for good but she is grateful for the experience and still determined to make her own music.
She said: “If they said, ‘Let’s put out another album’, then yes, I would consider it but I think it’s just had its day.
“The band has been around for 13 years and there have been too many line-up changes and so much drama involved that I think the music has got lost.
“The main thing should be about the songs and it has become about all the drama surrounding it.
“But it was amazing. To be able to go into an established, successful band is not an opportunity you get all the time.”
Even so, she admits to frustrations, which is why she is still pursuing her singing career as a solo artist and why she is also appearing in Tonight’s The Night.
She said: “I feel like I have not had the full package. I had the success and a bit of the spotlight but I wasn’t able to express myself artistically.
“I didn’t feel like it was my own voice because I was filling in and performing songs that were written when I wasn’t around.
“I just wish people could hear my songs and what I’m about. I’ve always been another version of myself.
“I want to do musical theatre but I definitely want to record my solo album. I’m trying to juggle the two.
“I feel that now is the time to take decisions based on me as an artist and start taking control.
“Tonight’s The Night is the first project since then where I have said, ‘No, this is what I want to do’.
“Eventually I do want to go to the West End and have a leading role and I think this is a great starting point for me.”