20 Questions With...Anna-Jane Casey
Date: 9 December 2002
Musical actress Anna-Jane Casey, who's moved from Chicago to Sheffield where she takes the title this week in Sweet Charity. She gives thanks to Dorothy Fields, Marti Pellow & the love she found in West Side Story.
Actress Anna-Jane Casey is a musical creature through and through.
Since the age of 16, when she responded to an open audition advert in The Stage that landed her a two-year stint in Cats, she hasn't spent long away from the stage.
In addition to Cats, her West End musical credits include Children of Eden, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Grease, Out of the Blue and Starlight Express, another Andrew Lloyd Webber vehicle that she stayed with for two years, playing Buffy, Dinah and Pearl.
More recently, she has played Anita in the acclaimed revival of West Side Story on national tour and in the West End and, appearing opposite Wet Wet Wet's Marti Pellow this autumn, murderess Velma Kelly in the West End's long-running Chicago at the Adelphi Theatre.
This Christmas season, Casey tackles her first title role, playing the New York dance hostess with her heart on her sleeve, Charity Hope Valentine, in Sweet Charity at the Sheffield Crucible.
Date & place of birth
Born 15 February 1972 in Salford, greater Manchester.
Lupino Dance School, Bury.
Lives now in...
Blackheath in southeast London. While I'm in Sheffield, I'm staying in an area called Sharrow Vale, which is beautiful. This Christmas, my husband (the actor Graham Macduff) and I are both working up north. While I'm doing Sweet Charity in Sheffield, he's doing Little Shop of Horrors at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. He stays with me and commutes.
First big break
Getting into Cats at the age of 16. I saw an advert in The Stage and said to my mum I'd like to go so we did and I got the job. They were looking for someone to play the kitten, Rumpleteaser. I was 16 and mad. I was there for two years. It was hard work but fantastic, the biggest learning experience you can get at that age. After two years sharing a dressing room with seven other women, I was no longer the innocent. I was very sad when Cats closed earlier this year. We used to think the show was like the ravens at the Tower of London, that musical theatre would grind to a halt if Cats closed. I'm glad to see it hasn't.
Career highlights to date
West Side Story. I played Anita on tour and in the West End. That's where I met my husband, who was playing Bernardo. There was lots of snogging on stage and off! Sweet Charity is definitely a highlight too. It's the first time I've been in a show where the title is who I am.
Favourite productions you've ever worked on
Starlight Express. Everyone knew you could fall on your face any night of the week and damage yourself seriously. That fear never goes away. I liked that challenge. And, of course, West Side Story, because of Graham.
Marti Pellow, who I've just done Chicago with in the West End. The man has been thru hell and back with heroin and with Wet Wet Wet being huge and then coming to an end. But he pulled himself back from the brink, and he is the loveliest man in the world. I have lots of respect. Marti, we love you.
John Caird, who's a big RSC director. I did Children of Eden with him and it felt like working with a real actor's director. That was great.
Neil Simon, who also wrote the book for Sweet Charity. I find the New York humour fantastically funny. I loved California Suite, too; that's one of my favourites of his plays. I feel honoured to say lines that are so funny. Neil Simon rocks.
Favourite musical writers
Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein, who worked together on West Side Story. I'm not so keen on Sondheim on his own, but with Bernstein's music, it's a beautiful combination.
What roles would you most like to play?
What I'd really like to do is be in one of those really cheesy sitcoms. I'd be the ditzy secretary - like Bubble in Absolutely Fabulous - the stupid one everyone laughs at. My sister, Natalie Casey, works in TV. She's currently in the sitcom Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps. The irony is, she's always saying she wants to be in musicals. I say: "Why don't we swap?" Really, eight shows a week, is she bonkers? But it's a double-edged sword. I have a love/hate relationship with musical theatre. I hate that it's so hard, but I love that it's so rewarding.
Would you ever consider doing 'straight' plays?
I'd like to do a play someday, but acting is not my big thing. I don't feel I want to win an Oscar, though I would love to win an award for my singing. That's my one true love, opening my gob and singing. If Lady Macbeth had a big production number at the end, I'd be there.
What was the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed?
The Island at the Old Vic. I'd just read Nelson Mandela's autobiography about being on Robben Island so it meant that much more. It was the saddest thing I've ever seen.
What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
Being at Sheffield is a very different experience than being in the West End. In London, you need a big producer and lots of money to put a show on. Here it's more of a community thing. I think we should have the Arts Council back, being more involved and more egalitarian. There are people around the country who've written great things and there should be more access for that work.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
Madonna. I'm fascinated to know what it's like to be that obscenely famous - but just for a day and no more. I don't think it would be that nice to be famous all the time. I see a bit what it's like with my sister. People recognise her from TV (she's also been on Hollyoaks and done presenting on MTV) and they immediately assume, if she's walking down the street, they can just grab her.
Perfume by Patrick Susskind and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis.
Favourite holiday destination
Barbados. I'm going to retire there. My sister and I are going to open a theatre-themed bar. We'll look like Dot Cotton with very bad eyeshadow, sing every night and die happy in sunshine.
Q: "Why do women wear perfume and makeup?" A: "Because they're ugly and they smell." I know it's rubbish but I like it.
Net-A-Porter.com. It's a site for designer gear and quite addictive. I've got to keep my credit card in my wallet when I go there. I have a thing for beautiful shoes.
Why did you want to take part in this production of Sweet Charity?
The director, Timothy Sheader. I'd worked with him before and think he's brilliant. Also, Sheffield Crucible has become a very prestigious venue over the past couple of years. It's recognised in the business that if you've worked here, you must be good. The kudos is great. And, of course, the numbers in Sweet Charity are phenomenal - "Big Spender", "If My Friends Could See Me Now". I've always wanted to do that routine with the popping top hat.
What are the challenges of appearing in such a well-established role?
When people come and see Sweet Charity, their first association is with the film. They think, let me see if I'm going to see something of Shirley MacLaine here. I've seen clips of Gwen Verdon doing the role and I know the film front side and back, too. I'm trying to make Charity a little harder and not so sweet and sugary - that's my challenge.
What's your favourite number from Sweet Charity?
"There's Got To Be Something Better Than This" - it's so inspiring. It starts out with three girls who've had enough. Their life is shit, but they've got spirit and they know there's something better than selling their backsides.
Following the success of the musical revue Dorothy Fields Forever, there seems to be much renewed interest in Fields' work as a lyricist. Do you think she's been neglected?
Yes, I do. When you say Sweet Charity, for instance, most people think of it as a Bob Fosse production. But it's rude to ignore the songs that Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields contributed. Like "Rhythm of Life". The lyrics are wonderful.
Do you have a favourite line?
"And a voice said, 'Daddy, there's a hundred pigeons, waiting to be hooked on new religion." How she ever got that rhyme, I don't know. Thank you, Dorothy, for that one.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to continue with my very happy marriage, which is the best thing in my life. Graham and I have been married now four years and three months, and we plan to produce lots of children then retire in Barbados.
- Anna-Jane Casey was speaking to Terri Paddock
Sweet Charity runs at the Sheffield Crucible from 12 December 2002 to 25 January 2003.