20 Questions With...Josefina Gabrielle
Date: 30 July 2001
Former ballerina Josefina Gabrielle, now starring in The Witches of Eastwick, explains how the NT's Oklahoma! changed her life & why some shows make her cry.
Formerly a soloist with the National Ballet of Portugal, Josefina Gabrielle made a theatrical splash when she was cast as Laurey in the National Theatre's award-winning 1999 production of Oklahoma! (due to make a belated Broadway transfer in 2002), for which she was Olivier-nominated.
Post-Oklahoma!, Gabrielle has significantly upped her West End musical standing, having starred in the West End as Roxie Hart in Chicago and now as sculptress Alexandra in The Witches of Eastwick. The latter show recently opened afresh at the Prince of Wales Theatre with a revamped score and largely new cast - which also includes Clarke Peters, Joanna Riding and Rebecca Thornhill.
Gabrielle's other credits include: in theatre, Carousel and The Goodbye Girl; and in ballet, Swan Lake, Don Quixote and Giselle.
Place of birth
Now lives in...
Arts Educational School
First big break
My biggest break in theatre was playing Laurey in the National Theatre's production of Oklahoma!.
Working with Trevor Nunn and Susan Stroman on Oklahoma!.
Favourite production that you've worked on
I've been very attached to every project I've done. They all mean a lot to me. I would single out Oklahoma! because it was a turning point for me to get the job. I was so excited when Trevor phoned me at home and offered me the part that I kept bursting out laughing throughout the day. What you dream of and the reality don't usually match up, but I can honestly say that the whole experience surpassed my expectations and I don't think my feet touched the ground for the entire run. I really feel that everybody involved and everyone who came to see Oklahoma! was touched by it, and every night there was a sense of everybody in the theatre sharing something beyond a good play.
Easy again - Trevor Nunn. No stone goes unturned with him. In rehearsals, he lets you run with things to see where you are going to go with them, then he picks through it all and leads you on the journey that the production will take.
That's easy too - Hugh Jackman (who played Curly in Oklahoma!). And I don't think I'm alone there. He is a wonderfully free and generous actor who is always there for you. Not bad looking either!
Favourite composer, librettist or playwright
Too many to mention. I love Shakespeare because his work is so rich on many levels. I think I could make just one of his plays a lifetime project. I also really admire Sondheim. A lot of his work seems cryptic, but when you study it, you get answers. I also love Kander and Ebb, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Hart, Alan Ayckbourn, Neil Simon... to name but a few.
Another easy one - Susan Stroman. I've always been a huge fan of her work so I was honoured when I actually got to work with her. She has a head (and heart) crammed full of ideas, but she always listens to her dancers and works to their strengths. Dancing the 'dream ballet' in Oklahoma! was like wearing haute couture.
What role would you most like to play still?
I couldn't single one out off the top of my head. Good roles in good productions with a good team and cast. Not much to ask! However, having seen The Matrix and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, I'd love to have a go at an action/fantasy film. I hear they are looking for someone to play Wonder Woman....
How has your training as a ballet dancer influenced your work in musicals?
My dancing has been a huge asset to my work in musicals. My first musical was Carousel at the National Theatre, which was choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan. I had just left the National Ballet of Portugal (where I was a soloist), so dance was my strongest discipline at that time. That meant I was lucky enough to join the cast of Carousel as a dancer. Being surrounded by all that talent every night, it was easy to be inspired to get back into class and reawaken the rest of my training. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a ballet dancer, and I had some wonderful experiences and thrived on the investment put into every role. But I reached what I considered was probably my peak, and knowing that ballet is a short career, I was keen to find something else that I enjoyed as much. Now that I'm settled in theatre, I realise that ballet was only fulfilling a part of what I love, so I'm much more content where I am now.
Do you still hope to play Oklahoma! on Broadway?
Yes, I would love to do Oklahoma! on Broadway. It would have been wonderful if the entire National Theatre company could have gone to Broadway. We were such a team. I know it would have been strange for an all-British cast to go to the States performing an all-American musical, but many Americans who came to see the show in London were fantastically enthusiastic about it. Speaking for myself, I'm always keen to see the original cast of any production, because they are the originators of the work. And just for the record, I thought Gwyneth Paltrow and Renee Zelwegger did impeccable jobs on two quintessentially British heroines (Emma and Bridget Jones), so it works both ways.
What's the best thing currently on stage?
I'm usually very good about going to the theatre but I've been rehearsing quite intensely recently, so I'm not very "up" on what's on. I love going to the National Theatre, and recently I've particularly enjoyed Hamlet and The Cherry Orchard. I had a blast watching The Vagina Monologues, and I cried my eyes out at The Beautiful Game. I've seen Chicago five times. I've been in it twice and I still love it, so it must be a good show. And, of course, The Witches of Eastwick. I've seen that three times and the audience's enthusiasm at the end of each show is quite overwhelming.
What advice would you give to the government to secure the future of British theatre?
I don't know what the solution is. All I know is that when live theatre touches you there is nothing like it, and if it was ingrained in us all as much as sport, TV and film are, audiences wouldn't need to be enticed. Perhaps more exposure on TV would put it on the map firmly. If I enjoyed a play on television, I would be tempted to see it again live if I had the opportunity.
If you could swap places with one person, living or dead, who would it be?
I wouldn't want to swap with anybody, but there are plenty of people I aspire to; one being Judi Dench. She is a stunning actress, and from everything I have seen or read about her she's also a kind, generous person with a great sense of humour.
I'm a big kid. So most recently, the Harry Potter books.
Favourite after-show haunt
Home, or a slap-up meal in a good restaurant.
Favourite holiday destination
Jamaica. My mum and stepfather live there and they have a balcony that looks out over mountains and stars. I love to sit out there at night sipping a rum and ginger.
Why did you want to accept your role in The Witches of Eastwick?
The roles of Darryl Van Horne and the three witches are all great, with lots of scope for making them your own.
What's your favourite number from The Witches of Eastwick?
I love "Make Him Mine" which I perform with Rebecca Thornhill and Joanna Riding. It's a real bonding number. I also love "Another Night at Darryl's" (it's great fun to do), and I really enjoy watching the whole company in "The Glory of Me".
What was the funniest, or oddest, moment during rehearsals for The Witches of Eastwick?
There was one scene that we witches and Darryl were having trouble focussing on - it was the end of the day and concentration was at a low point. So we ended up putting on gingham headscarves and doing the whole thing in silly 'Allo 'Allo accents, much to our own amusement. Funnily enough, the scene came to life and although we didn't keep it that way (obviously), we got a lot out of it.
- Josefina Gabrielle was speaking to Terri Paddock
The Witches of Eastwick is currently playing at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London's West End.