Connie Fisher on making the transition from screen to stageDate: 4 April 2012
For the last of the Screen to Stage interviews we come full circle and talk to the winner of the first series – How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? Connie Fisher. After winning the part of Maria, which she played in the West End and on national tour, she appeared in They’re Playing Our Song and can soon be seen in the national tour of Bernstein’s Wonderful Town.
As the Maria show was the first of its type, did you know it would take off so well?
I worked in Pizza Express]and then in telesales. I had heard about the auditions well before I saw the advertisement. I phoned my agent and said that I really wanted to be seen for the role of Maria. He phoned the casting director,David Grindrod who actually had seen me many times auditioning for other musicals, like Mamma Mia, The Woman in White and Phantom of the Opera, but he said: “She can’t be seen for the part. If she wants to be Maria she’ll have to go on the television programme”.
In a radio interview, Andrew Lloyd-Webber said that he was looking for a “shopgirl”, you know, someone who was working in Woolworths. Well, telesales and pizza delivery isn’t that different, and I had nothing to lose. I’d always been the bridesmaid and never the bride but, as I was now coming straight out of drama school, I was ready to be given a job.
So I decided to audition in Cardiff as I thought there would be a lot less people than there would be at the London auditions. I arrived really early and was 17th in the queue but, even in Cardiff, there were 5000 girls behind me.
Did you ever believe in the live finals that the role was yours for the taking?
She was ushering us into a car but I quickly grabbed a copy of Heat magazine and in the back it said: “Will Connie scoop the prize she deserves”. I was stunned. I couldn’t quite believe that it was there in print, that my face was in a magazine and that someone thought I could win.
You see, I was surrounded by tremendous talent and a lot depended on what song you were given. We had no choice in that. I kept asking for soprano songs so I could show off my range and I kept getting pop songs like “Shout”. All I could think was – how am I going to show that I’m Maria?.
As I got, week on week, good comments from the judges I started to think that maybe I wasn’t so bad after all. I didn’t really know what winning meant at the time, I didn’t realise that it would be a lot more than just getting a part in a show. It would be a whole life change.
How did life change once the TV cameras went off?
But it wasn’t really like it was over, it was more a beginning. I had so much still to do. I kept thinking that now I had to prove myself, to the audience and to the critics – but the support I got was just unbelievable.
What was it like to walk out onto the stage of the London Palladium?
And then there was the national tour.
They reminded me, every day, that there was a new audience who had never seen it before and who had come along to see the person they voted for on television. I was really grateful for the opportunity. I think I got to play most of the major playhouses in the country, and now I’m about to play a few more in the Wonderful Town tour.
Yes, you’re opening at The Lowry (Salford). How is it going?
We were working with the Hallé Orchestra yesterday and this morning and singing with them is just unbelievable. We’re got the full 55- piece orchestra for two weeks, which is really a rarity. Just to link back for a minute to the reality TV, I did find that there was a sort of stigma attached to it.
As soon as I won it I was sort of typecast into Julie Andrews’s shadow. In all my concerts I was asked to sing from The Sound of Music and there was no variation from that theme. It was cool for a while, but after playing Maria for a few years you start to think that there’s got to be more parts out there for me.
Straight acting parts maybe?
Did you get the part of Ruth Sherwood in the conventional way?
There’s no Nazis or climbing wooden mountains in it, so I feel like it’s a new chapter. It’s given me the opportunity to develop as a character actress. It is wonderful to be under the direction of Braham Murray, to have a choreographer like Andrew Wright and a musical director like Sir Mark Elder.
How is your voice doing now?
But to come back and say that I can do character roles and I can do this voice or that voice, and if the audience enjoys it, I’ll feel like I have really opened that new chapter. I’ll no longer have to mourn not being able to hit a top B flat every night.
What happens after Wonderful Town?
Although I would absolutely love to see the show carry on and transfer to the West End. I think that’s what London needs now is a bit of fun, a bit of colour, and this is the perfect show to offer that.
Connie Fisher can be seen in the national tour of Wonderful Town at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton (29 May-2 June), the Theatre Royal, Norwich (5-9 June) and the New Victoria Theatre, Woking (19-23 June).