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20 Questions With...Sally Ann Triplett

Musical actress Sally Ann Triplett - who opens this week in the National's revival of Anything Goes - reveres Judy Garland, worries about the trend in pop band musicals & dedicates her performance as evangelist Reno Sweeney to her dad.

By • West End


Though she had her professional start as a circus performer, Sally Ann Triplett's career has developed primarily on the back of her singing skills, most particularly in musical theatre though her CV also includes two Eurovision Song Contest entries.

Triplett's many West End musical credits include Jubilee (Her Majesty's), Cats (New London), Jolson (Victoria Palace), Grease (Dominion), Follies (Shaftesbury), Chess (Prince Edward) and The Best Little Whorehouse.

Elsewhere, she's appeared in stage productions of Rags, Oliver!, Snoopy, Just So, Mister Cinders, Cabaret, Carrie, Alice, Godspell and The Rocky Horror Show in addition to her one-woman cabaret show at London's Pizza on the Park. Her television credits include Down To Earth 3, EastEnders, Doctors, Magic and The Fishing Trip.

Triplett has now returned to the National Theatre, where she last appeared in The Villain’s Opera. She stars in Trevor Nunn's final musical as NT artistic director, a much-anticipated revival of Cole Porter's Anything Goes, in which she plays evangelist Reno Sweeney to John Barrowman's Billy Crocker.


Date & place of birth
I was born in Edgware Hospital in north London on 15 April 1962.

Lives now in...
I live in Finchley, right around the corner from my mum, and Max, my son, went to my old school.

First big break
My first job was riding elephants in a circus, but that wouldn't be described as a big break, although I could have broken something! My first big break was the first time I did the Eurovision Song Contest. I've actually done it twice - the second time was mammoth and wonderful and we got to No. 2 in the charts. But the first exciting thing I did was the first time I did it, in 1980, with a group called Prime Donna, three girls and three boys. We came third in the competition, but the single didn't do very well in the UK charts. I was actually still at college when I did that job!

Career highlights to date
My career highlight has to be the evening I did a tribute for Judy Garland at the Palladium - we had Larry Blank conducting, and a couple of the musicians that actually played for her in the orchestra. We had all the original Carnegie Hall arrangements, and I was asked to sing a medley of 'You Made Me Love You', 'The Bells Are Ringing' and 'The Trolley Song', and I had the whole of the Palladium singing along with me - à la Judy Garland. I was on a complete and utter high. That doesn't come along very often. You get used to doing eight shows a week and just doing the job. But then, all of a sudden, you do something and something happens where you just didn't expect it was going to take you by surprise that much. I do love Judy Garland - and what I love about her more than anything else is her energy and her enthusiasm. I feel I have that in me, too. The guy who used to spotlight for Garland, and has been at the Palladium for 35 years, spotlit me as well.

Favourite productions you've ever worked on
Grease was wonderful. I played Rizzo in the revival at the Dominion, and it was a fantastic show to be involved in - so energetic. I played opposite Shane Ritchie as Kenickie, and he made me laugh the whole time. Everyone in the company was up for having a wonderful time, and I think I had the best part. It was after I had Max - he was about two - and it was really my first big break in the West End.

Carrie was fantastic - not for the show, but for the experience of going to Stratford-upon-Avon and then Broadway. To tell people you've played on Broadway, they can't believe it! And Jolson was sensational. It was the era that I love, and my hero, from when I was very small, was Al Jolson. His energy and his love of singing inspired me, and practically got me to where I am now in a way. I played Ruby Keeler and I tapped and sang wonderful songs. It was also great because it was a fantastic play. I met my husband on the show - he's called Gary Milner and is an actor, too. My son Max is also a thespian. He's done The King and I and was in Spend Spend Spend. He's nearly 12 now and is a wonderful singer and a great drummer, so he's pretty cool!

Favourite co-star
Brian Conley is a good friend of mine, and his energy is marvellous. Working opposite him in Jolson, I really felt like I was working with a star. He oozes confidence and star quality.

Favourite directors
This is probably going to sound really naff, but I did work with Trevor Nunn before on Chess, which was strange because Michael Bennett was supposed to direct it and then Trevor stepped in at the last minute and was given this company that he'd never auditioned, but he was fantastic. He's fantastic again on Anything Goes, although we've had to share him with the Royal Opera company because he's been doing Sophie's Choice at the same time! I find him very giving, very warm and very accommodating.

Favourite choreographers
Stephen Mear is doing a wonderful job on Anything Goes. He also choreographed Snoopy that I did at the Watermill in Newbury, and he did a fantastic job on that. I should also mention Steven Palling, who choreographed my cabaret act at Pizza on the Park. Bob Avian on Follies was marvellous. Also The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at Drury Lane was fantastic - that was choreographed by Tommy Tune and I was a swing. It was tap with cowboy boots on!

Favourite musical writers
My favourite shows are the old-school ones, like: Kander and Ebb's Cabaret, in which I played Sally Bowles at the Sheffield Crucible; Sondheim's Follies, which I appeared in the London premiere of in 1987 and later took over as Young Phyllis, and Jolson. I'm enjoying singing Cole Porter now and I love Harold Arlen.

What roles would you most like to play still?
A role that hasn't been created yet - I'd love to play the part in a stage version of A Star Is Born. That's me all over. I'd love to do Easter Parade on stage, too.

What draws you to musical theatre? Would you like to do plays as well?
I'd love to try plays - that's something I've not done a lot of. This year I've done three tellies, and that was brilliant. I was able to be 'green', not to know everything - not that I know everything about musical theatre, but I've done it enough to know that happens here, then you have that. I'd never be able to give up musicals, no matter how much of something else I do. I've never done anything else and I love it, which probably shows when I'm in a good role. I've danced since I was three and I like singing and acting - and you can do all three in musicals.

Are you worried or encouraged by the state of modern musical theatre in this country?
Very worried. Unless a show has got a huge set and somebody from EastEnders, Joe Public isn't necessarily going to want to see it. The National is a completely different ballgame - we're sold out before it even starts, because of the reputation. But over there in the West End, it's the Mamma Mia's and the Queen's and the Madness's, and that's not what musical theatre is about. I don't know what the answer is anymore. We've still got My Fair Lady which is fantastic, but we need young writers to be able to experiment.

What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre overall?
Encourage young writers! George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have been going for quite a while now, and they're still thought of as young writers, but they're not. There are hundreds of people out there at home writing wonderful things. I recently did a workshop at the Arts of a show that Charles Hart wrote the music for - it was new and inspired and encouraged me.

What was the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed?
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - my husband's in it, understudying Child Catcher and also second cover for Michael Ball - and the car makes me cry every time I see it. It's a fantastic production.

If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
Can I have two people? I want a day on the set of The Wizard of Oz when they recorded "We're Off to See the Wizard" - I want to be Judy Garland in the middle of the Lion and the Scarecrow. And I'd like to have a fabulous day in the life of Jodie Foster, because she's a wonderful actress and has a really interesting life.

Favourite books
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. I read it on a train coming back from a concert and I cried and cried and cried.

Favourite holiday destinations
The TanjungRhu resort on Langkawi, a little island just north of Kuala Lumpur, where I spent a very belated honeymoon with my husband.

Favourite website
After my daughter Grace (who is now one-and-a-half years old) was born, I used to visit the website for the Active Birth Centre a lot - to find out if they had a cool new baby sling and things like that!

Why did you want to accept your part in this production of Anything Goes?
Because it's at the National, and the last time I was here I didn't have a great time because we did The Villain's Opera and that was dreadful. So I wanted to come back and see if I could have a good time, which I can and am! Also, it's with Trevor Nunn, it's got the most fantastic songs, Anthony Ward is designing it and he is so marvellous, and my character Reno Sweeney is fun, sensitive and emotional. And, I've not done a musical for a while - and haven't started off one since Jolson.

What, if anything, do you think makes the National special?
The location of it makes it special. You can just walk out and sit on a beach - albeit a few stones on the riverbank - to clear your head! It's reputation as one of the greatest theatres in the world, and working with one of the greatest directors in the world, you have everything at your disposal - you ask for a pair of tap shoes, and two hours later, there they are. I know I'm leading lady, but they think about the detail of it all - it's not just thrown together.

What's your favourite number from Anything Goes?
"You're the Top" - I'm loving doing that.

What's the funniest/oddest/most notable thing that has happened during rehearsals for Anything Goes?
I was not needed in a rehearsal so sat down in a chair to drink a glass of water. The chair had broken ten minutes earlier, someone had put it back together again, but the next minute I was sitting on the floor!

What are your plans for the future?
No plans - with two kids, you never plan tomorrow. I'd also like to add that I want to dedicate this whole thing to my dad, John Triplett, who passed away just about eight weeks ago. He died on the first day of rehearsal for Anything Goes so I wasn't here - but I was here on the second.


Anything Goes opens at the National's Olivier Theatre on 18 December 2002, following previews from 11 December.


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