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Summer Strallen: 'Musical theatre people can't act, apparently'

Summer Strallen is currently starring in Andrew Lippa's ''Life of the Party'' at the Menier Chocolate Factory, a revue of his work which runs until 14 June

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Summer Strallen in The Life of the Party
© Alastair Muir

Tell us a little bit about the show
It's an evening with Andrew Lippa and special guests - me, Damian Humbley and Caroline O'Connor. It's a compilation of his work, with numbers from his shows. It's not just a concert, there's a bit more to it than that, so I think people will be pleasantly surprised when they come.

Were you a fan of Andrew Lippa before you joined the show?
I have to say, ashamedly, not. I had never heard one song. I knew of The Addams Family and The Wild Party but I hadn't actually listened to them. And I'm devastated that I hadn't, because they are such brilliant songs, his material is so heartfelt and has so much truth in it. I am just very glad that I have now been introduced to this man's great work.

What was it that initially drew you to the production?
David Babani asked me to do it. I've always done a lot more kind of whack-hit-split musicals because I'm very good at that. I can get my leg behind my head and people like seeing it. But this show is not about that, it's more about the acting choices. I love musicals but I had lost the love after Top Hat because I didn't want to get pigeonholed into doing the same thing.

Do you have any favourite songs from the show?
My favourite one to sing is "The Life of the Party", which is from The Wild Party, just because it is contextually quite deep, and there's a lot to it. All of the singing for me in the show is extremely challenging. I don't profess to be Idina Menzel, but I seem to be doing alright.

There's a song that Caroline O'Connor sings called "Love Somebody Now" [from Asphalt Beach], which is quite pertinent to me. It's a wonderful song and it's got a lot of lovely, fizzy, underlying sub-plot to it.

Most of Lippa's work has been in New York. Have you got any desire to go to Broadway?
Yes, my green card is going through as we speak. I'll be in LA for pilot season, and then my agent in LA has an affiliate in New York, so hopefully I'm going to meet them. I love it here, but I have lived here my whole entire life and I like to move around. So I am going to go and give it a go.

Have you ever thought about moving on to straight plays?
Absolutely! But it's difficult to make that crossover because musical theatre people can't act, apparently. I think there is this strange sort of opinion that musical theatre people act in a certain way. If I were to be asked to go for a play I would absolutely start at the bottom - you know, maid second from the left - if I could.

Caroline O'Connor, Summer Strallen, Andrew Lippa and Damian Humbley
© Alastair Muir

Do you think it's easier for a ‘straight play' actor to make the transition into musical theatre than the other way round?
I think it's just fact that there are a lot more people that do that. So that's the way of it. Ultimately I think musical theatre has evolved so much over the years, and there's a certain amount of reality that people like now, so people actually do have to be better actors.

Would you want to work with your family onstage at all?
I don't know. I don't think much work would get done because we would just be laughing at each other all the time. I think it's easier when you go into a show when you don't know the people very well, because you can then strip everything away and become whoever you want to be. I think that's what we would find hard, to let go of the sister that we know. But I'm not at all adverse to the idea. I think it would be an interesting experiment.

What's next?
Not a bit; not one thing do I know. I like to keep it that way a lot of the time because otherwise I end up thinking ‘oh I've got to do that next'. That's what a lot of performers do. Instead of being present and enjoying what they're doing at the time, we end up trying to think about what we're going to be doing next. I used to do that a lot in my past and now I try not to. That's my motto: stay in the present.