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Brief Encounter with ... Cabaret's Michelle Ryan

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Michelle Ryan makes her musical theatre debut in Cabaret, which opens at the West End’s Savoy Theatre this week (9 October 2012, previews from 3 October) following a national tour.

Ryan, who found fame at the age of 16 when she was cast as Zoe Slater in EastEnders, stars opposite Will Young, Sian Phillips and Matt Rawle in the production, which is a restaging of Rufus Norris’ award-winning 2006 revival.

How did it go on tour?
The great thing about touring, which our brilliant musical director Tom De Keyser reminded us every night, is that it’s all about experimenting. We got to try the show in a huge range of venues and locations, which meant we could pretty much reinvent it each time.

Has the production been ‘locked down’ for the West End?
That’s something that’s happening now because there’s been a lot of changes. We’ve had four different Cliffs in a few weeks (due to an injury to Matt Rawle), and the show we opened with in Bromley feels very different to what we had towards the end of the tour. It’s been a work in progress but once we hit London it should really hit its stride.

Sounds like a big challenge for your musical theatre debut
This always happens to me! People must just think ‘Michelle Ryan, she’ll handle anything, let’s just throw her in.’ Having Rufus Norris on as Cliff was an example – how often does a director have to step in and play your leading man? Well it happened to me.

How did Rufus get on?
He was brilliant. I told him he was like a young Clint Eastwood and I think he quite liked the compliment. He has a lot of humility and depth and it all came across in his performance. That being said though my heart will always be with Matt Rawle – it was very emotional when he returned.

Michelle Ryan as Sally Bowles & Matt Rawle as Cliff

How have you gelled with the rest of the company?
It’s a great team – the real highlight for me has been taking the warm up with the dancers and bonding with them. There are quite a few intricate moments in “Mein Herr” and a few leaps and things that, if I hadn’t built up that trust, could have been tricky - I wouldn’t be willing to throw myself off the stairs. And the rest of the cast are great – Will Young, who’s also making his musical debut, is brilliant and lovely. There’s a really strong sense of family, which is what you need. David Beckham (not that one!) is our sound engineer and he gives us feedback every show.

Your sound guy’s called David Beckham?
I know! The announcement “can we have David Beckham on stage please” always gets a laugh.

I understand you did quite a bit of research into the role of Sally
I actually took a trip to Berlin earlier in the year - before the Cabaret script arrived - and stayed at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski, which is featured in Cabaret. I got a real sense of what Berlin is like in terms of its architecture and its weather, which was freezing! Then once I got the role I read Chris Isherwood’s books. Goodbye to Berlin was key for me in terms of filling in a lot of gaps in Sally’s story; there’s a moment where she’s holding a pillow around the time of the abortion, considering being the mother, and things like that helped me to find where she’d been.

Have you met Liza Minnelli?
I did meet her recently, at The Hampton Court Palace Festival, and I only had a chance to say a quick hello but it was extremely exciting. She still has such a presence and she performed a couple of the songs from Cabaret which was great to see.

And your fellow former EastEnder Kim Medcalf played the role during the last West End run
I saw Kim in the role five years ago so I did call her and ask her advice – she just said "you’ll have such a fun time with it", and she was right.

You got established at a very young age – how do you think your experience compares to the traditional drama school route?
I started at a local drama group when I was ten and then at 16 I got EastEnders. Having spoken to other actors it seems that what drama school gives you primarily is a point of reference, and that’s what EastEnders gave me. I don’t really think that you necessarily need to go to drama school - so often you see people making very different routes into the industry. I guess the initial breakthrough is possibly easier from drama school, and I know a lot of people struggle to find agents if they haven’t been, but then there are lots of agents who will take people on. For example Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley didn’t go to drama school - I think a lot of theories people spin about the necessity of drama school is propaganda, really. It just puts blocks up. But then I appreciate that I go lucky and I did get that break.

Will we see more of you in musicals?
For me it’s about the role - when I read the part of Sally I fell in love with the character - so I don’t know if I’m necessarily looking for another musical but it would be the character that would attract me to it more than anything.


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