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Caroline Sheen On … Shining a Light in Leicester

Caroline Sheen is a musical theatre actress whose West End credits include Grease, Mamma Mia!, Les Miserables, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and, for the National Theatre, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Once in a Lifetime. Recently, she played the title role in the national touring production of Mary Poppins. Sheen, cousin of Frost/Nixon star Michael, is currently starring in the European premiere of Adam Guettel's Tony award-winning musical The Light in the Piazza at the new Leicester Curve venue, where it opens on Tuesday (5 May, previews from 30 April) and continues until 23 May.

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The Light in the Piazza is a beautiful romantic musical with a lovely storyline about a mother and daughter in Italy in the 1950s. It's simplicity at its most complicated – a simple story but with such a deep heart, and it has some of the most beautiful music that I’ve ever heard in a musical. I first saw it a few years ago in New York and I remember at the interval I was a blubbering wreck! I saw it with my fiancée and we both loved it so much that we ended up having one of the songs played at our wedding. It's very close to my heart, so I'm honoured to be part of it over here.

I play Clara, who's a young girl at heart, very innocent and free. She meets a young Italian boy and falls head over heels in love with him. There are barriers to this love however, as they don’t speak each others' language, and she’s away from home.  It’s almost a forbidden love, but they try to overcome all these obstacles.

I don’t think it can be compared to other shows. It's got Adam Guettel’s heritage behind it, in the beautiful romantic music that he inherited from his grandfather (Richard Rodgers). But aside from that it’s on its own,  breaking the mould of musical theatre.

I was in Adam's Myths and Hymns at the Finborough back in 2007, which was really my way of saying “if anyone would like to do The Light in the Piazza please book me in for it. Look, I can do Adam Guettel's work, I can sing funny tunes.” And it obviously paid off! Myths and Hymns was actually written as a song cycle and not to be staged, but we adapted it. It was undoubtedly one of the best things I've done. I think his music really unites people; it's so tricky to learn, that you all end up bonding as you desperately try to reach these difficult notes.

The Leicester Curve is an incredible space; there's no backstage, and it rather has the feel of a open-air theatre. It's a fab venue to work in, and great that it's giving a platform to new musicals. More venues need to show this kind of trust in musical theatre as a form on its own, not as something that's pushed on from a film or brought together from the music of a pop band.

I’ve done a lot of work with new writers like Grant Olding. We took his show Three Sides to the New York Musical Theatre Festival which was a great platform for him. Sadly we don’t really have that here; there are a few festivals, but I don’t think enough producers take the risk. There’s a lot of laziness out there, with too many productions based on films. People need to start thinking outside of the box when it comes to musicals, otherwise it’s a dying breed. Fortunately, composers like Adam Guettel are carrying the torch.

The Light in the Piazza, which also stars Matt Rawle and is directed by Leicester Curve's artistic director Paul Kerryson, continues until 23 May.


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