Getting to know members of the cast and creative team of the London Hit - Sinatra at the London Palladium.
Talking with Stephen Mear:
Fill my readers in on who you are:
I'm the choreographer for Sinatra at the London Palladium.
Where are you from?
A small town called Loughborough in Leicester.
Single with a partner Mark we've been together 2 1/2 years.
Yes, they live in my London house and I've bought another property in Brighton.
Have they been to see the show yet?
Yes, they were all there. We are very close my family, so they were all there.
What did they think?
They loved it! They are always proud of whatever I do. They used to go to dances with the big bands playing. So they really love it.
How did you first get involved in Choreography?
I was in a lot of West End shows as a dancer. But I always wanted to be a choreographer so I took jobs as assistants and dance captains. Then I stopped dancing and began to look after shows and I then started to choreograph.
Excluding this current production what has been your favorite show to have choreographed?
I loved 'Mary Poppins' but my all time favorite is 'Anything Goes' with Trevor Nunn we did it at the National and Drury Lane. It was a fabulous experience. I worked with Gareth Valentine on that as well. He did all the dance arrangements for me. He is a genius, I love him, and I'm so pleased he did this show.
How do you find your inspirations for your choreography?
I just love doing it. It's great in Sinatra because we go through such a period of time and its great doing all those styles of dance. I get a chance to show off doing all those styles, instead of just one. You can prove you're not just a one pit pony.
Your choreography in Sinatra was really lovely to look at, there were such varied styles, and nothing seemed to be repeated. Is it challenging to keep things so different?
Yes, it is very challenging and it is hard to find dancers that can do all the different styles. So many have been trained in ballet or jazz and that's all they do. I have a fantastic bunch of dancers with a wide range. They also act which you has to happen to put it across.
Do you create your movement to compliment the different styles of your dancer's bodies or do you have them conform to your movements?
I set the main thing first and if there is a solo I work around what a dancer can do like Helen Harper has fantastic legs and in New York New York I she does these incredible kicks. It makes your choreography better if your dancers are technically brilliant.
What was it like creating around all the technology which was used in this show? At first I was concerned if we would get in the way of the screens or if they would get in our way. I did 'Singing In The Rain' and the critics complained about that. It didn't seem to happen so much in this show. I think it is very easy to watch. There is something for everyone as well.
Did there have to be a lot of interaction or coordination between you and the musical director Gareth Valentine?
Very much we did two weeks pre production just me him, my assistant Nikki and a drummer Allan Cox. Like the Hawaiian war chant I would dance it and Gareth would arrange around what I was doing. That was a big slog and a lot of work before we even began to work with any of the cast.
How was it working with Gareth?
I first worked with him many years ago on the original '42nd Street' as a dancer. He is just a genius and we bounce off each other when we are in a room, which is great. He's great.
And working with the Director David Leveaux?
He is brilliant as well. We are very different he has made me do things differently than I would normally do them. I found it a big challenge but very good for me and his end creation is fabulous. He was every good at letting Gareth and I add our input into the show. He was very good at including us in the teamwork of the creation of the show.
You just can't beat that music and his voice. You can't beat him singing his own songs. I love his music; I've always loved his music, since I was a kid. This was something I was desperate to do. It's been a lovely journey the whole thing.
What were your first thoughts and impressions when you heard about this production?
I saw clips of the first show in New York and I wasn't that impressed it. Once I heard that David and Gareth were on the project and that we would be telling his story through dance and music and interacting with the screen instead of just being in front of them. We dance on the screen and we are behind it and come out of the screen. The technology is just mind blowing I have to say.
How did you go about getting this job?
I was asked to go in because of a producer I'd worked with on 'Anything Goes' and David's Agent was mine, so I was asked to go in. I think that word of mouth and seeing each others productions over the years might have helped
After a production opens how much involvement is there left for you?
I have an assistant called Nikki Woolaston who goes onto look after the show. I go in at least twice a month or as much as I can. I am very passionate about this show so I try to sneak in as much as I can.
What is your favorite moment in the show?
Quite a few actually the Hawaiian War Chant because it is sheer dance, it is very exciting and New York, New York is great. When I first started it to choreograph that number I didn't like doing it very much and now I really like it.
What was your greatest challenge?
The whole thing is big challenge where the screens are concerned. The whole thing has been an exciting challenge, just trying to get it all to work together and make it a slick evening. And I think that's what we have achieved, hopefully.
What three things would you take to a deserted island?
Music because I love listening to music and its escapism, a video and films. Is that two or three things?
Let's call it two, because if we have electricity on the deserted island we can say those are two things.
So, music, a video and films, and my partner.
Talking with Emma Woods:
Please tell us a bit about yourself:
I am the ensemble dance captain for Sinatra at the London Palladium. I started dancing at 3 years old and began professional training at 16. I started working in professional theatre in 1998 across Europe, the U.K. and in the States in Reno.
What did you do in Reno?
'Spirit Of The Dance' at the El Dorado.
Where are you from?
Bournemouth on south coast of England I left there at 16 to train in Manchester.
Married or single?
Mom and Dad they still live in Bournesmouth.
Have they been to see the show yet?
Yes on opening night.
What were their thoughts?
They loved it. They were so emotional. Just ecstatic, loved being part of the opening night and thought everyone was sensational.
Do you consider yourself more of a dancer, singer or actress?
I trained first and foremost in dancing but now I consider myself all three.
This is not your first West End production what was your first show?
I was in the final cast of 'Cats' at the New London Theatre in 2002 since then I've been at the Dominion Theatre in 'We Will Rock You' and I was part of the original cast of 'Mary Poppins' at the Prince Edward Theatre.
Please explain to our readers what a Dance Captain is and what responsibilities that entails?
My responsibilities are to look after the choreography and the dancers. To make sure everyone is doing the right steps on a nightly basis and that they are doing exactly what the Choreographer wanted. Make sure everything is tight and see that they are giving 150% to each show. If someone is sick or injured I have to make sure that their places are covered so there are no empty spaces on stage. I have to take warm ups and rehearsals as well.
What were your first thoughts and impressions when you heard about this production?
I just wanted to do it desperately. I had worked with Stephen the Choreographer on Mary Poppins and knew his choreography to this music would be amazing. I knew it would be classy and glamorous, sexy and very fulfilling. I love Sinatra as well.
What was the casting process like?
Tough actually we usually are quite relaxed auditioning over here. But everybody wanted it so badly. Everyone was trying to pip each other to get it and you really had to raise your game to get the job. It was lovely, but quite scary in the end, when you desperately want something so badly.
You opened the show in March how is it going?
Brilliantly the audiences absolutely love the show. They are up on their feet dancing we had this 80 year old couple the other night and there was nothing stopping them, they were on their feet. It's a joy and its hard work preparing your body really well. The show is an entity in itself it takes you with it. The cast is having such a good time and that translates to the audience who feel their joy.
What is your favorite moment in Sinatra?
The bit I do where I am representing Mia Farrow and I get to walk on stage just little old me on an empty stage at the London Palladium. Then I start singing with Frank Sinatra that's something you couldn't have told me. I am so lucky to be doing this, it's such a kick!
This production is very dance intensive, how is it dancing Stephen Mears choreography?
His choreography is a dream. It flows brilliantly it never goes against what you feel you want to do with your body. I get to dance every dance style possible from the 30's, 40's, the Lindsy Hop and into the 60s Fosseesque, all the different styles throughout the decades. In other productions you are usually doing one style. Stephen has done such a brilliant job it feels so good to dance his choreography. He also picks out everyone's talents and spotlights them like; Craig has this incredible tap solo and Helen has incredible flexibility and so she gets these great kicks.
What is it like working withthe Director David Leveaux?
David is so interesting, so focused and tunnel visioned into the piece. He has been really interesting to watch work. I wish I could see inside his mind into the greater vision he has. He is very clear about what he wants and at the same time, he lets us have our own individuality, to create our own characters on stage. He then embraces and improves on that and he is extremely encouraging.
The Musical Director Gareth Valentine?
He is a character! He is a genius! His orchestrations are phenomenal for this show. He has put together an amazing band of the cream of the crop of British musicians. At times trying to contain him is a bigger job than containing the dancers. He puts his entire being into the show. He also has been a great help to me with my part. He has a great ear and has been very quick to keep us all in shape musically.
Amazing! You get this real feeling of him being with us, not just on the screens but especially in spirit. Seeing that sparkle in his eyes, it is almost like he is looking right at you. We try to pass that feeling of connection on to the audience. It is incredible what that man achieved over so many decades, the magnitude of him. Trying to tell his story it is quite overwhelming sometimes. I love his music his vocals are amazing. 'I'll Be Seeing You' just gets me every night. That and 'Ive Got It Bad And That Ain't Good' are my favorite Frank tracks.
Does all the technology being used effect you as a performer?
It's a huge challenge. Putting the show together was quite daunting and now it is just part and parcel of what we do. The balance is so delicate we all have to get our sides right for it to work. Now it doesn't seem so daunting, now you take things for granted, you look up and Franks there, you turn around and he's there too. At the beginning it was unusual seeing Frank through all of the different mediums the silks and the screens, all the time. I've worked with screens before on 'We Will Rock You' but never on this level, this is huge.
Are there any special considerations you've had to make or change because of it?
No, they have been very careful to make sure every element has come through and hopefully it has all come together in perfect harmony, shall we say
How many shows are you performing a week?
8 a week - 2 matinees and 6 evening shows.
What do you do to prepare yourself for a show?
Come in 2 hours before the show for makeup, wigs, and warm ups both physical and vocally. The costumes and wigs are amazing and there is lots of work before the show to make sure everything is ok and it is where it's supposed to be.
Were there any special preparations you had to make when you got your role?
I had short hair and was growing it out. In rehearsals they asked if I would cut it short to look like Mia, which I did. So yes, I've sacrificed my hair. I was worried that her cut wouldn't look good on me but people say I still look feminine.
What has been the most challenging aspect of this show for you?
The high level of choreography, it is one of the hardest dance shows I've ever done with exception of 'Cats'. Making sure you do the choreography as intended and then layering on top of that the storytelling. Being backstage with the wigs and costumes and then onstage 30 seconds later being the most snooty and elegant actress. Everything has to just stop and be put in its place and the story told. It is more frantic backstage than it is on.
Fill in the blank. If I had one wish it would be __ .
To perform the show in America. To come over and give the show to an American audience. To be able to say I know what I'm doing next. From a dancers perspective you never know what the next job might be. It would be a shame to think I would only be performing this show for a limited run in 2006. Doing it in America would be geographically amazing.
Monday-Saturday at 7:30pm Wednesday and Saturday at 2:30pm
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