Nicholas Afoa – Lion King life

New cast have joined the London production of Disney’s The Lion King this summer, including New Zealander Nicholas Afoa who has taken on the role of Simba at the Lyceum Theatre.

Afoa made his stage debut in the Australian production in 2013 and played Simba in the Sydney production of the musical between 2013 and 2016, performing more than 860 times. The opportunity to play the role in the West End brings Afoa to London for the first time, as he embarks on his second professional theatre engagement.

The Auckland-raised performer had a promising rugby career with the All Blacks until he was sidelined by injury. After recovering and dedicating himself to his theatre career, nearly a decade later the 30 year-old beat 400 other hopefuls to the role of Simba in the Australian production.

What caused your transition from rugby pitch to stage?

I suffered an ACL and miniscus tear in a rugby game when I was 23. My introduction to theatre wasn’t until years later as I spent a lot of time trying to rehab the knee and come back to rugby. I also spent time trying to start a band and focus on my solo music. I eventually accepted the fate that was the end of a rugby dream and focused on these artistic qualities; I feel so lucky to be where I am right now.

Did you undertake any formal training as a result?

My formal dance training really started once I had landed the role. Now being part of the show has become such a huge part of my life and I feel like I am training and improving my skills every day. It is great to be around so many talented performers and teachers in an environment where everyone is constantly learning.

Describe a day in your life.

I like to spend time with my wife, go to the gym, keep in touch with family back home and go to vocal classes or ballet classes to keep my body up to speed.

How important is your ranging and diverse world experience in your work today?

I wouldn’t be able to bring the same depth to the role if it wasn’t for my life experience over the last 10 years, the interactions I have had with people, the trials I have overcome and what I have learnt from overcoming them. I worked as a youth counsellor for four years, where I learnt so much about adolescent behaviour and the way young people (like Simba) view the world around them and perceive themselves – these are all things that helped me to bring Simba to life.

What’s the most rewarding thing about the performing arts?

The most rewarding thing is how, through your passion, you can also inspire and move others. That’s what drives me, especially if I’m feeling tired. The fact that somebody in that audience, young or old, is being positively affected by the show is the most rewarding thing.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

I always say a little prayer moments before swinging on stage. Whenever I can I will watch young Simba and Mufasa in the first act. Their scene gives me an extra emotional boost that I carry through into the second act.

What is it like being part of The Lion King?

It’s very humbling. Every day I learn something new. I’m in an amazing show surrounded by talented, passionate people. I still consider myself very fortunate and never once take it for granted.

What were you most looking forward to about beginning your Lion King contract in London?

What I was looking forward to most was learning and experiencing new energies and actors, seeing how that would affect me as a performer and being able to see what contribution I could make. It was also a chance to experience life outside Australasia as I have never been this far away from home.

What is your advice to an aspiring dancer?

I see with the dancers I work with how dedicated every dancer is to maintaining their own standards. What dancers’ bodies go through is mind-blowing. It inspires me to keep bettering myself. My advice would be to keep working hard, but also give yourself time and space to heal when you need and to also take in some of the world around you. While it’s good to be driven we can get so set on our dreams that sometimes we lose touch with our surroundings. This is also where we learn the most about ourselves and in turn makes us better and rounded performers.

Cats To Return To London

Cats The MusicalThe iconic musical Cats will return to the London Palladium later this year, playing a final ten week season from 23 October 2015, having already seen its West End revival earlier this year which was a huge success. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s creation will go on sale on 14 May for the run, which plays from 23 October 2015 to 2 January 2016.

Casting is yet to be announced for the production’s strictly limited season, however the original Palladium run has already seen pop star Nicole Scherzinger and musical theatre star Kerry Ellis play Grizabella. Later this year Cats will tour to Blackpool ahead of its return to London, and the iconic singer Jane McDonald will play the iconic role of Grizabella. These three women follow in the footsteps of the original Elaine Paige creating the role.

Lloyd Webber’s musical is directed by Trevor Nunn, with choreography by Gillian Lynne and design by John Napier. 2014’s high-profile return of the show reunited the original creative team, including director Nunn and choreographer Lynne. The musical takes inspiration from T.S. Eliot’s poems about the feline creatures to tell the wonderful story of the Jellicle cats and the Jellicle ball. Its triumphant return to the West End last year was a delight for its original – and new – fans. Only recently did it close after its Olivier Award-nominated run.

Featuring much-loved songs including Mr Mistoffelees, Macavity: The Mystery Cat and the iconic Memory, given its resounding success by Paige as Grizabella, Cats was first staged in 1981, when it went on to run for a record breaking 21 years. The show continues to delight fans and be a favourite amongst musical theatre enthusiasts as it is now enjoying further success from 2014 to 2015 and onwards.

Amazon For Tickets!

Amazon LogoAmazon has upped its presence in the theatre marketplace recently, announcing it will now sell theatre tickets, becoming further involved with the artistic industry. As a giant global retailer, Amazon appears to see UK theatre – and specifically the West End – as an area into which it can expand.

Despite some cynicism, its entry into the arts could potentially be completely transformative for theatres. Amazon has previously been involved in the area of book publishing, for example, so this is not its first dabble into the arts. It is unlikely that the association of Amazon with the arts would be detrimental; ultimately Amazon will bring a whole new market for theatre tickets, as its customers are hugely global.

Amazon has a huge database to promote the arts and theatre tickets to, and this would also be significantly more diverse than the data of traditional ticket sellers. It is also a master in terms of ease of purchase with its one-click model – something that theatre ticketing websites have often struggled with, so it will be interesting to see these developments as they occur.

For tourists, theatre – particularly in London’s West End – is a huge magnetic pull. For many foreign visitors, it is one of the principal reasons they visit the capital city, in order to experience some of the artistic wealth the London theatre scene offers. It is therefore promising to see mayor Boris Johnson recognising the crucial role theatre plays in making people want to visit the city. Proximity to arts and culture are important to many people, so it is important to recognise this effect as a whole, not just for London.

New Today, Gone Tomorrow

London's West End Theatre SceneWhen new musicals hit London’s West End in particular, there is often a sense of excitement and anticipation, but possibly now one of cynicism too. How long will it last? What will the audience and box office figures be like? Following such a barrage of shows opening and closing within the same year throughout 2014, it is no wonder these questions are now largely conscious in theatrical minds. Only recently was it announced that the hearty – and seemingly successful – Made in Dagenham was set to close its doors, and the reaction was rather subdued, even expectant.

Equally, there doesn’t seem to be a successful musical theatre model in which to base a new show heading for the West End, except perhaps for The Book of Mormon, of which content includes severe expletives, blasphemy and and downright crude humour. A very different experience for audiences, however; the show has played to 100% capacity since its opening, and continues to book well in advance at high prices. Even shows which have had successful runs at the Chichester Festival Theatre – a surefire breeding ground for West End transfers – such as Singin’ in the Rain, have not managed to survive in the city.

There is no middle ground particularly in the West End, filled with either established ‘classics’ which have years on their clocks, such as The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, or young musicals which are just beginning and cannot compete. Perhaps financial and social issues are to blame for the poor survival rates of West End musicals, using up lots of time and money to produce the show, which do not translate to return on investment for that very reason.

With recent reports showing the capital now cannot financially house those that are playing on its stages night after night, perhaps London is becoming to too expensive to reasonably survive in.

Addams Family Musical To Make Its West End Debut?

The Adams Family MusicalThe long-awaited debut of the musical version of The Addams Family, which premiered on Broadway in 2010, may finally be setting its sights on London’s West End. The show has been rumoured to be heading to London since it opened on Broadway five years ago, where it defied critics who had no faith that the musical would even survive this long.

The ‘page-to-stage’ show opened to poor reviews but proved to be a box office hit with US audiences. It is based on the family of characters created by cartoonist Charles Addams, including parents Morticia and Gomez, children Wednesday and Pugsley, Uncle Fester, Cousin Itt and a butler named Lurch. The show features music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.

Despite the rumours that was coming to the West End, the transfer never materialised. Many productions have been staged in the UK since its premiere in the hope that the show would transfer across the pond – including at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – however amateur rights have been restricted ahead of a professional London production.

Recently however, a representative of Theatrical Rights Worldwide released a statement announcing: “The Addams Family musical authors are considering many exciting opportunities for The Addams Family in the UK territory, including the West End. At present, amateur rights remain fully available as hundreds of organisations prepare for their local productions.” It is apt that the London venue remains a mystery, but fans would be delighted with an opening in the capital. It is thought that producers hope to open the show in late 2015 or early 2016.

A New Recruit For Cats?

Cats The MusicalIt has been rumoured that West End star Kerry Ellis is set to take over the role of Grizabella from pop princess Nicole Scherzinger in Cats at the London Palladium in 2015, a huge theatrical coup for musical theatre fans. Scherzinger has previously received mixed reactions from musical theatre-goers however for many, the most important aspect of the news is that Cats will most likely be extending further than it’s previously advertised 12 week run.

Ellis, best known for starring in Wicked in the West End and on Broadway, will play Grizabella from 9 February, according to the Daily Mail newspaper. Ellis trained at Laine Theatre Arts in Surrey and has a firm place in the group of Laine’s successful alumni.

Cats the musical, which has returned to the West End after a 12 year period, opened to rave reviews at the Palladium in December, and is currently booking to 27 February 2015, although an extension is likely. The cast and creatives have been praised for the revival of the timeless production, with undefeated choreography from Dame Gillian Lynne who continues to surprise at nearly 90 years old.

For Ellis it was after appearing as one of Martine McCutcheon’s understudies in My Fair Lady that her breakthrough role came in 2002: she played Meat in the premiere of the Queen musical We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre to great acclaim. Her other credits include Wicked (for which she has won awards such as the 2008 WhatsOnStage Award for Best Takeover in a Role), Oliver!, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables and Rent, earning her a firm place in the line up of iconic musical theatre artists.

Gypsy In The West End

Gypsy - Imelda StauntonIt has been revealed that Imelda Staunton will reprise her role as the iconic Momma Rose in Chichester Festival Theatre’s hit production of Gypsy when it transfers to the West End for a strictly limited season in spring 2015. This will be the first London production of Stephen Sondheim’s much-loved musical for more than 40 years, playing at the Savoy Theatre from 28 March.

Gypsy is often cited as one of Broadway’s greatest ever musicals: the rarely staged piece tells the true story of the ultimate showbiz mother Momma Rose who took her daughters Baby June and Louise across America in search of fame and fortune with their homespun vaudeville act. Momma Rose is forced to accept the demise of vaudeville and the rise of burlesque, as well as her daughters’ quest for freedom and individuality.

The musical features a book by West Side Story’s Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Sondheim. It was inspired by the memoirs of the real-life Louise, Gypsy Rose Lee, and boasts a classic score of hits including Everything’s Coming Up Roses, Small World, Let Me Entertain You and Together (Wherever We Go).

Imelda Staunton is often referred to as one of Britain’s best-loved performers. Her credits on stage include Guys And Dolls, A Chorus Of Disapproval and Life X 3 at the National Theatre, Entertaining Mr Sloane at the Trafalgar Studios and A Delicate Balance at the Almeida. She is also a household name for her screen appearances, as Staunton has starred in films including Pride, the Harry Potter series, Maleficent, Vera Drake and The Awakening.

Further casting as to who will join Staunton in the West End transfer is yet to be announced. The production will follow Dirty Rotten Scoundrels into the Savoy Theatre, which ends it run on 7 March 2015.

Sleepless In The West End?

Sleepless In SeattleRumour has it, the brand new musical adaptation of the classic 1993 movie Sleepless In Seattle could be making its way to the West End in 2015, delighting fans all over.

Having recently had its world premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse in June, Sleepless In Seattle: The New Musical hopes to bring the show to the West End and Broadway before embarking on a worldwide tour. The show’s management team have launched a Crowd Funder campaign to raise a whopping $2.5 million, and are already 80% of the way there, having raised $2 million so far. The plans aim to redevelop the musical in the spring of 2015 before opening it in London later in the year.

The Crowd Funder campaign has meant that a mechanism has been provided to enable smaller investors to be able to participate in bringing Sleepless in Seattle to the stage. It is an equity arrangement and differs from other fundraising vehicles, such as Kickstarter, in that the team is not requesting contributions. The link will be left active for a maximum of 60 days or until it has been fully subscribed.

The iconic romance story follows widowed architect Sam Baldwin as his young son encourages him to find love again. The classic tale is filled with charm, romance and wit; the fresh and lively book by Academy Award-nominee Jeff Arch (the film’s original writer) blends easily with the beloved movie. The brand new musical score bursts with heart and humour, giving audiences everywhere a foolproof recipe for a theatrical affair that will be remembered forever.

Pop Princess Nicole Scherzinger To Star In Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats

Nicole ScherzingerFormer Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger will make her West End stage debut this year when she takes to the stage as Grizabella in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-breaking musical Cats. The musical, directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographer by Gillian Lynne, will return to the West End for a strictly limited run from 6 December at the iconic London Palladium.

Having trained in theatre and dance at the Wright State University in Ohio, Scherzinger found fame with American pop group the Pussycat Dolls which sold 50 million records worldwide. She has since enjoyed success as a solo artist, selling 16 million records and having number one singles in the UK. In 2011 she joined the UK version of the X Factor as a judge and also performed one of Lloyd Webber’s songs at the Royal Variety Performance, “Phantom of the Opera”, alongside John-Owen Jones, Ramin Karimloo, Earl Carpenter and Simon Bowman.

Also joining the cast will be Zizi Strallen (niece of Bonnie Langford, sister of Summer, Scarlett and Sasi) as Demeter alongside Cameron Ball (Macavity/Admetus), Kathryn Barnes (Tantomile), Cassie Clare (Cassandra), Ross Finnie (Skimbleshanks), Charlene Ford (Bombalurina), Adam Lake (Alonzo), Paul F Monaghan (Bustopher Jones/Asparagus/Growl Tiger), Joel Morris (Carbucketty), Natasha Mould (Jemima), Benjamin Mundy (Coricopat), Joseph Poulton (Quaxo/Mistoffelees), Nicholas Pound (Old Deuteronomy), Sophie Ragavelas (alternate Grizabella), Clare Rickard (Jellylorum/Griddlebone), Adam Salter (Bill Bailey), Laurie Scarth (Jennyanydots), Hannah Kenna Thomas (Victoria/White Cat), Callum Train (Munkustrap) and Dawn Williams (Rumpleteazer) who are joined by swings Ryan Gover, Barry Haywood, Alice Jane, Grace McKee, Dane Quixall and Libby Watts.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Miss Saigon Marks 25 Years

Miss SaigonMiss Saigon, the iconic musical which has recently returned to the West End, has plans to mark 25 years with a gala charging its 1989 ticket prices. The gala will take place on Monday 22 September, and all tickets for the performance have had their prices slashed to £22.50, £20.00, £16.50 and £13.50. There will also be an anniversary CD released on the day of the gala. The 2014 company of Miss Saigon have performed for a live recording to celebrate the show’s anniversary, following in the footsteps of Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera.

The gala will take place at the Prince Edward Theatre starring members of the current company, and it will also a feature some familiar faces from the original cast during a special finale. Fans of the show will have a two-hour priority booking period online via Miss Saigon social networks and the official show website with general on-sale starting after this. Fans can also purchase by queuing in person at the Box Office. The performance will be recorded for BBC Radio 2 and will be broadcast in its entirety on Sunday 28 September.

The first live cast recording of the entire show, featuring the current cast, will be released on Monday 22 September. It will be released by Universal Music and First Night Records and will be available from iTunes, the Prince Edward Theatre and all good retailers. The West End revival has proved to be a great success since opening earlier this year.

The musical, with its music written by Boublil and Schonberg, coverts the Madam Butterfly story to war-torn Vietnam. Cultures clash when a local prostitute meets her GI Joe during the fall of Saigon in 1975. Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Miss Saigon has extended its booking period at the Prince Edward Theatre until 25 April 2015.