Suffolk star Kerry Ellis returns to West End for a Murder Ballad
- Credit: Archant
For Suffolk-born West End star Kerry Ellis life at the moment spins from one extreme to another. One moment she is on stage with rock legend Brian May acknowledging a standing ovation at the end of another sell-out concert and the next she is changing the nappy of ten month old son Freddie or collecting his three year old brother Alfie from play group.
“Life is non-stop at the moment,” she laughs. “I seem to be always dashing from one thing to another but that’s good. There’s plenty going on and that’s great. I get to take my boys with me to lots of places and they get to see the world from a young age and I still get to spend time with them.”
Earlier this year Kerry and Brian toured Italy and Eastern Europe with their One Voice show and since they have been back the pair have been in the studio laying down tracks for their third album together.
“We’ve got seven tracks pretty much finished. Then in August we’ll go back and finish up the rest of the album and hopefully get it out sometime in the autumn to coincide with a December British tour which will take us to Christmas.”
But, life is so busy for Kerry at the moment that new album with Brian May isn’t the only thing on her agenda. In fact, what’s currently taking centrestage in her mind is her new West End show Murder Ballad.
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For Kerry, variety very much is the spice of life. “I love having two strands to my career. It keeps things fresh and it means that I don’t get stuck doing one thing for too long. It also allows me flexibility which is important when you are looking after two young boys.
“I love the fact that I can go from doing a concert tour to a show in the West End. It really is having the best of both worlds and with this new show I get to put my own stamp on it and introduce something new to British audiences.”
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Kerry says that what excites her about Murder Ballad is that it is an intimate musical that behaves as if it is a play. She says that in order to perform it properly the cast have to act the songs as well as sing them.
Although, it’s a sung through musical, the show deals with emotions and subject matter more usually found in a play. Kerry said that when it was brought to her attention she jumped at the chance to star in it.
“It’s a show that hardly anyone knows anything about and that’s the attraction,” she explains with an excited edge to her voice. “After going back to Wicked and doing Cats at the Palladium last year, everyone was asking me what I was doing next and I felt that it was important that I do something new – something no-one had seen before.
“It’s never been staged in London before although it did have a run off-Broadway a couple of years ago and was very successful, so for it to have a big opening in London is quite exciting.”
The show follows the lives of Sara, Tom and Michael, three New Yorkers caught in a secret love triangle that could tear their lives apart. Kerry’s Sara is stuck in the middle, torn between her downtown past and her uptown future. The question she must ask herself is: ‘Is the one that got away really worth risking everything for?’
The show takes it’s title from a classic song genre called the murder ballad, songs of love-gone-wrong, which invariably end up with blood being spilt and a body being left for dead on the floor.
Kerry will be joined on stage by Les Miserables and Love Never Dies star Ramin Karimloo, along with Norman Bowman and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt. “I think we are all excited because it is something new for all of us.
She says that for any actor, there is a special thrill at originating a role rather than taking over from someone else or reviving a part in a classic show. “Murder Ballad has never been seen in this country before, so it’s totally new for British audiences. Sam Yates is directing and he has been given licence to do what he thinks is right for the show. We are not going to produce a slavish copy of the New York show we are going to create something that speaks to British audiences.
Kerry says that the show is very raw and audiences will find themselves getting swept up in the drama. “As performers we are very exposed. There’s no hiding. We’re very close to the audience. There are no big sets or layers of costumes to act as protection. It’s a very modern show, we look like ourselves and it’s an emotional story.
“It’s an intimate venue. I think it only holds 350 people and there is only four of us in the cast so we are all going to be thrown together somewhat. It’s exciting but also a little bit scary.”
She says that one of the challenges contained in the show is to play a character not too far removed from herself.
“It’s quite unnerving, if I’m honest. It’s a very contemporary story and the characters are as normal as they get. It’s essentially a love triangle about a woman who had dreams of being a rock star. She had a relationship with a guy but it didn’t go anywhere. She gets married, has a child and as her life settles down to school runs and the day to day, she dreams of reviving her music career. She makes contact with her old boyfriend, she has an affair and the whole thing goes horribly wrong.
“It’s a little bit like Sliding Doors, in that it constantly asks the question: “What if?” What would your life have been if you had followed this route or stayed with this bloke? It’s a fascinating look at how people can influence people’s lives and if you miss someone by five minutes and don’t make that connection, then how your life changes.”
The show opens on September 29 and runs until December 3. Kerry said that fixed runs are becoming more popular in the West End because it makes shows more of an event. “If you want to see something then you know you have to book tickets. It’s not going to be around forever. Lots of the most popular and critically acclaimed shows that were nominated for the Oliviers this year – Hangmen, People, Places and Things, The Father and Nell Gwynn were all fixed run shows.
“Certainly that is something that suits me because I have got a family and I need to plan. Also, I work with Brian and I love the variety in my life and career. These days I want to work on shows or projects that really interest me, that have something to say, because they take me away from my boys.
“If I don’t enjoy what I am doing then I resent it because I could be at home with my children. I love the fact that it’s a contemporary story which many people will be able to relate to. It’s got a great score, which is a bit rocky, and I love the opportunity to actually originate a role in the West End. Plus, it’s always great to introduce audiences to a new show. It’s always great to go and see something that you haven’t seen before.”
Murder Ballad is at the Arts Theatre, Great Newport Street, off Covent Garden, from September 29 to December 3.
PANEL Kerry Ellis and Brian May
Before rehearsals for Murder Ballad got under way, Kerry spent the spring and early summer in the studio with long-term musical collaborator, Queen guitarist, Brian May. The pair first met in 2001 when he spotted Kerry playing Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, opposite Jonathan Pryce, at the National Theatre. It was one of those classic ‘understudy’ moments because she had to go on for an indisposed Martine McCutcheon and as a result of that performance Brian invited her to audition for the role of Meat in the Queen musical We Will Rock You which was about to open at the Dominion Theatre.
She landed the role and stayed with the show for three years. “It was my big break. It changed my life. It taught me so much and I also made lots of great friendships which are still going strong to this day.”
One of those friendships was with Brian May who after Kerry left the long-running show Wicked, in which she played Elphaba, the misunderstood ‘wicked’ witch, Brian produced, co-wrote and played on Kerry’s debut album Anthems. The album mixed new material with West End show-stoppers but everything was given that rock’n’roll edge courtesy of Brian’s guitar and Kerry’s powerful voice.
The pair have toured extensively since including venues as diverse as The Royal Albert Hall, Hyde Park for the Last Night of the Proms and the Apex, Bury St Edmunds.
For Anthems 2, Kerry is promising a similar mix but with one or two surprises. “Even I’m not quite sure what the final running order is going to be because we’ve all ready got eight or nine tracks and we’re still recording new stuff. It’s all very exciting. There are a couple of songs on there which we have done live, there are a couple of new songs, a couple of old favourites. So it’s very much a mix. I think everytime we go into the studio we learn something new. I think we are still growing as an act. Also our taste in music changes. I think with each album we get better. Working live is a very big thing for both us and we learn so much when we’re on the road, that we want to bring that vibe back into the studio.”
Anthems 2 should be out in time for Christmas but no official release date has been set.