As one of the original West End cast members in hit musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Jordan Cunningham played the role of Sayid as well as understudying Young Loco Chanelle and becoming second cover for Jamie New. While appearing as Sayid, he had chance to perform at many events including the Olivier Awards and Children in Need, along with recording the soundtrack and filming the live cinema screening. After leaving the musical last week, Jordan is set to join the cast of West Side Story showing at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester from 6th April. We caught up with Jordan recently who talks about being in the cast of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, recording for the Industry Minds podcast and his upcoming production.
It has been announced that you are in the cast of the upcoming production of West Side Story at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, can you tell us about your character and when do rehearsals start?
I’ll be playing one of the Sharks (the Puerto Rican gang members), I’ll also be understudying Chino, who is Bernardo’s confidant and friend. My rehearsals for West Side Story start on the 25th February and we open on the 6th April with previews.
Have you performed at the theatre previously and have you already met the rest of the cast?
It’ll be my first time performing at the Royal Exchange. I haven’t worked with any of the cast but some of them trained at the same musical theatre school as I did, all in various years, so there will definitely be some familiar faces when I turn up for the first day of rehearsals.
You have recently finished making your West End debut in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie as Sayid at the Apollo Theatre, what do you remember from your opening night?
Making my West End debut in this show was a huge tick off the bucket list of my life. A dream come true. I don’t actually remember much about opening night apart from being a little nervous and very excited. We all knew we had something special so we were honestly just eager to share it with the audience.
Can you tell us how it was covering the role of Young Loco Chanelle?
Covering Young Loco Chanelle was so much fun. It was my first time in drag and my first time doing drag on a West End stage. Our wonderful make up artist Jessica Plews would transform me from 16-year-old Sayid to fierce and fabulous Loco in 20 minutes. As when I was on for Loco, I still had to play Sayid, so I would do the opening number of the show and then run to the dressing room for Jess to apply full make up, lashes and wig whilst Corrie Darling (our head of wardrobe) would be running around me putting my corset, fishnet tights, hip pads, heels and two dresses and one overcoat on – this all happened in 20 minutes, so it was quite the task but we did it! I love playing Loco – she’s innocent and sweet at the beginning and by the end, she’s a gun-licking, vengeful and fiery temptress and it’s so much fun! Not as fun when I’m done and have to take it all off to get back into school uniform to carry on the rest of the show as Sayid!
During the run, you became second cover Jamie New, what was it like learning this role?
Becoming second cover Jamie New was quite the mammoth task. I didn’t have very much time at all to learn the lines, stage directions and choreography before I was asked to do a full dress run. I love a challenge and it was a huge stepping stone for me going from an ensemble member to leading the whole show as this wonderfully diverse and intricate character that is Jamie New – but I proved to myself and everyone around me I could be a leading man; and that I can learn things very, very quickly and execute them well enough to be ready to perform in front of a paying audience. The rehearsals were gruelling yet fun and it was information overload at times, but I did it, and I’m very proud I did it and have it under my belt forever. There is no role like it, I would play him again in a heartbeat.
You performed with the show on Children in Need, how was the experience?
Performing on Children in Need was a dream come true for me. A tick on the bucket list. I’d always wanted to be one of those casts that got to perform a number when I was a child watching it from my living room with my mum and dad so actually doing it was amazing. The actual experience was very quick! We finished the Friday evening show, had to get back into opening number costumes, head onto a coach that took us to Elstree Studios, mic’d up, on the stage and go – finished and then back on the coach to London; then the next day having two shows – so we were all exhausted but nevertheless something I’d always wanted to do; done.
What was it like celebrating Jamie’s First Birthday?
Celebrating Jamie’s First Birthday felt like such an achievement. For a brand new British musical with no celebrity cast members, not based on a famous movie or book, just a story loosely based on a documentary, I think many people thought it wouldn’t last long. But we have honestly just gone from strength to strength and the show keeps elevating itself and becoming more and more relevant and popular – so we all felt very proud having a little part in making its first birthday happen – we had a life-size cake of our leading man John McCrea get flown down at the bows, big confetti cannons going off etc, it was all very much a showstopper!
Have you ever been ‘starstruck’ by any of the celebrity guest attendees?
Weirdly enough, I haven’t been starstruck by any of the celebrity guests that have visited us so far! I would say the closest to starstruck for me was when Dame Maggie Smith came on stage to share her gratitude for the show alongside Sir Derek Jacobi; I mean, it’s Dame Maggie Smith! I was like ‘I have just shaken hands with Dame Maggie Smith’, this is awesome!!
Had you worked with any of the Jamie cast members previously and what was it like meeting Jamie Campbell for the first time?
I had done the Jamie workshop with some of the cast back in 2015 for a week’s workshop but it was my first time working with everyone on stage. Jamie Campbell is such a lovely, sweet young man. I mean, can you imagine having a musical based on what’s personally happened to you?! He’s only in his early twenties! He is so easy to talk to, always supportive and a really loving light in the room. His mum Margaret is also an absolute darling.
What was the atmosphere like on the cast change performance and how was it taking your final bow?
The cast change performance was bittersweet. The whole cast gave everything they had and more on the final two shows and it felt very special to be sharing the stage with so many talented people. The audience were electric – on our final show when we entered for And You Don’t Even Know It, Michelle Visage couldn’t begin saying her opening lines because the audience were roaring and cheering for a solid minute or two before we could start – it was hugely overwhelming and I started tearing up before we began! It’s a moment I won’t forget. The final bow was extremely emotional. I just stared out at the audience and took it all in; I wanted it firmly in the memory bank forever. I couldn’t stop crying throughout the farewell speeches and the finale, this show has transformed my career, and my personal life transformed for the better whilst doing this show, so it felt like the end of what has been a very prolific chapter in my life so far.
What do you think you will miss most about playing Sayid and what will you take away from your time in the musical?
What I’ll miss most about Sayid is playing this cheeky, innocent, slight outsider/slightly naive young man who has some cracking comical one-liners in the show that never fail to have the whole audience laughing loudly. He’s been a total joy to play. What I’ll take away from the show is the joy and heart it has. I don’t think I’ll ever experience another show quite like it – it’s why it was such a difficult decision to leave and not extend my contract but I’ve taken so much love and joy from this show that I’ll treasure and be grateful for; forever.
How did your acting career begin and had you always had an interest in musical theatre?
My acting career began through my mum simply trying to find me an outlet for all the energy and imagination I had as a child. I was quite happy as a child playing by myself; assigning personalities and characters to toys and teddy bears, I also believe I had imaginary friends that I was content with playing with for hours also; so with that being said, there was an article for a drama school in Liverpool called The Merseyside Actors Centre and my mum asked me when I was around six years old if that would be something I would be interested in and it so happened to be; and that’s where it all started. I attended that school every Saturday for ten years, passing Guildhall School of Music and Drama acting exams, studying Shakespeare and contemporary work – I also went to dance school at The Merseyside Dance and Drama Centre; and also took singing classes there too; so I’d be there in the morning and my acting classes at the other place in the afternoon every Saturday. My mum has always liked musicals so I was introduced to them at a young age; I remember having an obsession with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Singin’ in the Rain and Annie. They were on constant repeat in my house, much to the plight of my parents’ ears!
How did you get involved with Industry Minds and what do you like about the podcast?
I got involved in Industry Minds because they had originally followed me on Twitter and had posted a tweet asking if any performers were interested in being interviewed for a new podcast based on mental health within the performing arts industry. I knew it was a subject a lot of performers were afraid to talk about and a condition they were ashamed or embarrassed to admit they dealt with and I for one deal daily with anxiety on some level and have also suffered panic attacks and dark thoughts; so I felt inspired and courageous enough to talk about my personal experience and how I alleviate the intensity of it with Cathy (Read) and Scarlett (Maltman). My podcast was received so well and I had so many lovely messages from performers informing me how much it helped, gave them hope and most important made them realise they weren’t alone – so I felt like I did some good by doing that. Mental health is extremely important to me and I was passionate to share my experiences in the aim to help others deal with it and eventually heal from it. I am currently on my own path of managing my anxiety and it’s imperative to support others going through the same.
You recently performed at the Performers in Mind event in London, how was this and do you have any more music performances planned?
The Performers in Mind gig, another charity concert raising money for mental health awareness in performing arts colleges and theatrical agencies, was an awesome gig. It was organised by Jed Berry, who just recently finished in Kinky Boots, and Grace Mouat, who is currently in the musical SIX. Laurie Denman, our incredible MD, put together all the music and harmonies and it was an incredible night of music and talent. We were sold out and even had 220 people tune in to the livestream, all donating money towards the charity so it really was a successful evening. I did a song from Hamilton and rapped for the first time in public also, so who knew I could pull that off! I don’t currently have any other music gigs planned at the moment as I will be full-on with West Side rehearsals but it’s not a no for the future.
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