Having been involved in dance from a very young age, Cherelle Jay has opened her own dance company called Heels & Feels, where she teaches multiple times a week whilst also working in musical theatre. During her acting career so far, Cherelle has appeared on screen in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again along with numerous stage performances including I Can’t Sing! at London Palladium, and her most recent theatre show being a swing in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, with her run finishing earlier this year. Chatting with Cherelle, we find out about covering the roles of Pritti Pasha and Fatimah in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, filming for Mamma Mia! and her dance company Heels & Feels.
How did you find your time as first cover Pritti Pasha and Fatimah in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie?
I really enjoyed it, I felt like I was given a good opportunity to go on a lot, that’s no disrespect to Lucie (Shorthouse) or Courtney (Bowman) but between holidays and illness, I actually was on quite a lot so I feel like I really got to give it a go. I know sometimes with understudying and covering it’s just like, “oh my God, I’m on!” and it’s a one off, but for me, I felt like I had that opportunity to really push a character and really enjoy myself finding the character. Pritti is so far from me and my reality so it was really intriguing and fun to explore a character that’s so different, Fatimah’s a little bit more me.
What first drew you to the show?
I did the first workshop when it came up which was about five years ago now. It was a really small project and we did it for a week and I thoroughly enjoyed the music, it’s something that I’m hugely passionate about. I’m a pop singer at heart, so to find musicals that are really gearing towards people with my kind of voice is nice because I think that’s why I always block myself out of being in musicals because I always think I don’t have that classical or musical theatre sound, so for me, the songs drew me in. The story drew me in as well because it’s so important.
Which character from the show would you say is most like you, and why?
I never actually got to play Bex, which is bizarre because I played all of the boys! I would say Becca because she’s a bit feisty but I like the softer side of Bex, she’s a bit playful and a bit girly but she’s a bit nicer with it and she supports a lot of the girls whereas I find Becca has a bit of a harsher approach. I’ve never thought about that but maybe Bex.
Do you have a favourite memory from being in the production?
There are so many memories, sixteen months of doing a show is a very long time in this world. It wasn’t a particular moment, I think it was when I finally found Pritti, I feel like I played the role for a few months and I was really dipping in and out of still being a bit insecure and a bit scared because it was my first time covering, but when I felt like I’d now understood the character and I could really go on stage and become the character, I felt like I could enjoy it more. I remember the feeling of coming off stage and knowing I’d completely lost me and I’d found the truth in the character, rather than me trying to play it. It felt really special to leave a West End stage going, “I’ve found it”.
How and when did you get into musical theatre?
This is a funny one! I honestly never wanted to be in musical theatre at all, I found it very cheesy. I grew up doing hip hop and street dance and then I joined Urdang and I was on the dance course and they asked me to move over to musical theatre and I was like *sighs* but I realised that I do love acting and I had a voice, I was just very scared of it. They moved me on to musical theatre and I really enjoyed the character work, I love storytelling and I find that whenever I’m on stage playing a character, I found a bigger purpose and that I was actually telling a story. So, I got into it about ten years ago when I was in college.
Can you remember how you felt booking your first theatre show?
My first real job was a hip hop theatre show, so it was my first job in theatre but I didn’t have a speaking role or singing role, it was just dancing and storytelling. That was the best experience in the world. I auditioned just before graduating college and I didn’t get the job, and then about two weeks before the job started, they rang and said they desperately needed a swing for the tour. It was my favourite hip hop show at the time, Some Like It Hip Hop, and then I went on to work with ZooNation for five or six years after that, so that was really fun.
Can you tell us about your dance classes?
Yes, I love them. I teach a lot, sometimes five or six times a week as an open class. I have my own company called Heels & Feels which is about empowering women and making people feel confident and happy in themselves. Often, you go into classes or workshops and you feel really intimidated by talent in the room, for me, I don’t want anyone to feel that way, I want people to feel comfortable and supported. My classes are all about bringing out the best in people.
How long have you been teaching?
I started teaching when I was sixteen but I used to teach kids. If I’m honest, I done it as a side job whilst I wasn’t in a show. I found a real love for it about two years ago and I started teaching women over the age of eighteen. I was going through some hard things at the time and I found that actually a lot of the other women in the room were going through the same things as me and we found this real connection and ever since I’m addicted, hahaha!
Have you always been involved in dance?
Yes, my parents are both dancers, my dad was a break dancer and performer and my mum was a gymnast and dancer, she stopped because she had me at a very young age. Fun fact: my name is Cherelle Jay but everyone calls me CJ in the industry and that’s because my parents nicknamed me that before I was born as they said I was going to be a performer and they wanted me to have a cool name. My parents don’t even call me Cherelle, it’s CJ.
Do you have a favourite style of dance to perform?
I enjoy dancing in heels and being girly and feminine, but equally I love storytelling, so whatever that style is. If I’m dancing in emotion or portraying somebody’s idea or thoughts, I feel most comfortable being honest about a story rather than loosely dancing.
We’ve heard you’ve performed at places like Glastonbury and The X Factor, what are these like to do?
It’s fun but it’s not what it’s hyped up to be, that’s the reason why I stopped commercially dancing. I love that world and I think it’s so glamorous but you work really hard and it’s a little bit under supported. I feel like I’d had this vision about dancing on The X Factor and dancing on stage with massive artists and then I’d do it and think ‘that was fun, but now what’, haha. I felt like I was always chasing another show rather than actually fully enjoying myself, but it is fun.
What was I Can’t Sing! like to appear in?
It’s probably one of my favourite shows to date, it was so fun. The cast were insane, working with Cynthia Erivo, who’s now gone on to do incredible movies, Nigel Harman, and other people that are really successful now was so good. To be in a cast where the work ethic was insane, the production was absolutely crazy and to be involved in a show that had a vision to be on such a big scale, was amazing. I do think that being in the Palladium was overwhelming for a new show that wasn’t necessarily everyone’s taste but it was fun, the show was brilliant and I had a laugh doing it.
What was it like being involved with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and how long were you filming?
Funny story again. Mamma Mia! is one of those shows that is obviously very cheesy and has good spirit. I remember having one of the worst days ever on the day of the audition, crying and saying I don’t want to go, I even rang my agent and said I really don’t want to go and then he said to blag it and put on a smile and I did. I booked it which was crazy for me because I was like, ‘I’m just known as a hip hop dancer, how did I book Mamma Mia?’. It was quite a large cast, we all done different things and it was really fun. I was probably only filming for about a week doing various scenes. There were scenes where we had to be on bicycles and obviously be in the graduate outfits, it was really fun! Watching the screening was cool and seeing your little name at the end was nice, you always want to see something like that.
What do you find most rewarding from your career as a dancer and actress?
Helping people and potentially changing people’s lives. I have a story from Jamie that has now happened post shows. A woman came to watch the show and I happened to be playing Pritti that night, she started following me and would wish me well for the shows. Stage door can be overwhelming, but also how you can potentially change people’s lives with a story that you tell is crazy, but I came across this woman and she said she was going to book onto my course, I was like, ‘yeah right, everyone says this but not many people book’ but she did. She’s from Glasgow and she travelled down every week to come and take my course and said it’s literally changed her life. She said that she can’t believe coming to watch a show has led to being involved in something that has shaped her and I think it’s incredible that what we can do telling stories can inspire someone else to go and do something incredible.
What are your career plans for this year?
To build up my company, I love what I do so much. Aside from performing, I love seeing your normal everyday women grow and feel confident in themselves. Equally, I love and miss the stage when I’m not in it so I’m still up for things, I’m in the finals for a few things and I’m enjoying auditioning again. I’m quite open, I’d love to do TV, I’d love to branch away from musical theatre, not forever, but to see what other things I could do. As long as I’m still doing what I love, which aside from performing is teaching, and I can have that as a space for myself, then anything else is a blessing.
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