Renée Lamb is currently appearing at Southwark Playhouse in Fats Waller musical Ain’t Misbehavin’, with the run in London opening to great reviews where she’ll continue the role until it closes at the beginning of June. Previous theatre for Renée has included Little Shop of Horrors as well as originating the role of Catherine of Aragon in SIX the Musical for her professional debut along with returning to the show at the end of last year as last minute cover. Chatting with Renée recently, we talk about appearing in Tyrone Huntley’s Ain’t Misbehavin’, being choreographed by Oti Mabuse and originating her role in SIX.
How did you find playing Catherine of Aragon in the original cast of SIX the Musical?
Six was actually my first professional job so it all seems very surreal looking back. I just remember how important it was to me to tell Aragon’s story. She went to hell and back with dear old Henry; so I loved that I got to show people how much of a strong, remarkable and respectable woman she was. My other five Queens were (and are) all incredible. I felt so privileged to be working alongside them. I adore every single one of them. I wasn’t sure how the public were going to take the show because it’s not much like anything else out there. All I knew was that I had to go on stage and give it some Beyoncé; luckily I’d been doing that in my bedroom for years!
How long were you in rehearsals?
Two. Weeks. I still to this day have no clue how we managed to do it. Especially because the show was brand new to us all. The great thing about SIX is that it’s a show about supporting one another, and in the first few performances we certainly had to do that! Signalling to each other where to stand, what the next line was, it goes on! There were SO many funny moments. On Press Night I even referred to myself as ‘King’ Aragon (how tragic). However, without a doubt the most unbeatable moment was Christina Modestou (Anne Boleyn) walking into a wall. I have never had to try harder to suppress my laughter. But somehow, we managed to get through it!
What was it like recording the album and how is it hearing the studio version of No Way?
The album recording was so much fun! It was amazing too because we did it a few months after we finished our run at the Arts Theatre – so it was like a mini reunion. There’s nothing more I love than getting in the studio and playing around with music; that’s essentially what we did. Hearing it for the first time was surreal. The whole team did such an incredible job and made it sound epic! I remember when we recorded ‘Ex-Wives’, that day we had time to wait around – as we all recorded each of our solo sections separately – so to pass the time I was being my usual self, walking around doing this silly riff at the end of every phrase. So naturally, Toby and Lucy (composer & writer respectively) suggested we record it for a laugh. I NEVER expected them to actually put it on the track, so when I first heard it I was shocked to my core! But I think for me, hearing the other girls’ songs was even more special. ‘No Way’ came out a tad earlier, so when the full album was released later I was absolutely bursting with pride listening to it!
You returned to the role as last minute cover at the end of last year, what was this like?
It was mad going back, especially because I was going to do it with two of my original girls! They made me a costume out of an old one from earlier in the run, and I had four hours rehearsal with the fabulous dance captain Grace (Mouat). We somehow just made it work!!
Can you tell us about playing Chiffon in Little Shop of Horrors?
Playing Chiffon was incredible. I honestly feel so honoured to have been a part of that show. Working in constant three part harmony was like a dream for me, we drilled those harmonies for hours on end! The costumes, the set, and that cast – constant inspiration every single day.
Was this your first time performing in an open air theatre and how did the run go?
Yes it was. I can remember being so in awe of the theatre when I first visited (to see Jesus Christ Superstar the year before), so it was like a dream come true that I would be working there a year later! The Arts Theatre, where I did Six, had 300-ish seats, but Regent’s Park had over 1,200, and obviously – no roof!!! I’ll never forget when I first went on stage and saw all those faces, and the trees and the birds too! It genuinely felt magical. The run was just the best; as was the weather! The best Summer I could’ve asked for.
How are you finding being directed by Tyrone Huntley and choreographed by Oti Mabuse for your new production Ain’t Misbehavin’?
Tyrone’s talent knows no bounds. He has been fantastic. And Oti is just sensational. She’s got me doing all kinds! I genuinely feel like I could sign up to Strictly now! (Just kidding, absolutely no chance.) But they are a dream team, I feel so honoured to be a part of it.
What are you enjoying most about performing as Armelia?
We actually use our own names in our production, Armelia is the name of the actress who originated the role I’m playing, she used her own name so we decided to go with tradition and do the same. I’m having an absolute blast on this one. The music is iconic, so so fun to sing, and the energy I get from the rest of the cast is unbeatable. There’s only five of us so we’re constantly throwing that energy around everywhere!
How did the Colchester run go and how has it been transferring to London?
Our Colchester run went really well! It was a lovely space and the audiences were great, we did a two week run and it flew by. The space in Colchester was double the size of what we have in Southwark Playhouse, but I’m loving the intimate feel of it here. It lends itself to the whole ’20’s/30’s Jazz Bar’ feel perfectly. The audience’s in London have been crazy and we’ve had some lovely reviews following our Press Night – which we’re elated about. Fats Waller’s music is a big part of my life, so I feel so excited to get out there every night and share it with people!
What’s the response been like so far to the show?
We had onstage seats in Colchester which was so exciting, and in Southwark you’re practically on stage with us through the whole thing because it’s so intimate! There’s nothing better than seeing people enjoying themselves; singing and dancing along to their favourite songs. We’ve even had a few audience members dress up in 30’s outfits as well which was just glorious.
What are your plans once the run has ended?
I have a few things coming up that I’m super excited about, I wish I could tell you! Hopefully they’ll be announced soon!
Have you always performed singing, and have you performed jazz previously?
I’ve always sang, my mum got me my first toy microphone when I was two years old and I never let it go. My favourite genres were always R&B and jazz. I was actually very shy about singing in public until I was about fifteen years old. Singing with my friends would be fine, but as soon as I had an actual audience I would get incredibly nervous. It wasn’t until I went to Tring Park when I truly learnt how to express myself through music. I’m so grateful for my time there.
How did you originally get involved with musical theatre?
I had never actually had any singing lessons before I went to Tring. I had a couple from Ian Davidson (legend) up in Liverpool, who actually suggested Tring to me. I never ever thought I’d get in, and when I did I just knew it was the right thing to do. I truly believe that I wouldn’t be in the industry now if it wasn’t for Ian!
What’s the first theatre production you appeared in?
The first ever production was a Stage Experience production of ‘Fame’ at the Liverpool Empire in 2010. I was in the ensemble and loved every second of it!
Have you seen any theatre shows recently that you would recommend?
Emilia. Please. Please. Just go. Even if you just go for the last five minutes – Clare Perkins had me in floods!
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of your career?
For me, it’s knowing how I used to feel when I went to the theatre. If I can help even one single person in an entire audience feel like that, then that’s the most rewarding thing imaginable.
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