Since portraying Carole King in the UK Tour of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Bronté Barbé workshopped But I’m a Cheerleader and Nerds at The Other Palace for MT Fest UK earlier this year before performing Seeing New Colors from But I’m a Cheerleader with Carrie Hope Fletcher at West End Live 2019. Currently starring in Oklahoma!, Bronté is playing the role of Ado Annie at Chichester Festival Theatre, where she’s performing until the show’s closing date of September 7th. Taking time to meet with us, Bronté chats about touring as Carole King, workshopping But I’m a Cheerleader and her new role in Oklahoma! as Ado Annie.
You play Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, how has it been in this role so far?
It’s been a joy. She is a fantastic character who is one of my dream roles. I couldn’t wish for a better place to perform as her. It’s been an interesting challenge as I haven’t played a comedy lead role in a while but it’s my favourite thing to do so it’s been absolutely wonderful.
Have you played a character like this before and what would you say is most challenging about this role?
I have in the past. I started my career thinking I would always be the best friend character or comedy sidekick. I played Penny Pingleton and then I played Princess Fiona in Shrek which was a massive opportunity. It’s been a challenge coming back to comedy but it’s been a lovely, welcoming challenge. We’ve got a lot of graduates in this show who are insanely talented and it’s an amazing energy to be a part of. I love Ado Annie as a character, I’ve always thought that she’s one of the greatest roles in this career for women, and you never know if you’ll get chance to play someone like that so when these opportunities arise, you have to grab them by the horns.
What’s it like being part of the cast?
Absolutely wonderful. It’s an interesting dynamic being set in one venue outside of London because everybody’s moved out and you all come together on the first day of rehearsals hoping everybody’s nice and you’re all going to get on. It’s like a bubble which is not like any other line of work, you can’t clock off at five and go home to your own life because you’re in a new place where you don’t know anybody else so you spend a lot of time with the rest of the cast. We’ve been very lucky because I think we’ve been a team from the start, everyone gets on really well and we have a right laugh which is brilliant. I love watching everybody on stage as they’re all so incredibly talented and there is such an amazing energy when we’re all together. It’s a joy to be a part of an amazing group of people, I’m going to miss it so much when we finish. That’s one of the sad things in theatre because you love it and it’s there for a little while and then it’s gone but that’s what also makes it so special.
Had you seen any previous productions before being cast?
I had seen the version with Hugh Jackman so I was familiar with that. I also saw the Royal Albert Hall production which was screened in 2017 and one of my best friends Lizzy Connolly played Ado Annie and I had lots of other friends in it including Emmanuel (Kojo) who’s in the Chichester production now. I’d seen a few screened productions of it but never live so I was very excited because it’s so iconic. I knew it would be a very special experience and it’s been everything I wished for, it’s been wonderful.
Is this your first time at the theatre and what are you enjoying about performing here?
It is my first time, I’ve never even been to Chichester. I’d heard about all the incredible work that they do here and it’s one of those venues that is on the list to do in your career and I feel very lucky to have done it so early on. There’s something going on all the time and the young people program that the theatre has is amazing. There is a real buzz about being here which I absolutely love and it’s a really interesting space to play. I remember walking in and being quite overwhelmed because it feels so exposing but what I love is entering the stage through the audience, it’s such a nice dynamic which I’ve never had before and it feels like they’re massively part of the action which is lovely.
Can you tell us about touring with Beautiful – The Carole King Musical as Carole King?
That was an absolute curveball for me. It was my complete dream role, I never thought it would happen, I begged my agents to get me in for it and we didn’t even think they’d see me but I finally got in the room. To play Carole King is an absolute once in a lifetime experience that I’m going to find really hard to top. It was hugely challenging because her music means so much to so many people and you’ve got to honour somebody so iconic. Her Tapestry album is the first album that I got on vinyl when I got a record player, it’s incredible and there’s a song for every mood on it.
It was so interesting to play a real person and the process for me was incredibly satisfying and the research that goes with a role is always my favourite part. There was such a wealth of material that I could look into so I was watching videos of her, listening to her music and reading books about her. I always said that it was an interpretation not an impression because I could never do that and I didn’t want to do that. I felt like I got as close to her as I possibly could with still remaining authentic to myself. One of my best friends was playing my husband in the show and it was a wonderful company to be part of. I had the best time ever.
It’s going out again next year and I can’t wait to see it, it’s going to be really interesting to watch because when you’re in a show you always want to be able to watch it.
You’ve performed as part of MT Fest UK earlier this year in But I’m a Cheerleader and Nerds, can you say more about the workshops?
They were absolutely amazing. It was a whirlwind because we had about a week to rehearse the shows. I’d never heard of Nerds before but it has nearly made it to Broadway twice, it was in rehearsals but it sadly didn’t make it. We had an incredible cast and I had such a good time because two of my really good friends were in it, Kane Oliver Parry and Dan Buckley, who are so insanely talented and the rest of the cast were amazing as well. It’s wonderful when you get to work with such talented people who are your mates. It was totally amazing and a wonderful piece.
But I’m a Cheerleader has been on my radar for six years now. I first did the original London workshop about a year after I’d come out of Mountview and it was incredible. One of the writers worked at Mountview so I got really close to him on the show and we had an amazing cast. I think now is the right time for this musical to happen and I think it’s so important for young people to see musicals like that that have a really important message. I’ve been with But I’m a Cheerleader for so long and it’s been edited and updated, I think it’s a fantastic piece and I’m just desperate for it to happen in its full glory. I’m so glad to have been able to share it with a few people in London again and we had a wonderful cast which included Carrie (Hope Fletcher) and Jamie (Muscato) and it was a really fab week.
We got to perform two of the songs at West End Live, which was great. It was such a satisfying feeling seeing people loving it who had never heard the music before. It was wonderful so fingers crossed with all the good vibes for But I’m a Cheerleader.
What was the experience like in the cast of the Shrek the Musical UK Tour?
That was an amazing experience. Shrek was a really long tour for me, I was cast in the ensemble and I was first cover Teen Fiona and I was a rat, a blind mouse, a happy villager, Little Red Riding Hood and a Duloc doll. It was a real challenge because I never saw myself as a dancer but I was very physically fit after that. It’s an amazing show, it’s so fun but also really hard, it’s probably one of the hardest shows I’ve ever done because it required a lot of energy. I think it’s a fab show because the music is wonderful and it’s so satisfying to perform. It’s great for the kids but there is so much for the adults in the audience as well.
I did a year as ensemble and then I got to audition for Fiona and I got it and that was a massive turning point for me and it was a dream come true – who doesn’t want to play a princess?! It was great fun, I had such a laugh and it was an amazing job. It’s such a good piece, it’s really funny and it’s an absolute ball of a show to be a part of. Shrek’s just finished another tour but I hope it comes back again soon.
You filmed for new TV series Years & Years, what was it like on set and who did you play?
I played a council officer and it was a small featured role in one episode but it was an absolute honour to be part of. I was only on set for a day but it was great. There was such a buzz about the show when it was finally released. I love filming, it’s such a different dynamic to anything in theatre and it’s very interesting. You see it for the first time when everybody else sees it which brings a whole nervous bag of emotions but it was great, I really enjoyed it.
What encouraged your interest in musical theatre?
I danced from a very young age, my mum got me into ballet, tap and jazz when I was about four. She always used to do amateur dramatics, so I started at her company when I was about seven. My auntie on my dad’s side loves musicals, she is now the Head of Course at Carlisle University in Musical Theatre, so we’ve always had a strong love for it. I came to realise, especially as I was older, the sense of escapism theatre brings – you go to watch a show and you get to transport yourself to somewhere else for two and a half hours, but what’s better than that is being able to pretend to be somebody else for two and a half hours. I think it’s wonderful being able to live all these lives within your own life.
While doing amateur dramatics, something just made me realise performing’s what I want to do. I remember I had all the prospectuses from Mountview lined up for six years in a row when I was younger and I thought I’d never get in. I feel very lucky to have a very supportive family who weren’t pushy in any way. I knew it would be hard but it’s what I love, even if you only work a few months out of the year in a musical, it doesn’t matter because it’s worth it.
What advice would you give someone applying for Mountview Academy?
Don’t get disheartened if you don’t get in in your first year. There are places I also thought I wanted to go but I didn’t get in. They love ‘real, authentic you’, that’s what they want to see. You put yourself through so much stress for the auditions but at the end of the day, just try and enjoy it. I see auditions now as an opportunity to show your skills and also hone them, I always think any audition is a plus. It can be very expensive getting down to London but if you’re eager and you want it, it will happen, you need to keep going for it and not compare yourself to others. I think that’s the worst thing in this industry, especially with social media, it’s so easy to compare yourself to everyone else and see your flaws, but you’ve got what you’ve got and your skill set is very unique and you’ve got to embrace it. You need to enjoy it because it’s a right laugh when you think about it compared to doctors and people saving lives as we’re playing for a living! My friend Christina has a really good saying that is: ‘what’s for you won’t go by you’. If you don’t get a job, you can cry for two days but then you’ve got to really get over it as there will be something else on the horizon.
Why would you recommend seeing Oklahoma! to people thinking of booking tickets?
I think it’s just an amazing version of the piece. If you love the piece already then fantastic, you’re going to obviously have a brilliant night. Jeremy Sams has done an amazing job as director and the choreography is absolutely sensational, I’ve never seen anything like it and the energy on that stage is wonderful. The cast we have are so young and it’s very real and it feels like these people are on the cusp of something exciting and it’s fresh, I feel like they’re young people in love who are trying to live their lives in this new place and I think we’ve really encapsulated that in our performance.
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