📷 : John Clark
Over the years, Landi Oshinowo has performed in numerous stage productions and during her run in the original West End cast of Sister Act, she recorded the show’s album and when covering the role of Deloris, she worked alongside Whoopi Goldberg who had joined the cast for a few weeks as Mother Superior. Landi’s most recent productions have been playing the role of Jarene in The Color Purple at Leicester Curve and Ain’t Misbehavin’, which featured the music of Fats Waller and last year, she was on the lineup of West End Live Lounge at The Other Palace. Recently catching up with Landi, she talks about performing in Ain’t Misbehavin’, her recent run in The Color Purple and being in the West End production of Sister Act.
Can you tell us about playing Jarene in The Color Purple at Leicester Curve?
I thoroughly enjoyed playing Jarene alongside Danielle Kassarate as Doris and Rosemary Nkrumah as Darlene. We were the Church Ladies, always dressed in white, a contradiction between moral uprightness and gossipy ‘news’ sharing. We were constantly shocked by the behaviour of folk but loved delivering their shocking news. The Church Ladies had great harmonies, great camaraderie and some of the best lyrics in the show.
What was your character like to portray?
As part of the audition process, our director, Tinuke Craig, asked each of us to deliver a monologue. So I decided to write one the length of two sides of an A4 about the character, Jarene – I think I got the job on the strength of the laughter in the audition room!
I played Jarene as a strong, well-presented, no-nonsense, God-fearing woman. She was the leader of our trio, a character who knew everything about everyone.
How was it being part of Ain’t Misbehavin’ and singing Fats Waller songs?
I absolutely loved being a part of Ain’t Misbehavin’! A revue show, it was staged and set in a smokey Jazz club. With Oti Mabuse choreographing (James Bennett assisting), Tyrone Huntley directing and a gorgeous cast made up of Adrian Hansel, Carly Mercedes Dyer, Wayne Anthony Robinson and Renée Lamb, it was a real joy going into work every day. The closeness we shared as a company off stage, was just as evident on stage. I think it contributed to the show’s success both at the Mercury in Colchester and Southwark Playhouse.
I’d also say the music of Fats Waller was another reason for the show’s success, and how well it was conveyed by our very talented band led by musical director, Alex Cockles. It was a real privilege singing those beautiful 1920s/30s Jazz tunes night after night.
What was the atmosphere like at the show’s final date at Southwark Playhouse?
Oh, it was all over too soon! There were some tears, no goodbyes and plenty of “speak to you soon on the WhatsApp group”!
We had a great final show with the hope that we’d all get to do it again in the not too distant future (Much the same was the feeling at The Color Purple!).
Whilst in the show, you performed at The Theatre Café with fellow cast members Adrian and Renée, how was this experience?
It was great performing at The Theatre Café. I’d never been there before – didn’t even know it existed! It had a really good atmosphere and everyone there was really welcoming.
How did The Little Princess concert go where you played the role of Widow Zuma?
The Little Princess concert at the Royal Festival Hall went really well. It was a staged concert with costumes and choreography, I think it became bigger than originally intended but it really worked.
As Widow Zuma, I had dialogue in African dialects that I found challenging to learn even though I’m Nigerian and speak Yoruba. I would record myself speaking the lines and learn them as if I were learning songs.
Speaking of Princesses, a few years ago I was in The Light Princess at the National Theatre right next door to the Royal Festival Hall – guess you could say my career’s had a right regal reception on the River so far!
How was it portraying the role of Heather in I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking it on the Road?
Playing Heather was a dream! The show, a musical revival, is a story about Heather Jones, a thirty-nine-year-old singer-songwriter who decides as she’s approaching forty, to change the direction of her already-successful career. She has written new material and is about to start rehearsals with her band. It’s at this point in the story the show began on the small-yet-intimate stage of the Jermyn Street Theatre.
Getting My Act Together (as we used to call it) was a ninety-minute rollercoaster of beautiful songs interspersed with dialogue mainly between Heather and her unconvinced manager Joe, played by Nick Colicos.
As with many of the shows I’ve done, our small company of very talented actors and actor/musos got on so well, each night felt more like a gig rather than work.
What can you say about being in the cast of Big Fish and how did you find the run?
Big Fish was a beautiful show full of heart, lots of laughter and all about love. There was a point in the story that ruined us all emotionally. Very early on in rehearsals, we were warned by our director, Nigel Harman, to get the emotions out of the way so that our audiences could feel the full truth of the story. Boy, did they ever! By the end of each show, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
It was an amazing experience to work with the wonderful creative team and a great cast headed by Kelsey Grammar.
Last year, you performed at West End Live Lounge, what was this like to do and do you have plans for more live events?
It was really good to do West End Live Lounge. I hadn’t done any shows in a few months and was feeling slightly out of the loop, so it was great to be back at The Other Palace with Paul Taylor-Mills (that lovely man!).
I do have plans for future live events, watch this space!
You appeared in Sister Act the Musical covering the role of Deloris, how was it performing at the London Palladium and playing opposite Whoopi Goldberg?
Well, well, well, now you’re asking!
Sister Act is my favourite show to date. I can’t begin to describe how much fun, laughter and good times I had wearing a nun’s habit and purple thigh-high boots for an incredible eighteen months from January 2009 – October 2010.
Sister Act was the show that kept on giving, especially right up to the end when Whoopi Goldberg joined us to play Mother Superior. We couldn’t believe our luck! She was warm, funny, giving and incredibly generous both on and off stage. She had this mischievous glint in her eye that you quickly realised meant that she would be keeping you on your toes throughout the show. Playing opposite Whoopi, which I got to do about five times (one of them, on my birthday), is an experience I will always treasure.
I’ve also got to mention the fantastic original cast, creative team and crew of Sister Act at the London Palladium, it was a real honour to have worked with them all.
You’ve recorded a couple of cast albums, what are these like to do?
Yes, I’m on the original recordings of Sister Act the Musical (Alan Menken & Glenn Slater) and The Light Princess (Tori Amos & Samuel Adamson). Both of them are beautiful albums, both recorded at the fantastic British Grove Studios in Chiswick.
It was really exciting to be a part of the creative process of those two very successful shows.
What inspired your interest in performing and having a stage career?
One word – ABBA! When I was seven years old, I saw them on TV and knew I wanted to sing. Then, a few years later, I saw Grease on screen and Starlight Express in the West End, that was it, I was hooked.
Without realising it, my parents also had a hand pushing me towards the stage with their video collection of musicals including The Sound Of Music, The King and I and My Fair Lady to name but a few.
Are there any theatre shows you’d like to see but haven’t had the chance to yet?
Surprisingly, I haven’t seen Les Misérables or The Phantom Of The Opera, so they are on the list.
What are your current and upcoming career plans?
I would like to work in TV and film a bit more. I’ve done bits in the past but I’d like to get my acting teeth into something notable.
I’d also like to be able to help kids and young adults realise their potential in this industry and in this country. There’s so much talent out there but all too often we’re given negative reports about what is available to whom and who is available for what. If the standard we set is world-class and the training is world-class, why can’t we present all the talent as world-class?
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