Most recently, Abigayle Honeywill starred as Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at the Union Theatre, which saw her as an Offie Finalist for Best Female Performance in a Musical along with the show winning the award for Best Musical Production. Abigayle has appeared in two London Palladium pantomimes – Dick Whittington and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – and was in the cast of the UK Tour of Funny Girl, with the show being screened to cinemas. Chatting with us, Abigayle talks about playing Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, performing in the London Palladium pantomimes and being Dance Captain in Funny Girl.
Last year, you played Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at the Union Theatre, what was it like learning the role and performing the music and choreography?
I did indeed! Learning the role was challenging but as an actor I really grew from the experience of being able to mould the character myself. I also had the honour of playing alongside my leading lady Eleanor Lakin (Dorothy Shaw). She is one of the most talented actors I’ve had the pleasure of working with and together it was effortless to let the characters’ relationship grow. The music is absolutely divine, such classic pieces that just hearing the first few counts gave me goosebumps, especially when I got to perform the most iconic number Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. It’s honestly a memory I will cherish forever. Zac’s choreography was an absolute fosse, jazz, musical theatre dream, he managed to create such captivating numbers, with all style that makes this period of musical theatre so iconic. I was jealous I couldn’t be in all of the numbers.
Was there anything that drew you to the role and how was it finding out you’d been cast as Lorelei Lee?
Being a massive Marilyn Monroe fan I have always loved Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, so when I found out it was finally coming to London I called my agent straight away and told him I needed to be seen for it desperately. I found out about two days after my audition that I had landed the role of Lorelei Lee and I burst out crying. It was sensational, to be given such an iconic role within this classic show was an honour. The great thing about it was Sasha (director) really gave me the freedom to explore the character in depth, rather than doing an imitation of Marilyn Monroe. It was my first opportunity as an actor to play the actual role so I was overwhelmed for all of ten minutes and then the fear immediately sank in. The articles started going up wondering who was going to be playing Lorelei and Dorothy, and there was such a pressure to get it right, especially when it came to performing Diamonds, the pressure was on.
How did it feel being a finalist for Best Female Performance in a Musical at the Offie Awards and seeing the show win Best Musical Production?
It was so overwhelming, I never thought I would have been nominated but to be brought in as a finalist, it still hasn’t quite sunk in. But it’s incredible, I’m still growing and learning, and it almost feels like a nod of approval that I am going in the right direction!
When the production won Best Musical, I grabbed Eleanor Lakin (Dorothy Shaw) and screamed! Me and Eleanor as the leading lady duo had worked so hard together on this show which holds such a massive piece of our hearts, winning the Offie! It was just the cherry on top of the cake.
Do you have a favourite moment from your time in Funny Girl?
Absolutely, my favourite moment was the Sitzprobe in the foyer of the Manchester Opera House. For anyone who doesn’t know what a Sitzprobe is, it’s the point where the cast and band get together to sing and play the songs from the musical for the first time. Hearing the orchestra play the overture, wonderfully written by Jules Styne, was absolutely breathtaking, it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. I remember seeing all the cast filled with tears from excitement!
The show was screened to cinemas, what was it like performing for the recording?
Exciting, but honestly… terrifying. We were a few shows away from finishing the tour when we found out about the production being screened, so as much as the production was polished, we had to go back over it and polish it to within an inch of its life. There’s no room for error when it comes to a musical being filmed. They filmed it across our final three shows and the pressure was well and truly on. But seeing the show in the cinema was such a lovely way to end the contract, seeing our final bows where the entire company got very emotional. To just be able to watch the show was such an experience because unless you are the dance captain, you don’t get to show watch. It is lovely knowing that such a wonderful memory is something we can forever go back and watch.
How did you find the experience of being Dance Captain?
Challenging to be honest! But luckily, I had an incredible team around me for support. My wonderful assistant David McIntosh, who is now one of my closest friends, was my rock for the entire contract. Along with the rest of the creative and management team, they truly got me through. I had a tricky start as I was still doing Grease at the Leicester Curve. I was travelling from Leicester and missing quite a lot in the first week, so I was catching up with that and trying to learn the entire show, each track, each cover, so I could give the company as much support as I could. I think the hardest part was the pressure I put on myself for perfection. But once I had settled in I realised what I needed to bring to the table as a dance captain, and that is support and positivity! I came away from that experience giving myself a pat on the back as the show was always wonderfully received and nothing went wrong! Winning!
What are the London Palladium pantomimes like to be part of?
Two words, FULL OUT. These productions are everything and more, the costume, the cast, the set, the choreography: it is all so full out with feeling. It’s like living in a dream world for eight weeks, you live and breathe. Seeing what people can create is mesmerising, I remember seeing the MASSIVE dragon for the first time (Snow White) and I felt so overwhelmed and lucky to be in a production that brings this kind of talent to the table. London Palladium pantomimes are NOT to be missed, and hopefully they will continue to produce those productions so more of the public can experience these shows.
What was it like doing the UK Tour of Guys and Dolls and performing at Magic of the Musicals?
Not to be biased, but Guys and Dolls, to this day, was my favourite production. It was my first musical so experiencing everything that goes into making a musical for the first time is something I will never forget. I am a lover of the classic musicals, and if there was one show I could do all over again, it would be this one. My favourite part of the show has to be the Havana section, it was a love/hate relationship with the eleven-minute high intense choreography, but it was such a fun section and when it was done you almost couldn’t believe you had finished it without passing out.
One of my favourite moments of the tour was unfortunately when we were a lot of cast members down due to illness, but I got to go on for a small speaking role, Mimi. I was filled with such nerves and excitement that I don’t think the audience really understood what I was even saying as my voice reached a height that only dogs could hear. When we took it to Magic of the Musicals, that was terrifying, stepping out onto the stage of the Royal Albert Hall which holds over 5000 seats, it was a pinch me moment and was over in a flash. I had never felt stage fright before that moment and to sing along to that incredible orchestra was stunning.
You were Ensemble and First Cover Sandy in Grease; can you tell us about your time in the show?
I was 😊. This was my second musical, so I was still in a daze of disbelief that I had got to the position I was in. This was a special production because it wasn’t a carbon copy show, it was one that was being created in the room and we all really dug deep to create our roles. Something that Nikolai Foster (the director) did was bring all the different versions of Grease together to create a version that had a lot more depth and showed the true vulnerability of the characters. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to go on as Sandy, although my housemates got full performances every day with my renditions of Hopelessly Devoted. Although I’m probably too old to play her now, I have always wanted to be able to play her in front of an audience.
How was the experience on set of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast?
Mesmerizing, it was such a short but sweet contract to do. We had a week at the studio learning the opening sequence to the film. Which we showed to Emma Watson, and I’ve never been more starstruck in my life! Then for another week and a half, we filmed the scene, our days starting from 4:30am and ending at 9pm. Anyone who has done film work will know the days are very long, but sitting back and watching what goes on behind a set is mad. We had these massive wigs and wore three corsets, two skirts and a dress over the top of that. So it wasn’t the most comfortable I’ve ever been but the detail was sensational. The costumes were so heavy, we were all assigned someone to bring a stool to us between every take so we didn’t crease the dresses. Going to the screening was such a wild experience, I felt like a superstar and had to punch my husband every time I was on the screen for a minor second!
Can you say what it was like filming for Cats?
Yes of course, as a dancer, Cats is the big one, it’s the one you want to tick. So, when I got the call saying I was going to be a part of it, it was a big tick off the bucket list. CGI was something I had never done before and it was fascinating and hilarious, looking at everyone in these bright orange suits with dots all over their faces was so funny. We filmed for two weeks and got to work with the great Tom Hooper and Andy Blankenbuehler which was so inspiring, I got to work with such a wonderful group of ladies. I was so proud watching it on the big screen watching all these performers who are the top of their leagues perform together. It was a memory all alone in the moonlight that I will never forget.
How do you prepare for a role?
Ooh, good question! So, I really try to pull apart the background and personality traits of the role I’m playing. I study it as much as I can so I can just put myself into that mind frame. All the nerves and the second guessing have to be put to the side so you can try and take it as far as you can, but it’s what I love about the rehearsal process because you discover things about your character by taking it further. It’s those special moments during rehearsal that you suddenly go YES that’s it. Now, I’m super dyslexic, so it takes me a bit more time to learn scripts as my brain can’t quite get used to phrasing things differently to what I’m used to. So, once I’ve learnt an entire script, that’s such a big win for me and that’s when my character really develops, when I can stop thinking about what is going to happen next and just live as that person.
Was there anything that drew you to theatre career?
Funnily enough, my school took us on a trip to see Cats in the West End and at the time I was part of my local dance school, Celebration. It was the first musical I had ever seen and I fell in love. There was something so captivating about the entire experience and my one and only thought was, ‘I want to be up there doing that’. With that, I never had any desire to do anything else.
What do you enjoy most about appearing in theatre?
The moment in the wings when you’re just about to go on, you have that moment with yourself to get your head in gear for whatever number or scene you’re about to do. That adrenaline is something that can’t be explained, it’s like no other experience and your heart just stops in preparation. In that moment, you realise all the heartbreak and rejection is all worth it.
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