With The Wedding Singer opening for a limited run at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre in January this year, Rhiannon Chesterman took on the role of lead character Julia and had previously worked with director Nick Winston on the UK and Ireland Tour of Rock of Ages as Regina. Over the Christmas period, Rhiannon appeared as Wendy Darling in Peter Pan at Lyric Theatre Belfast and a few years ago, she played Frenchy in the UK Tour of Grease, in which she also covered the roles of Sandy and Rizzo. Rhiannon made her professional stage debut in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at Kensington Palace Gardens, and alongside other professional actors and singers, she is part of Baby Broadway concerts for families. Catching up with Rhiannon, she talks about playing Julia in The Wedding Singer, her time on tour with Rock of Ages and her recent pantomime at Lyric Theatre Belfast.
Can you tell us about playing Julia in The Wedding Singer?
It was wonderful! It was my first lead role in a large-scale musical. I’d had leads in smaller shows and plays, and understudied in big shows before, but this time I got to be on the poster and that was really special. The only thing sad about it was that it was such a limited run!
How was it working alongside the rest of the cast?
I had worked with a lot of the cast before on Rock of Ages so, in some sense, it was like a bit of a reunion. There were obviously new cast members as well and it was lovely to get to know them. Everyone got on really well and we had a great time. They were all so talented. I was in awe especially, watching the ensemble dance numbers. They were fierce.
You performed at the Troubadour Wembley Theatre, what was this theatre like to work in?
It was really cool. It was originally a TV studio for things like The X Factor so the dressing rooms were pretty fancy!
Being a TV studio meant it was really well suited for making everything sound how you want it to. This was great – often it’s hard to get the sound balance right in theatres (especially with weekly touring as you have forty-five minutes to sound check an entire show normally) – but the Troubadour was a great place to sing in.
Everyone that worked there was so lovely and it was also situated right by a shopping outlet which was fun!
What were the auditions like and how long were you in rehearsals?
This was a speedy process!! I didn’t actually audition for this part. I had worked for the producers (DLAP), and director, Nick Winston, before so I was lucky enough just to get offered the part (this is not the norm, but I was super excited and grateful). Saying that, I did audition for the tour for the same production the first time round, so I guess technically, I did audition, it was just a few years ago!
Many of the cast had been in this production of The Wedding Singer before so rehearsals were fast! We had three weeks rehearsals and by the middle of the three weeks, we were already running the show so I needed to stay on my toes.
Our rehearsals were overseen by the associate director and choreographer, Ryan-Lee Seager. He was so organised and clear that despite the minimal time to learn everything, I’ve never felt more ready to open a show.
How was it seeing yourself on billboards and posters advertising the show?
It was the coolest thing EVER. It is not something you ever get used to. I was excited every time I saw one. When I was younger, I always hoped that one day I would get to be on a poster in tube stations. I was lucky enough to be on the poster for Mrs Henderson Presents a few years ago – but that was just luck of the draw. This time I was on the poster because I was playing the leading lady and that was really special for me.
The biggest poster I saw was at Baker Street. It was massive! I was on the tube at the time and had to get off (even though it wasn’t my stop!) just to take a quick selfie!
You played Wendy Darling in Peter Pan, how did you find your time in the show at Lyric Theatre, Belfast?
I am from Northern Ireland and I went to school in Belfast so I have always wanted to be in a show at the Lyric. I have auditioned so many times unsuccessfully, so I was thrilled to finally be able to get to work there!
It was such a beautiful show written by Paul Boyd, the company was wonderful and I got
to wear beautiful handmade pyjamas which were just lovely. The rehearsal period was wonderful – nothing was rushed and several times a day we would have to stop everything because someone had said something hilarious and we all couldn’t breathe for laughing.
The best bit for me was that I got to live with my parents for nearly three months. We are very close, and being in London means I don’t get to see them very often so it was amazing to be at home. I had a packed lunch from my mum everyday and my dad would de-ice my car every morning. I felt incredibly fortunate doing that job.
How was it touring with Rock of Ages as Regina?
The best. I loved the show. I loved the company. I loved the part. Loved it all.
As the show is a jukebox musical, how was it rehearsing the songs and performing them for the first time to an audience?
Rehearsing the songs was super fun. For a singer, these songs are epic to sing and something I was really excited about. For me, rehearsals were really important for getting my technique down. Regina shouts a lot and belts really high, so I wanted to make sure I was singing safely while still having the essence of rock. Barney Ashworth was our Musical Supervisor and was there every step of the way making sure we were being as authentically rocky as it is possible to be in a musical.
Performing it to an audience for the first time was loud! Musicals are escapism. Sometimes you have highbrow, thought-provoking musicals which are wonderful and important, and then sometimes you get shows where people are there to just have a really great time. The fact that the songs were already familiar to the audience helped immensely. The songs in the show are absolute tunes and often would take them on a trip down memory lane – reminding them of what they were up to in the 80s. It’s hard not to love the music in Rock of Ages and I can distinctly remember Saturday night in Manchester (our first venue), where there was just a wall of sound, singing and cheering back at us in the finale. That was pretty cool.
What was Frenchy like to play in Grease and how was it understudying Rizzo and Sandy?
Frenchy was a hoot. She’s a real kooky character and the one everyone remembers from the film. I got to play around and be funny with her which was a joy. I love comedy so she was a gift to play. I played opposite Ryan Heenan as my Doody and we had the best time. Getting to cover Rizzo and Sandy was also really fun. The three characters are all entirely different so I got to act on both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in-between.
I got to go on for Sandy but I didn’t get to go on for Rizzo. I really enjoyed singing Hopelessly Devoted as Sandy. Frenchy was a fun part to play but sadly she doesn’t sing in the show, so I missed that. One thing I was sad about was that I never got to try on the wig for Rizzo!
What do you remember from your first professional stage role?
My first professional stage role was in Rupert Goold’s production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in Kensington Gardens. It was in this incredible purpose-built tent. I remember being in my last term at college (ArtsEd) and getting a call from my agent saying I had to leave college right now and go and start watching the show tonight. In your final term at ArtsEd you can leave if you get a professional job, so I literally left that afternoon and started learning the show that night. It was very surreal.
The show was a spectacle complete with a large crew for flying and bungeeing, and automation etc.
The show was already in previews. The cast had all been to circus school in rehearsals to learn how to do all these things and I was just winging it trying to pick it all up. I had also been cast as a swing so I had literally been thrown into the deepest part of the pool. Thankfully, just leaving college, I was fearless and eager to learn all the new skills. It was such a professional team and safety was paramount so I knew they wouldn’t let me do anything dangerous. Still, I’m not so sure I’d be as keen to bungee on stage nowadays!
Can you tell us about the Baby Broadway concerts you’ve been part of?
Musicals and babies. Literally two of my favourite things. Baby Broadway concerts take place, usually in the mornings, a few times a week all over London. There is a group of us, all professional actors and singers, who perform for children and their families. The concerts are suitable from ages 0-8 and it’s a little show for forty-five minutes for parents to relax, be entertained and at the same time, not having to worry that their toddler is running all over the place. We sing songs from musicals and musical films and they are really great fun. Sometimes the performers do them between jobs but if you are in a West End show, you can do a Baby Broadway in the morning and your show in the evening.
Obviously, in the current climate, we have had to adapt so we have taken our concerts online bringing live Baby Broadway concerts to peoples’ living rooms!
You were a guest on The Kevin Clifton Show podcast, can you tell us about taking part in this?
Yes, I was thrilled that Kevin asked me to take part. I had listened to his podcast before when he had done some with other members of the Rock of Ages cast (Zoe Birkett, Kevin Kennedy and Lucas Rush). I don’t often get asked to do interviews like that so it was super lovely to talk about my career and journey from training to now.
How did your acting career come about?
My mum and friend Liz took me to the theatre when I was a child. We used to take trips to London to see a West End show from when I was about aged ten. The first show I saw in London was Cats and it was then that I decided that the stage was where I wanted to be. I am very fortunate to have an incredibly supportive family that have encouraged me every step of the way.
You trained at ArtsEd, do you have any favourite memories from your time there?
I had the best time training at ArtsEd. It is such a family and I made so many wonderful friends there. One of my favourite memories is of my third year show. It was Sweet Smell of Success, directed by Guy Unsworth, and the process was amazing. Still one of my favourite shows I’ve ever done. A special moment was when Marvin Hamlisch came in and talked to us about the show. He was such an incredible storyteller – that was an amazing day.
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