With the current pandemic leading to theatres closing in March, Vicki Manser had been set to continue her role as Alternate Carole King in Beautiful – The Carole King Musical on their tour, and had previously been in the West End cast as understudy Carole and cover Genie Klein. Prior to the tour of Beautiful, Vicki had been Swing in SIX the Musical before taking on the role of Katherine Howard, and had previously been in the cast of Bat Out of Hell at the Dominion Theatre and made her professional debut in Sunny Afternoon. Vicki has recently released her debut single Pick Me Up which reached #1 in the iTunes Country Music Charts, and has since announced her second single Could If I Wanted To, releasing in October, and alongside her career, Vicki is the Artistic Director at the Sharpe Academy of Theatre Arts. We spoke to Vicki about performing as Carole King on tour, taking over the role of Katherine Howard in SIX the Musical and having her debut single Pick Me Up reach #1 in the iTunes Country Music Charts.
You were touring with Beautiful – The Carole King Musical before theatres closed, how was this going and, as Alternate Carole King, what is this role like to perform?
It was absolutely incredible, I was seriously having the best time. I think because I was so scared about touring initially and I actually ended up loving it, that made it all the more harder when we stopped so suddenly. Carole King is such a dream role. I miss playing her so much.
How was the experience singing the Carole King music to audiences?
Her songs are just so beautiful to sing… pardon the pun 😉. The thing about her is that she just loves music… it runs through her veins and so really that is the most important thing when performing them… to just feel it and love it. And that’s exactly what I did. It’s also so lovely hearing audiences’ reactions as well because people usually don’t realise just how many Carole King songs they know! You’ll start singing… hear a gasp… and inside I’m like… ‘yeahhhh, this is an absolute classic isn’t it!!!’
Having previously understudied the role as well as covering Genie Klein in the West End run, what do you remember about making your debut in the roles?
Genie I remember worrying that I was so young at the time and I just thought ‘how am I going to make this believable?’. Doing it in front of an audience though, in costume, wigs and makeup… I just loved it and really got into it! I found so much more comedy as well with an audience being there. It’s a great role to play, I feel like you can really steal the scene even though she has so few lines, haha!
My Carole King debut was honestly like no other, and I’m not sure I will ever experience anything like it again. The role is iconic and HUGE! I had a guaranteed show written into my contract and it was the only time I ended up going on in nearly a whole year so it was a massive deal. I had over 100 family and friends that came to see me. In the opening speech, Carole says ‘do you ever look around and think… I just can’t believe I’m here… and HOW true that was for me at that time! No acting required, haha! It’s genuinely how I felt! The rest of the show was a blur but in the best way… I loved every second. The whole cast had piled into my dressing room at the end and lifted me up, hugged me, cheered… their support was insane and I felt so lucky. And then stage door… well… WOW… a night I will never ever forget! I’m beaming now as I’m typing thinking about it!
How was it being Swing in SIX the Musical and then taking on the role of Katherine Howard?
Being a Swing and Alternate on that show was amazing because all six roles are so great in their own right, different comedy, different style of songs… and I got to do all of them! #blessed haha! I feel very lucky that there is still only a small amount of people across all the casts who have played all six and I am one of them. Getting to play Katherine Howard was amazing too because I got to basically create a new version of Howard that hadn’t been done before. I worked with Toby and Lucy (the writers) and we found different choices from my alternate version and also from what had been done before by the incredible Aimie Atkinson. That is what is so great about SIX – that every actor has a different way of portraying each character and it is celebrated!
As part of the SIX flashmob at the Tower of London, how did you find the experience?
Surreal! Being recognised outside your place of work is something I don’t think I will ever get my head round. I remember people shouting my name and taking photos… and I was like ‘what, me?!’ The support from the queendom is always insane. Also, being part of an event that had never been done before was special. SIX is always leading the way.
What was Bat Out of Hell like to perform in at the Dominion Theatre?
The Dominion was always a dream venue of mine to perform at ever since I watched We Will Rock You there many, many years ago. So, it felt like an incredible achievement and one off the bucket list! I also just felt like I was in an action movie every night because the set and special effects were just on a different level! It was epic!
Can you tell us about some of the tracks you covered and the events you performed at?
I originally covered nine ensemble tracks, but that quickly escalated to eighteen when we started covering the male tracks too! I loved getting to work my brain so hard! There was never a dull moment that’s for sure! Performing at West End Live with Bat was amazing because it was my first experience there and the crowd loved it! Also, performing on ITV’s This Morning was fun… it always feels cool rocking up to a TV studio! And, of course, performing at the BBC Proms in the Park at Hyde Park with a HUGE orchestra! EPIC!
You made your professional debut in Sunny Afternoon, what are some of your favourite memories of being in the musical?
This show will always be so special to me being my first job. It was an actor-muso show… so I LOVED getting to play live music too, it was like playing a concert every night and it was just so much fun! And I will never forget the bond I had with my fellow understudies. We used to have so much fun together backstage, jamming, playing games. I just loved being surrounded by so many people who were so talented at music, I was in awe!
Can you tell us about your training at Urdang Academy?
For me, I’ve never been one for education if I am completely honest. I was always too busy thinking about the end goal and where I wanted to be… so, for me, my training was always just the stepping stone that was going to get me to where I needed to be. It definitely did the job, haha! But I think it’s all about what you put in as an individual as to how much you take away from the experience.
We understand you are the Artistic Director of Sharpe Academy of Theatre Arts, can you say more about it?
I am and I can! At Sharpe Academy, we run a three-year diploma course and a post-grad course in Professional Musical Theatre and I LOVE IT! I’ve always loved teaching and choreographing and I get to do a lot of that at the college. It’s so exciting seeing the next generation of performers. I love watching them grow and guiding them and sharing my experience and knowledge. It’s a fantastic course with a FANTASTIC team and also just a lot of fun! I love it!
You’ve recently released your debut single Pick Me Up, what is the song about and how long was it in the making?
The song is about someone who is basically on self-destruct mode, but they have that one person they can go to without any judgement for help. It’s a gorgeous song! It all came about during lockdown. I worked with Tim Prottey-Jones, the producer of the song, and within a couple of weeks we had a complete track! Then it was about six weeks until it was released! It was all very exciting.
The song reached #1 in the iTunes Country Music Charts, how did this feel and what’s it been like seeing the response?
I could not believe it!!!! I honestly had forgotten that charts like that exist and that it would even be possible for me to be on it! So it was a complete shock and overwhelming! I am so grateful for all the support always… I feel so lucky!
How is it hearing your single played on radio stations?
I still can’t believe it! I get so excited, like a kid in a sweet shop! Haha! I try and listen every time I’m played, and still every time i’m like, OH MY GOD, THAT’S ME!
Did you always know you wanted a music career along with theatre and how did both come about?
Music has always been a massive part of my life but I never had the confidence to write, or at least release what I had written. Being on tour changed that and that was the turning point for me. I felt so inspired to pick my guitar up and write (maybe because I was constantly playing a songwriter, haha) and my friend Carly helped me get a song to a point where I was like ‘do you know, what I’m proud of that! That’s going on YouTube!’. It all just happened from there really! Lockdown has given me the time to actually focus on music more and explore this path so I am very grateful for that. Normally I would be too busy! It feels so lovely to create and express in a different way and in a style of music I am so passionate about. Country music is so great for storytelling, and that’s what we do as actors… in so many ways it’s so similar to Musical Theatre!
What are some of your favourite musicals to watch and who are some of your favourite music artists?
I used to love watching Sunny Afternoon, before I was in it and during when I used to watch to make notes about my track. It will always be one of my favourites because it’s that crossover of musical theatre and music gigs! Same with Beautiful!
Music artists… there are so many to mention! But I love Alison Krauss’ voice, I used to listen to her a lot when I was growing up! Lady Gaga is a sensation to watch, much like Carole King, I feel like she feels everything so deeply! I love her more country stuff like A Star is Born! And I think Sara Bareilles is such a gorgeous songwriter!
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