This year, Jessica Croll will be touring the UK as Amber in Hairspray, set to open at Theatre Royal Plymouth on 24th June, after the tour had been postponed due to the current pandemic. Jessica has previously toured as Patty in Grease (along with covering the role of Sandy), played the lead character of Jane in Salad Days and been in the cast of Wonderland. For her first professional job after finishing training, Jessica played Astrid Lungstromberg in the premiere of Eurobeat: Muldova, where she also appears on the original cast recording. Having performed in pantomimes for a number of years, in 2019, Jessica played Cinderella at Chatham Central Theatre and has been part of concerts West End Does: The Magic of Animation and South Pacific, both held at Cadogan Hall. Answering our questions, Jessica told us about being cast as Amber in the upcoming tour of Hairspray, playing Patty in Grease and her lead role of Jane in Salad Days.
You’ve been announced to play Amber on the UK Tour of Hairspray, what drew you to the role and musical?
Hairspray is one of those shows I’ve always wanted to do. I remember watching it and singing all the songs in my bedroom as a kid and thought it was such a fun show. As an adult I appreciate the amazing message it sends out and importance of it. I’m not really sure what drew me to the role, I just know I’ve always wanted to play her… I think she’s the character you love to hate, and she teaches us all how not to behave most of the time!
What are you most looking forward to for playing the character and touring the UK with the cast?
I’m most looking forward to all the incredible dancing and actually being able to perform again – I think opening night will be quite emotional actually! Playing Amber will be great fun… I have some ideas of how to play her but we’ll see what happens in rehearsals. I’ve toured in the past, but I feel like I will appreciate the travelling a lot more now. I’m SO ready to explore a city and socialise with a new cast.
Can you tell us about playing Patty on the UK Tour of Grease and what did you enjoy most about playing the role?
I LOVED playing Patty in Grease. I was really lucky as the role had such a great mix of acting and lots of dancing. I think the Jive was probably my favourite part of the show (although it was a killer especially on a two show day!). It was great fun playing such an over the top and enthusiastic character, but the director, Nikolai Foster, was also really mindful that the character should have layers too which made rehearsals and then performing as Patty much more interesting.
You were first cover Sandy, what was it like rehearsing in the character?
The cast and everyone involved in the show were just fantastic, so the cover rehearsals and cover run was such a great experience. We were able to have some freedom in the way we interpreted the character, so I enjoyed giving Sandy my own little twist. In this version of the show, Sandy was interpreted as a strong woman with a slight edgy flair by the end, so that was really cool to work with. I also just loved getting a chance to sing the songs we all know and love.
How did you find the experience playing the lead of Jane in Salad Days and how was it booking the role?
Salad Days is such a brilliantly quirky show, which was really fun and rewarding to do. I found playing Jane such a great experience; to sing a legit style soprano role was a real challenge, but I’m so glad I did it. It was also the show that made me realise I could be quite funny! It was really lovely to do a show that celebrates singing, dancing, and a magic piano… you couldn’t take yourself too seriously.
Did you have a favourite scene/song to perform in the show and what are some of your favourite memories from your time in the production?
My favourite song from the show has to be We Said We Wouldn’t Look Back. It’s a playful duet sung right near the beginning performed by Jane and Timothy. It’s all about looking forward to the future and not dwelling on the past, but neither want to admit they’ll both really miss each other… very cute. Mark, who played Timothy, was absolutely fantastic too… I definitely learnt a lot from him. Most of the people who came to watch the show were slightly older, and remember the show from when it was first written and performed in the 1950s. Getting to chat to all those different people around the country about their memories was just the most rewarding thing and is something I’ll always treasure.
How was it being part of the cast of Wonderland?
Interesting. The show had a lot of potential and everyone in the cast was great. Unfortunately, it was in the hands of the wrong person and we weren’t treated particularly great. Aside from that, it was a great experience covering the lead so soon after leaving drama school. I learnt a lot.
In 2016, you played Astrid Lungstromberg in the premiere of Eurobeat: Moldova, how was this?
Eurobeat was my first professional job out of drama school and it was THE BEST. The most fun, hilarious job you could wish for. It’s a Eurovision satire so all the costumes, songs, and choreography were so clever, camp, and funny. It also gave me the opportunity to be on an original cast recording which was pretty cool… you can listen to my song Semaphore of Love on Spotify – it’s a banger!!
Having performed in pantomime for a number of years, your most recent was as Cinderella in 2019, can you tell us what it was like playing the lead role and what is your favourite aspect of performing in pantomimes?
Playing Cinderella was great… we didn’t have a carriage so I got to ride the back of a flying horse twice a day. On opening night it actually got stuck at the end of act one, the house lights came up and I was stuck on this horse in the middle of the stage… mortifying at the time, but HILARIOUS now. I enjoy panto a lot, it really gets you into the Christmas spirit and it is super cute hearing the kids go crazy (even if it is at 10am). I really love the classic panto humour, every one knows what they’re in for (cast and audience), and we all just embrace it. One thing I will say though is that is is haaaard work.
You’ve previously performed at Cadogan Hall in the concerts West End Does: The Magic of Animation and South Pacific, can you say more about these?
They were both great experiences, I got to work with some incredibly talented people and sung some brilliant songs. The most amazing part of these concerts was definitely the orchestra and MD Alex Parker – the music was just magical!
Had you always wanted to be a theatre performer and was there anything that encouraged you to train at Guildford School of Acting?
I was definitely the classic ‘could sing and dance before she could walk and talk’ type kid. As I got older I couldn’t really imagine doing anything else, so applying to drama school was a no-brainer. I applied to a few different drama schools, but I really liked the vibe of the GSA audition. Every one seemed really friendly and I could really see myself there. Luckily, I got in!
Can you tell us about some of the events you were part of whilst training?
In third year I got the opportunity to sing as a backing singer for Sam Bailey in concert. I remember stepping out onto the stage at the Lyric Theatre and feeling even more excited and determined to do well and get working. We also got to sing as a year group at The Olivier Awards In Concert and I remember our teachers and families listening to it live on the radio which felt pretty cool at the time.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I have a little Dachshund called Colin who keeps me busy, we’ve been exploring loads of new places to hike this year! I’m also a big yogi and trained as a yoga teacher this year, so I’ve been teaching classes online and will continue to do so until rehearsals for Hairspray start. I also LOVE zombie films, MasterChef, and binge watching Netflix series.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
One of my most favourite things I’ve ever seen is probably Come From Away, but I also loved watching Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Miss Saigon. I haven’t actually ever seen Phantom… so I should probably go and watch that. I can’t wait to go and watch Beauty & the Beast Tour which has just been announced.
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