For her next production, Natalie Chua has been announced to join the cast of the upcoming musical Anything Goes, which opens at the Barbican Centre in July, and most recently, she played Hua Mulan in the online musical Disenchanted which streamed in April. Before theatres closed due to the pandemic, Natalie had been touring with Priscilla Queen of the Desert as Ensemble, as well as understudying the roles of Cynthia and Diva. Previously, Natalie played Consuelo in West Side Story at the Royal Exchange Manchester and understudied the lead role of Maria, she was in the original cast of the world premiere of Bat Out of Hell playing Spinotti and continued in the role at the Coliseum, Toronto and the West End, and she made her West End debut in Miss Saigon as Ensemble and cover Ellen and Gigi. Natalie was part of the group Angelis in 2006, who were signed by Syco and were awarded a Platinum Disc for their record sales. Answering our questions, Natalie talks about her upcoming production of Anything Goes, touring in Priscilla Queen of the Desert and being an original cast member of Bat Out of Hell.
It’s been announced you are joining the cast of Anything Goes at the Barbican Centre later this year, was there anything that drew you to the production and what are you looking forward to most for the run?
I am so excited to start rehearsals for Anything Goes, it is a beautiful classic show with an incredible cast, it is a style of show I have always wanted to do so I was completely drawn to the production as a whole as well as having the opportunity to perform at the Barbican for the first time. I am really looking forward to be working with an incredible creative team and cast.
Can you tell us about playing Hua Mulan in Disenchanted and what was it like to film?
Playing Hua Mulan was an absolute joy. Growing up, Mulan was my favourite Disney female character and I really looked up to her strength, her independence and determination, so to have the opportunity to play her along with the genius writing by Dennis T. Giacino and Fiely Matias was such an honour.
Filming was so much fun, working with Tom Jackson Greaves is always such a wonderful experience. It was very different from doing a theatre show using green screen but it was so exciting to watch it back as we had no idea what was going to be behind us and how they were going to get us all on one screen, it was very cleverly done and just shows how amazing creatives and our industry have been able to adapt to the current restrictions and still creating theatre and art and well-needed escapism for audiences.
Before the pandemic, you’d been touring with Priscilla Queen of the Desert, how had the tour been going and what were you enjoying most about being in the cast?
I loved going from theatre to theatre and seeing parts of the country I have never visited before. The best part about touring is meeting amazing people in all the theatres across the UK, we are so lucky to have these incredible venues with brilliant teams running them. What I really enjoyed about Priscilla Queen of the Desert is how many characters we got to play, we always had a different costume on each time we went back on stage, it was so much fun.
You understudied the roles of Cynthia and Diva, what were these like to do?
Understudying Cynthia and Diva was great fun, it is always exciting to go on stage for a role you’re understudying and playing on stage with the cast who are always so incredibly supportive, it is a great feeling.
Can you say about your time in West Side Story as Consuelo at Royal Exchange Manchester and how was it learning the role of Maria, which you understudied?
Having the opportunity to work at the Royal Exchange Manchester was an absolute dream. A couple of years before, I had watched their production of Twelfth Night there and it blew my mind how they transform the space and how they completely immerse you into the story. Watching anything at the Royal Exchange is an incredible experience and I urge everyone to go and see a show there if they’re able to because it is a truly magical place and the Royal Exchange team there are so lovely and incredibly talented.
I have always wanted to be in West Side Story and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience performing this production of the show. Performing in the round is so different and I learnt so much as an actor working in that space and, of course, learnt so much from the incredible Gabriela Garcia who played Maria, I felt so grateful to be covering a brilliant role played by a beautiful and passionate actress such as Gabriela.
It was such a special experience and I made friends for life in that show.
What are some of your highlights from playing Spinotti in Bat Out of Hell?
Playing Spinotti was so much fun and I guess she was a little bit based around Mulan in some ways as Spinotti is also a strong, independent individual. The set of Bat Out of Hell is one of my favourite sets I have ever been on, it was like a big playground with such incredible detail for us to create and play with. With Bat Out of Hell no show was the same and anything and everything could happen on that stage and I always had a bubble of anticipation and excitement just before each show.
How was it being part of the original cast in the world premiere in Manchester and continuing in the role at the Coliseum, Toronto and the West End?
The creating process of Bat Out of Hell is one I will never forget, the show constantly changed which was sometimes difficult to keep up with but also stretched each of us as dancers and actors so it was always exciting and there was no room to become complacent or go into autopilot. It also brought the cast together as we supported each other while learning and playing with different versions of the show, especially in Manchester where we premiered, we learnt the vocals and choreography for a new song in a day and put it in the show the same night which was wild but, again, exciting and fun.
You made your West End debut in Miss Saigon as Ensemble, how was this?
I grew up watching and listening to Lea Salonga, especially her performances in Miss Saigon, I also watched the show when it was on tour a few times, I loved seeing so many Asian actors on one stage and playing these brilliant roles. So, going into Miss Saigon I was extremely excited, also to work with an amazing diverse cast telling an incredibly emotive story. When you go into Miss Saigon it feels like you’re joining a huge family and I feel so lucky that Miss Saigon was my West End debut. It’s a show where your whole heart and soul is immersed and will always hold a special place in my heart.
You understudied the roles of Ellen and Gigi, what were these roles like to cover?
I loved going on for Ellen, the role is complex and she is put into such a unique and difficult situation and when playing Ellen you really feel her pain and how torn she is about what is right and best for everyone. It was also interesting playing Ellen being of Asian heritage and putting that into consideration when meeting Kim for the first time, it really adds another layer of betrayal and questions for both Ellen and Kim on how Chris is feeling and thinking. Working on stage with the Kims and Chrises each performance was different and I was lucky to have gone on quite a bit during the run at the Prince Edward Theatre. I didn’t get on for Gigi but rehearsing this role was great, Gigi has such a journey in a very short amount of time from being on top and winning the title of Miss Saigon to then be dropped at a height when the reality that John has no intention of taking her to America with him kicks in it is pure devastation.
We understand you played Ellen on the final day, what do you remember most from this performance?
I felt incredibly honoured to have gone on for Ellen on the final day, I was filled with so many emotions and the audiences on the final day was electric and we all felt so deeply for the show. I actually can’t remember that particular show in detail, I just remember being completely in it and embracing the moment. As I said before, we are a family, not only the cast and team on and off stage, but also the fans of the show, it was hard to say good bye, but with Miss Saigon it is never good bye but a see you soon 😃.
Can you tell us about playing Yoko Ono on the UK Arena Tour of The Sessions Live?
Playing Yoko Ono was brilliant but very short-lived as we only got to perform at five venues but it was a great, fun experience and made me more of a fan of The Beatles and their music.
On screen, you appeared as a dancer on The Entire Universe, filmed for Harry Potter and worked on commercials, can you say more about these?
Filming Harry Potter was incredible, you’d think it would take away the magic of the film knowing how it is all made but it really didn’t, I still love watching the films and seeing my friends on screen.
It was wonderful filming The Entire Universe and working with Arlene Phillips who choreographed the show.
Working on commercials is great, you get to meet and work with lovely teams of people.
In 2006, you were part of music group Angelis with Syco, what are some of your favourite memories from being part of the group?
I have many lovely memories being in Angelis, it was an amazing experience, I loved being in the studio and working with Steve Mac who produced our album. It was also a very proud moment for us all when we received a Platinum Disc for our record sales.
Where does your love of acting and performing come from and how did you start?
My love for performing and storytelling comes from growing up in the Filipino community here in the UK. Music, dance and storytelling runs throughout the Filipino culture and I am very proud to have started my performing journey learning Filipino cultural dancing and performing at Filipino Fiestas all over the country, that’s where it all began for me.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and how does it feel having the industry returning?
I think the industry didn’t disappear or go away completely, we’ve had incredible theatres and creators who didn’t let the pandemic stop them creating, making sure that theatre continues in some way possible with online streams and Zoom play readings etc. keeping people connected and providing escapism. We owe it to those incredible and passionate people that we have an industry to go back to and also to the fans and supporters of theatre, their support has been incredible and they have not let theatre and art disappear during this difficult time. Saying that, it is extremely exciting that the industry will be back in full swing and we can be physically in the theatre, we will never take live performance for granted and it feels like it is more important then ever to have the experience of live performances and escapism.
There are so many shows I cannot wait to see, I want to see them all!!!
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