With Elf the Musical opening on the 15th November at the Dominion Theatre for their second consecutive year, Kim Ismay is reprising her role of Debs, the secretary of Walter Hobbs (played by Tom Chambers), with rehearsals currently taking place and tickets now on sale. Kim was in the one-woman show About Bill at The Other Palace, recently returning to the show when it opened at Theatre at the Tabard, and the show was written for her by Bernadette Gaughan and the late Matthew Strachan, and earlier this year, she played Frances in Kidnapped on tour. In MAMMA MIA! in the West End, Kim played Tanya for three years, which included the 5th Anniversary performance, and she rejoined the show for a further four years after a six-year break performing in numerous other shows, and she also performed in the MAMMA MIA! 20th Anniversary finale. Further musicals for Kim have included Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Singin’ in the Rain, and Wicked as Madame Morrible over many years for their UK & International Tour and a year’s contract in the West End. Chatting to us, Kim told us about playing Debs in Elf the Musical at the Dominion Theatre, the one-woman show About Bill and her time as Tanya in MAMMA MIA! and Madame Morrible in Wicked.
How does it feel to be returning to your role of Debs for another run of Elf the Musical this Christmas?
It’s brilliant being back – it’s like a family reunion and such a fun show!
Having performed in the show last year, what is Debs like to play and how is it performing the music and choreography?
Debs is Walter Hobbs’ secretary and VERY organised – she runs his work life to the minute. I think if her diary disappeared he’d be totally lost, which is the whole of her first song! But although she’s so organised, she’s totally ready to buy into their office lives – including joining him in a dance number involving snow – or rather handfuls of shredded paper.
How was it seeing the audience response to the musical in 2022 and why would you recommend booking tickets for this year’s run?
The audiences last year were amazing. Seeing the children’s faces when Santa’s sleigh flies is a joy (the adults too!). It’s such a lovely story that everyone really allows themselves to get carried along in the magic and wonder. It’s fabulous entertainment for all ages and is absolutely the perfect thing to get you into the Christmas spirit!
Was there anything that originally drew you to Elf the Musical and what do you enjoy most about working on the production?
The film is so iconic, I knew it was going to be really enjoyable to do, and it works really well on stage. It’s cheesy but true that we all get on really well, which makes it even more fun – it’s great when you look forward to going to work.
What was it like meeting the new cast for the first time and what are you looking forward to for opening in the show?
The new cast members bring a brilliant new energy and their own spin on things – so it helps us all discover new ways to explore the lines and our characters, and to create new relationships and ideas within the show. We can’t wait to get on stage and into costume. My favourite moment in the build-up to opening is the sitzprobe, where you all hear the full orchestra/band for the first time. It’s such a thrill.
How did you find the experience starring in the one-woman show About Bill at The Other Palace, and reprising your role at Theatre at the Tabard recently?
About Bill was written for me by Bernadette Gaughan and the late Matthew Strachan and it’s an absolutely exquisite piece. Having something written for you – especially when it’s this good – is the best gift an actor can be given. It’s the story of one man told by 10 of the women in his life, and it changed me as an actor. It’s terrifying being on stage alone for an hour and 20 minutes, but when it works, it’s elating.
How was it hearing you’ve been nominated for Lead Performance in a Musical at the Offie Awards?
Actors always say awards/nominations don’t matter because it’s the audiences that count – but it’s totally fantastic when it happens and I’m not going to lie, I’m absolutely thrilled!
Earlier this year, you played Frances in the UK Tour of Kidnapped, how was this?
This was a wonderful opportunity for me as I’m such a fan of Isobel McArthur’s work as both a writer and director – and it was also a fair way outside my comfort zone as I had to play the guitar, and I don’t play the guitar. Cue me having to learn chords (MJ McCarthy, the MD/composer, made it easy, just for me) and practise for hours. The story was so beautifully retold and Frances was written and worked into the piece so cleverly. I loved her.
For many years, you played Madame Morrible in Wicked on the UK & International Tour and in the West End, what was the show like to be part of?
I loved Morribling… she’s the only truly evil character in the show. It’s an amazing show, so spectacular and lavish, but with a pure and perfect central story about love and friendship. And I got to travel to amazing places across the world to help tell that story before spending a year at home in London.
What are some of your favourite memories from playing Tanya in MAMMA MIA! in the West End for seven years?
MAMMA MIA! will always have a really special place in my heart – I’ve never done a show for that long! I did three years, then other shows for six years, then returned to the island for another four. We did so many things, I did both theatre transfers, which was fun, and did the 5th Anniversary and had Björn (Ulvaeus), Benny (Andersson) and Frida autograph my sheet music of Dancing Queen. Another highlight was joining more than 20 past Dynamos for the surprise finale of the 20th Anniversary show. I’ve never seen so much multi-coloured lycra on one stage!!
Can you tell us about some of the other shows you’ve performed in over your career so far, which have included Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Singin’ in the Rain and Saturday Night Fever?
The Baroness in Chitty was hilarious to play. I seem to have cornered an odd market in characters – mostly strange, mildly unhinged foreign women in corsets. I’m not complaining – I’m fortunate to have really loved 95% of all the jobs I’ve done. And Singin’ in the Rain is probably my favourite musical of all-time so that was a delight.
How did you get into acting and was it something you always wanted to do?
I’ve always known I would do this for a living. Back when I started in the industry, you had to have an Equity card before you could work professionally – and you had to work professionally in order to get your Equity card. You had to find contracts that would GIVE you the provisional card, and then build up your weeks until you had the number required to give you the full card, which you had to show at the door to get into auditions.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
The ONLY downside about working in shows is that it’s hard to see other shows as you’re all working the same hours! If your day off or matinee day is different, you can get to see other things. I have a list of shows I want to see if I can….. starting with the magical Unbelievable, The Little Big Things and Flowers for Mrs Harris.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
I also narrate audiobooks for calibreaudio.org.uk so that happens in my home studio and takes up a bit of my time. And I love making bespoke Barbies – it makes me laugh. But my main relaxation is cooking. I’m not that good at cakes and my pastry is appalling (I buy THAT ready-made!!) but dinner? Oh yes. And my roast potatoes are a triumph.
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