Adding a Little Soap to the Theatre Magic

MTAS Blogger Katie Rose looks at why we use soap actors in musicals…


Following on from my tour blog, I had noticed a common theme that appeared within the casting of some tours. With the new Grease tour casting announced again, this theme appeared with the casting of Louisa Lytton (Eastenders) as Rizzo. When an actor or actresses leave certain TV Soaps, the next time we do see them will most likely be on stage.

Soap.pngThere have been many shows that I have seen with many past Soap stars in the cast. Although it’s brilliant to see that TV star you enjoyed watching on the screen, sometimes they aren’t as good when performing to live audiences.

12rTV acting technique is hugely different to Musical Theatre technique and although there are some actors who can cross the board in my opinion, they are few and far between. Increasingly, Musical Theatre acting is becoming a specialised technique. When auditioning for drama schools, it was part of the requirement for the most prominent schools that you show your dancing ability along with singing and acting. These days many schools do separate specialised courses and It’s possible to go for a Musical Theatre course, a devised theatre course, or a BA in acting. gu3§The crossover is more difficult. However many become successful in the West End without doing much in film or TV. There are agents who specialise in placing Musical Theatre actors with nothing more than the odd commercial as a sideline.

So why do many Soap TV stars cross over to the stage?

Ben FreemanI have had varied experiences with this and my first encounter was Ben Freeman star of Emmerdale in the past. When not allowed to be brought back to the show Ben took to the stage staring in Dreamcoat and Petticoats, Happy Days the Musical and Wicked. When I saw Wicked In 2013, Ben played the leading man Fiyero and having seen Oliver Tompsett in the role before him, he just wasn’t up to scratch. Ben had a lovely voice and a did well with the dancing, but the acting felt so over-performed where he was trying too hard in parts and going over the top. Whereas when Oliver played the role it came natural to him.

MTAS blogger Dawn Bush saw the recent touring production of Toughly Modern Millie starring Eastenders Star Michelle Collins. She kindly provided me with her experience watching a Soap star on stage:
Millie‘Millie is a lighthearted musical, and Mrs Meers is no doubt a caricature; but to my mind the role requires consummate skill. You have here a character that is, herself, playing a part – she’s meant to be a failed actress, who has disguised herself as a Chinese person in order to escape from her past, and is making her living from the white slave trade. Yes, it’s a comedy; but even in comedy, we need to see the truth of the character. Michelle Collins’s version was definitely more pantomime than Musical Theatre. It wasn’t the fact that she couldn’t really dance (a fact that was highlighted by the joyous and excellent dancing that came from the rest of the cast) nor even the fact that her singing was, perhaps deliberately, a bit of a send-up. CollinsFor me, it was the lack of truth in the character that showed itself. What I saw was Michelle Collins, with a knowing look at the audience, communicating to us that she was Michelle Collins “acting” a part.  Although this can be taken at face value, and still enjoyed, to my mind it was out of sync with the rest of the production. Even Joanne Clifton, who has little experience of Musical Theatre, played Millie with truth; the nod to her fame on Strictly Come Dancing only being acknowledged at the final curtain call, where she and her colleague did a little bit of jive as the curtain came down. Soap star casting didn’t exactly spoil the show for me, but it did stand out from the rest of the production, and not in a good way.’

I myself am not put off by going to shows which are starring soap stars, as there have been good performances from some. DM1Danny Mac (Hollyoaks) for instance, well known for his role as eye candy ‘Dodger’ has played the role of heart throb Warner in last year’s production of Legally Blonde at the Curve Theatre, Leicester, and I could not fault him! His performance was spot on, the acting was natural, and singing was warming. DM2His rendition of ‘Serious’ was my favourite beating Ray Quinn, and Duncan James by a landslide in my opinion.  However I did know that Danny had a musical background before acting in front of a camera. Having understudied the role of Boq in Wicked and I was happy to see that Hollyoaks hadn’t taken away the theatre talent from him.

AdamsI don’t think we will stop seeing Soap stars casting in the future, with The Addams Family tour approaching which is starring Eastenders Ronnie, Samantha Womack as Morticia Addams. Then there is the new upcoming tour of Legally Blonde has her Eastenders sister Roxie, Rita Simons as Paulette. It’s something that we are used to here in the UK, and it will be interesting to see who crosses over in the future.

So tell me, what has been your experience with Soap Star casting? Did they do well?

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