At the age of 9, Sarah Soetaert left her West Flanders hometown of Kortrijk and moved to Antwerp, chasing a dream of becoming a ballet dancer. Six years later, she gained a place at the English National Ballet in London. A chance audition for the musical CATS and a West End debut lead her down a ‘naturally unfolding path’ into musical theatre that has blossomed into a career of acting, singing, and dancing on both stage and screen.
Sarah is currently reprising the lead role, Roxie Hart in the 21st Anniversary production of the Kander and Ebb musical CHICAGO at the Phoenix Theatre, alongside Cuba Gooding Jr, Ruthie Henshall and Josefina Gabrielle. Roxie is a chorus girl who has murdered her lover, but manages to get (spoiler alert) acquitted with the help of a smooth sleazy layer.
It’s a part she knows well. She is the longest running ‘Roxie’ in the West End, beginning in 2007 at the Cambridge Theatre, returning to the role numerous times over the course of six years. The original Time Out review said, “It’s Sarah Soetaert as the crafty fake-ingenue Roxie, who steals the show.”
Sarah signed my Roxie sketch for me after last Saturday’s matinee. Cast changes have been announced, but Sarah told me her contract has been extended.
Josefina Gabrielle is very familiar with CHICAGO, the musical not the city, although I could be misrepresenting her knowledge of American metropolises. The British musical theatre star has returned to the show, this time as Velma Kelly, after playing Roxie Hart in the two previous London productions at the Cambridge and Adelphi Theatres. With three Olivier Award nominations for OKLAHOMA, SWEET CHARITY and MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, Josephina’s musical pedigree is assured.
I drew this montage of her in CHICAGO, as the Evil Witch Evilena in the Hackney Empire’s 2013 panto PUSS AND BOOTS, her dual roles as NIckie and Ursula in the stage adaption of John Masefield’s 1935 children’s book, THE BOX OF DELIGHTS at Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End and her Oliver-nominated performance as Gussie Carnegie in the Menier Chocolate Factory’s 2014 production of MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG.
She signed it for me at the Phoenix Theatre stage door when she arrived for the CHICAGO matinee.
Cuba Gooding Jr’s portrayal of the arrogant, yet charismatic football player Rod Tidwell in Cameron Crowe’s blockbuster sports comedy JERRY MAGUIRE won him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1996. This breakthrough role originated the famous phrase,”Show me the money!” that still resonates today. This month he made his West End stage debut as the hotshot lawyer Billy Flynn in the 21st Anniversary revival of the musical CHICAGO at the Phoenix Theatre.
After being told by security that Cuba was resting between the matinee and evening performances last Saturday, he suddenly appeared at the stage door in his dressing gown to meet the surprised fans. When I asked him to to sign my sketch ‘To Mark’ he said “Oh Mark that’s my middle name, did you know that? I didn’t but I do know so I was confident he could spell it on the dedication.
When young English actress Clare Louise Connolly was auditioning for the part of Regan, the 12 year old possessed by the Devil in stage adaption of THE EXORCIST, she was mindful of the iconic scene in the 1973 movie, when the character’s head spins 360. “I was sure I told the director Sean Mathias, that my neck was extremely flexible,” she revealed in a recent interview. It obviously helped, she got the part and after a brief run last year at Birmingham Rep, has reprised the role in the West End at the Phoenix Theatre. Musical movie buffs may also remember her in a reverse and lot less graphic role-a screen adaption of a stage production-in the 2008 film version of MAMA MIA! She signed this montage sketch for me on her way into the theatre for another head-turning performance on Saturday.
Australian-born, London-based actor, singer and dancer Adam Garcia is Father Damian Karras in the chilling West End premiere of the stage adaption of William Peter Blatty’s best-selling novel THE EXORCIST at the Phoenix Theatre, after an initial run at Birmingham Repertory last year. Adam, a two-time Olivier Award nominee, was last seen on the London stage in the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s THE WINTER’S TALE at the Garrick in 2015. Among his many theatre roles is Flyero in the original London cast production of WICKED.
His breakthrough screen appearance was in COYOTE UGLY in 2000. Adam once again teamed up with Sir Kenneth, this time in the film remake of Agatha Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS which opened last week. I caught up with him at the Phoenix stage door as he was returning from a break between Saturday’s performances. After signing my drawing and a brief chat about our Antipodean connections he said, “Better get back, got more demons to exorcise.”
The UK and Ireland touring production of DIRTY DANCING had a December stopover at the Phoenix Theatre in the West End with Lewis Griffiths as Johnny Castle and Katie Hartland playing the role of Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman. When it premiered in London at the Aldwych Theatre in 2006 the stage adaption of the hit 1987 film was the highest pre-sell in London’s history before a two year tour then returning to the Piccadilly Theatre in 2013 for another twelve months.
Lewis is no stranger to major musical productions with roles in PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, LEGALLY BLONDE, GHOST and JERSEY BOYS, but this is Katie’s professional musical theatre debut after recently graduating from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.
I left this drawing at the theatre just before Christmas and it arrived back signed and dedicated last week.
‘There’s a new Doll in town’ proclaims all the billboards around London, announcing Australian Hollywood star Rebel Wilson’s West End debut in the 1950’S Broadway musical GUYS AND DOLLS at the Phoenix Theatre. The 36 year old bubbly blonde, ‘Sydney-born sensation’ (as the Telegraph’s critic Dominic Cavendish called her) plays the show’s interminably engaged New York night-club singer Miss Adelaide for an eight-week engagement.
She received a standing ovation on her opening night, tweeting to her 3.3 million followers afterwards, thanking the audience and saying how honoured she was and saying “sooo… one down, 63 performances to go.”
On Saturday night I positioned myself at the stage door barriers among the hoards where she signed my sketch.
Sporty Spice, Mel C, Melanie C or Melanie Jayne Chisholm as her parents called her, has sold more than 12 million records as a solo artist and over 100 million with the Spice Girls. She is second on the list of No.1 singles for a female artist in the UK. She is also the only female to reach No.1 as part of a quartet, a quintet, a duo and a solo.
In 2009 Melanie performed the role of Mrs Johnstone for six months in the musical Blood Brothers by Willy Russell in London’s Phoenix Theatre and was nominated for Best Actress in a musical at the 2010 Olivier Awards. She won a WhatsOnStage Award in 2013 for her portrayal of Mary Magdalen in the UK arena tour of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar.
I met Mel at the Phoenix Theatre stage door in December 2009. She was brilliant – bright and bubbly – with everyone and took the time to chat to the gathered admirers.
British musician and actor Arthur Darvill’s small screen notoriety includes the concerned vicar of Broadchurch, and Rory Williams, the eleventh Doctor’s companion in Dr Who for three seasons, until he disembarked from the Tardis, killed off by the Weeping Angels.
Arthur has composed music for three London productions, The Frontline (Globe), Been So Long (Young Vic) and The Lightning Child (Globe) and has trod on the city’s boards in Our Boys (Duchess), Doctor Faustus (Globe) and Been So Long (Young Vic) and Swimming With Sharks (Vaudeville) with Doctor Who co-star Matt Smith.
And he also collects taxidermy, which seems to be a common hobby for a few people I’ve sketched. After an eight month run as Guy, the Irish busking vacuum cleaner repairman, in the musical Once at the Bernard B Jacobs Theater on Broadway, Arthur continued the role in the London production in march this year for a limited engagement.
I caught up with him at the Phoenix Theatre stage door midweek with my drawing. He said “It looks better than me,” but signed it anyway with a ‘nice’ comment.