A night celebrating the West End Women comes to Cadogan Hall, with Lauren Samuels, Celinde Schoenmaker and Rachel John taking the lead. Gillian Fisher catches up with Rachel during rehearsals:

Rachel John is no stranger to show stopping musical numbers.

Throughout her career, the East London artist has starred in acclaimed West End productions including The Lion King and Memphis. Last year this Roehampton graduate was nominated for an Olivier Award for her role as Angelica Schuyler in sell-out show Hamilton.

Now John will be pushing her vocal talents to the limit in Lambert Jackson’s new production, West End Women: A Celebration of Women in Musicals. For one night only, John will join Lauren Samuels and Celinde Schoenmaker in filling Cadogan Hall with the most iconic numbers from Vaudeville. Also performing are the all-female choir from Michael Xavier‘s very own MXMasterclass programme.

Image courtesy of Johan Persson

With so many classic songs to cram into one evening, John is incredibly busy with rehearsals but makes time for a quick Q&A:

West End Women: A Celebration of Women in Musicals is a three-person show performed by yourself, Lauren and Celinde . In terms of production, what makes this piece a show rather than a concert?

“This is a show rather than a concert because of the narrative.”

What time period does the show span?

“We will be moving through the last 100 years of musical theatre.”

How was it decided who would lead in each number?

“The Musical Director and Producers brought us together because our voices are different. They were familiar with our styles and so they crafted the songs around our vocal styles. ”

Is this the first time you’ve performed in an all-female production?

“It is the first time I have performed in an all-female production and I really hope it is not the last! It has been so refreshing to be together. The trios that we perform are so exciting because ordinarily we would not be cast together. It is a real privilege.”

“Do you have a particular number that is special to you in this show?”

“A song that is very special to me in this production is “Look at Me” from Witches of Eastwick. This song highlights sisterhood, strength and solidarity. We will no longer be ignored. I feel so inspired by this song.”

Rachel John West End Women

Image courtesy of Paul Coltas

You’ve starred in several musical productions with strong female leads such as The Bodyguard and The Color Purple. Do you feel that musical theatre has played a part in addressing gender stereotypes?

“Musical theatre has a platform to entertain, comment on and challenge the status quo. Over the last 100 years we can see how musical theatre has addressed gender stereotypes when we see how the songs and roles have evolved. For example, women were always begging men to love them and now we see roles where women’s voices are free and they declare their status and place outside of men.”

Growing up, did you have a favourite musical? If so, who was your favourite character?

“Growing up I loved watching musicals on TV. My favourites were Meet Me in St Louis, The Sound of Music, Singin’ in the Rain, Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks… the list goes on!!! I love Judy Garland and Julie Andrews’ voices and didn’t think about roles at that time because no one looked like me.”

You have starred in so many seminal musical productions, from The Lion King to Rent. Do you think there is anything that musical theatre can achieve or convey that classical theatre can’t?

“I believe that musical theatre and classical theatre play very important roles. You will see as our production walks through songs from contemporary and classical theatre – they both have a lot to say. Rogers and Hammerstein had a lot to say, as does Sara Bareilles. They both convey sentiment very well.”

Rachel John West End Women

Image courtesy of Matthew Murphy

Congratulations on your Olivier nomination for your portrayal of Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton. The show is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s retelling of the life of US founding father Alexander Hamilton. Is there a figure, historical or otherwise that you would like a musical to be written about?

“If there could be a musical about a historical figure, it would be about Harriet Tubman. I am pretty sure this has already been done, but nevertheless I would love to see it. What she was able to achieve as a woman and also a slave is so inspirational. Her life was seeped in music and slaves used songs to send messages, uplift themselves and share their plight and dreams of freedom. This would be incredible.”

Why should people come and see West End Women: A Celebration of Women in Musical Theatre?

“People should come and see this production because we will sing you through a century of songs, with an incredible choir and orchestra that will uplift, entertain and move you. It is a night not to be missed.”

 

West End Women: A Celebration of Women in Musical Theatre plays at Cadogan Hall on 2 February 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the venue website.