"It'll blow my mind I think"When you were asked to star in The War of the Worlds (WOTW), what were your first reactions?
Well, I got a call from Jeff Wayne basically asking me to be in the show and I had heard about the show before but I'd never obviously been asked to be in it. I was just overwhelmed and excited to be in it because I've not done an arena tour before so it's just really exciting.
You've done quite a lot of Broadway, I understand you've got the title "First Lady of West End Musicals", could you tell us how you got that?
Apparently so, yeah. I think it's because Wicked was a huge show for me and I was kind of known as "the Green Witch" and then from doing that show, I went on to release my own album and I was just very much, I don't know, maybe a bit of an ambassador for young talent and young people in the West End. It sounds a bit, for me like an ambassador; I think that's where the title comes from.
It does sound more politics-related than musical theatre.
It is a bit, it is a bit but I think because there are so many shows out there and there are so many performers, I was just a bit of a familiar face and I think that's where it's come from. They're just looking at me as a reality of where they could get to.
So it sounds like you're quite an inspiration for younger generations then.
That's kind of what I get from the letters and Twitter and people kind of say "I'd love to do what you're doing," so I think that's where it all comes from. I think I'm doing some of the jobs that some youngsters want to do.
I've heard that you listened to the original WOTW.
I did, I had it on cassette tape; I remember listening to it as a child and your imagination is such a powerful thing. When you've got a story on a cassette, when you're younger, your mind just goes crazy and I had that; I remember that quite vividly so when I got the call, I was like "Oh my god so I'm actually going to have a vision of what I visualised all those years ago" so I'm sure it would live up to it and more. I've heard it's quite an amazing spectacle.
What does it feel like to be working alongside Jeff Wayne?
Amazing, I mean he's a legend. The fact that he's created the whole piece, I mean he's a bit of an icon really so I just hope I can do his work justice and make him proud and glad that he cast me in the role.
I'm sure you will, what are your thoughts on being opposite Ricky Wilson (Kaiser Chiefs)? It seems like a large transition for him.
Absolutely, I've only met Ricky once at a press launch for this show and he seems great. He's a phenomenal frontman, I know that in the Kaiser Chiefs, he's great at interacting with the audience and he's great at leading a show so I think that he'll bring something really different and really exciting and energising to WOTW. I think it'll be quite different so I think we'll just be a good, diverse relationship for everyone on the stage.
Do you think many people would appraise his theatre jump?
I think the difference with this show is that it's not as drastic a jump; he's not going straight into a serious play in the West End. The difference with this is that it does combine the 2 aspects, it is in a big arena and it is quite a rock-y show so I think it'd be interesting to put him in this environment; it would be something different to watch.
Do you think you'd find a similarity to rock concerts?
Yeah, I think so, I mean I've had a bit of experience working with rock bands; I recently released my own album with Brian May from Queen as a producer so I've been in that world a little bit so hopefully the 2 of us will bring something exciting as we'll be so different.
Would you take any inspiration from previous roles?
It's quite a different character to ones that I'm used to playing; I'm used to playing quite feisty, powerful women. Although Beth's quite headstrong and powerful, she's Nathaniel's wife, she's kind of the aura of calm in this. Whilst everyone's going crazy and the martians are going crazy, she's kind of that solace of calm and I think that this will be a new challenge for me: a, because it's in an arena and my performance has got to reach the back of the arena and b, I've got to find that inner calm so I don't know where that's going to come from but I'm sure it'll be fine.
So a lot of preparation and yoga then?
I do yoga so maybe I should channel Beth into it.
Would you hail Jeff Wayne as a childhood icon?
Definitely, now I've started to talk about his show, it's amazing how many people of all different generations know about WOTW and know about Jeff. It's great to just be working with him and he is a bit of a legend.
WOTW has a sort of aura attached to it, are you at all nervous about performing?
Absolutely, yeah because I think a lot of pressure comes with it as people, like I said, have their own visions of the show so you've got to live up to their vision. Hopefully I can put my own stamp on it and bring something new and exciting. I'm not going to watch too much of the previous DVDs, I've seen a bit on YouTube but I don't want to watch too much as I want to bring my own thing to it. I'll watch them afterwards; see if I've done alright.
The holography for Liam Neeson, how do you think that's going to work out?
Oh my god, there's actually a snippet on YouTube about him filming it and about his role in the show, and I watched that and it was quite incredible. I know that they filmed his whole section but what's going to be really interesting it to have a live hologram of Liam Neeson opposite you on the stage and I think it's something that not many people have done before. It will be quite cool to see how it works.
Have you have any difficulties interacting with it?
I don't know yet, it's still stuff to be discovered. There's a load of things in it; there's the hologram, there's a lot of illusions, I think, at one point I levitate; there's a huge 30-foot martian killing machine thing that breathes fire, there's a 100-foot screen that plays animation for 2 hours so there's a lot going on; there's an orchestra and a band and the actors on stage so there's a lot to consider when I will be performing but it's like a childhood dream, we just get to run around with massive toys.
So it's definitely something different for anyone to come and watch it.
Absolutely, I think that it would appeal to all ages; it's a real family show and there's something for everybody. It's a real spectacular, extravaganza show. The younger generation as well, in previous years, they've had youngsters of 5 or 6 wanting to come along and see the martians and the special effects.
You seem to have worked quite closely with Brian May in previous years, has he taught you anything in particular that you could use for this role?
Brian's been massively influential for me over the years, he produced my album and I met him 10 years ago in We Will Rock You when he cast me as the role of Maet Loaf. It's coming up to their 10 year anniversary next Monday which I'm going along to their show which will be amazing. I toured with Brian last year; we toured Anthems (my album) and he's just amazing to work with, I've learned so much from him about being on stage as yourself, you know, I'm used to being a character and that. So hopefully I can take a bit of that and a bit of musical theatre history and be on the right tracks for WOTW.
What sort of prep work are you planning on doing for this role?
Well I'll make sure that I know the story and the character and the lyrics to the songs and stuff before I even go into rehearsals so that it's not something I have to worry about and I can just concentrate on working with the others characters and working with the big set because I think it'll be a lot to cope with. It's daunting for me as I've never played the O2 or, well Wembley I've done for the football so I've stood on the green and sang but I've never done it as a concert so I's just going to be mad. It'll blow my mind I think.
I read that you'll be doing leafdrops and throwing flame into the audience, what others effects are you using?
Yeah, the flames from the martian do go into the audience and I think that there is a leaf drop over the crowd; I levitate at one point, there's a lot of explosions, there's a lot of pyrotechnics. There's a lot of illusions and there's a lot to see, there's a lot going on.
Are you at all concerned with the pyrotechnics side of things?
I know that working in shows and stuff like that, it's so safe; everything's rehearsed beyond belief so that it is safe but I'm sure there'll be some amusing moments. Rehearsals are the time to get it wrong so I'm sure there'll be lots.
When do you start rehearsals?
November, we start. We go on tour the last date of November and then we tour through December and into January. We do a bit of Europe.
Have you performed outside of the UK before?
I've done a bit. I did Broadway for 6 months so I've done America; I've done a bit of Europe but not a great deal. I was with Brian in San Remo in Italy in February as part of the San Remo festival and we performed a song called "I, You and Nothing" which we're hoping to do some kind of remix of for the summer so yeah, I've done a bit so hopefully a few people will know my face.
So are you planning on going with a translator?
Well I'm not brilliant with languages but I can speak a little bit of Italian so I can get by but I'm sure their English will be a lot better than our European languages. It's amazing what you get when you're out there, the interaction and the show is in English; it will be in English in the other countries so hopefully people should be alright with communicating. I think it's visually impressive anyway so even if your English isn't so good, you could perhaps get involved and enjoy the show still.
Are there any plans to involve the audience more?
It's quite an interactive show and, before the show, they have some characters walking around the audience getting people involved and, like you said, with the leafdrops and the martian. There is a lot of interaction so they do feel heavily involved which I think is really great and it's something that's quite new to me.
With West End musicals, you don't really interact with the audience much.
No and that's what was nice about going on tour last year with my own album, the interaction, which is something I hadn't done before so that was a massive learning curve to be able to talk to the audience and now I feel I've got a bit of both so it's all good.
Would you take inspiration from your last tour?
Definitely and I've started to do more concerts where I do talk to people. I did a Friday Night show last week and I had to talk to the audience and on the radio and I'm just getting more confident with it. It's really enjoyable to have that response and be able to feed off that, so hopefully this show will have a bit of that same.
Have you ever had any bad criticisms since you've been caste for WOTW?
No, not at all. Everybody's been really positive.
I'm sorry to bring this up but I know you've recently failed for The Voice UK, could tell us a bit more about that?
I think the voice was something completely different but it was an experience and, as a performer, it's good to put yourself in unfamiliar environments; and what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. Those experiences, you always learn something. I had a good time on the show, I got to perform in front of the nation, I enjoyed my performance and the response that I had from the show has been amazing so hopefully some of those people who didn't really know me before will come and see WOTW.
I thought it was really good, thank you for doing this interview.
Thank you, I'm actually performing in Night of 1000 Voices at the Albert Hall on 6th May.
You can find out more about Kerry Ellis on her Official website at www.kerryellis.com, find her Facebook at www.facebook.com/officialkerryellis/ or Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kerryjaneellis1/.
Tickets for War Of The Worlds can be purchased from the Official website at www.thewaroftheworlds.com/news/tourdates.aspx.
Interview by Robyn Lees