Saturday 30 November 2013

Paul Kerryson razzle dazzles in Leicester

The women of Paul Kerryson's Cook County Jail, Chicago

As the latest prodcution of Kander and Ebb's Chicago previews in Leicester, I caught up with Paul Kerryson, Artistic Director of the city's Curve Theatre to learn more about what he has planned for this festive offering and to talk about some of the theatre's recent successes that he has helmed.

JB: Are you Leicester born and bred and how long has your association been with Curve? 

PK: Originally from Southern Ireland, I’ve lived in Leicester for nigh on 23 years and have been intimately involved with the birth and growth of Curve. For the eight years prior to its opening I worked closely on its development and have been Artistic Director since it's opening five years ago.

JB: Touching on historical productions, tell me about Harvey Weinstein selecting Curve to trial his musical, Finding Neverland.

PK: I was tremendously proud that we were chosen to be the UK testing ground for the show. Not only did it demonstrate that we could host a modern large show that was technically demanding and state of the art, Finding Neverland established Curve even more firmly upon the country's theatrical map. Whilst the show remains very much a work in progress, it gave us a wonderfully high profile, a star studded cast and many of the industry's leading producers and creatives visiting us, many for the first time. And of course it earned us a fabulous amount of much needed revenue too!

JB:  In the recent UK Theatre Awards, of the three nominees from across the regions for “Best Performance In A Musical”,  two were leading ladies from Curve productions that you had directed: Janie Dee for Hello Dolly, who went on to win the award and Frances Ruffelle for Piaf.  Tell me a little about those shows.

PK: I'd worked with Janie before, when she had played the lead in The King And I, so I knew just what I was getting. She was a wonderfully astute Dolly Levi and the part came to her at just the right time too as it had only been in the week before we first discussed it, that her dad had told her how much he'd love to see her play Dolly.

Janie Dee as Dolly Levi

Piaf provided a wonderfully challenging show. I'd worked with the late Pam Gems personally too and not many people know that she had actually written three versions of the play. For my production, I went through all three selecting the texts from each that I thought best to use.

The critical part of presenting Piaf is to select the songs that you think will work with the show and then of course, to get them in the right order that will best fit the production. We ran the show in the Curve's more intimate Studio venue and when that sold out, we hastily arranged a one week reprise in the main house, where we solely used the forestage in a bid to retain the intimacy. Frances Ruffelle emphatically made the role her own and if we can find a backer, the show may yet have a life on tour. Other theatres are interested in it for sure.

Frances Ruffelle's Edith Piaf

JB: And so to Chicago. Why that show and why now?

PK: Sometimes you just have to grab a show when it comes around, it's that simple. For years the rights were not available and the UK tour only finished about a year ago so I guess I called them at the right time. 

It's a glorious piece of writing. Starting off as a Broadway concert piece, for years it was viewed as a poor relation to Cabaret. But the prism through which Kander and Ebb view life deserves a distinctive treatment and I am looking forward to giving my interpretation to the work. I want to avoid the minimalist style  of recent productions, bringing back more scene changes and a larger-scale feel to the show, whilst still keeping it sleek, sexy and funny.

And of course I have Drew McOnie as my choreographer. He is one of the most innovative dance professionals in musical theatre today, a protege of Matthew Bourne, whose work is thrilling to see. Where David Needham brought a beautifully traditional interpretation to Hello Dolly’s dance and movement (JB : Agreed. The Waiter's Gallop was breathtaking) Drew brings an altogether modern vibrancy. I went to see his West Side Story this summer, staged in a Manchester warehouse,and even though he was only working with a youth company, his interpretation was astonishing.

JB: Ben Atkinson will be musically directing for you and he has now become quite a fixture at Curve. Tell me more about him.

PK: Ben is simply a very talented young man. I first really noticed him when as the Assistant MD, he occasionally took the baton during The King And I, faultlessly. He has a confident connection between the stage and the orchestra and really understands a show's arrangements. In their recent London cabaret sets, both Janie and Frances have used him as their MD.

Paul Kerryson during rehearsals

JB: And then to Hairspray followed by the Water Babies premiere. 2014 is full of promise...

PK: Yes, 2014 is looking very exciting indeed with the established fun of Shaiman and Wittman's Hairspray followed by the thrill of unveiling Water Babies. I am very proud of the excellence, especially in musical theatre, that Curve is becoming famous for.

Chicago plays at Curve Theatre, Leicester until 18th January 2014
To book tickets, click here

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