Interview with Amanda Holden star of Stepping Out in London's West End
Actress and TV personality Amanda Holden is no stranger to the West End stage having previously starred in the London premiere of Thoroughly Modern Millie, for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award, and Shrek the Musical at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Known to millions of TV viewers as Simon Cowell's right hand woman on Britain's Got Talent she will make her West End return later this year in Cinderella at the London Palladium, before tapping her way back to the stage in a new production of Richard Harris' much-loved comedy Stepping Out at the Vaudeville Theatre.
Speaking to Amanda directly following the announcement of the West End transfer, she told us how a new production of Stepping Out came from her desire to work alongside many of her good friends, which she rounded up to star alongside her in this welcome revival.
"It was my idea! I watched the movie for the first time with my children last year at Christmas and remembered that it was also a play -- in fact a better play than it was a film. All my good friends are actresses (who have been dying to work together on stage for so long) I thought it would be an amazing project. I bought all the scripts off Amazon and sent them all to my friends and told them to pick a part!"
Stepping Out is set in a North London community centre and follows a group of women, and one man, who tap their troubles away as they learn to dance from scratch and go on to realise that they share many similar problems and desires. Having already played speed-tapper Millie Dillmount in the West End, I wondered if remembering the steps came naturally to Holden.
"I would not say I am an experienced tap dancer" she replies, "I learnt to tap for Thoroughly Modern Millie from scratch, although like any good actress I had it written down under special skills on my CV! Let's just say I roughly know what I'm doing and my creaky old brain is remembering the steps. It’s been an absolute job watching my friend Angela’s [Griffin] face when tap dancing, it makes her so happy. But Nicola is already a natural and accomplished. Tamzin [Outhwaite] is the one to watch for proper dancing in Stepping Out, which is lucky she plays Mavis the dance teacher."
Not only do the cast have to learn to tap for their finale number, but they also have to act as though they have never tapped before in order to make their character's journey believable, which Holden confirms is the biggest challenge of rehearsing the piece. "Definitely the tap dancing, and then unlearning it, and remembering to make lots of mistakes! I hope people realize we have to look as badly good, and goodly bad as we possibly can..."
Whilst the show features characters coming together through their shared love of dancing, one of the most heart-warming aspects of the play is how each of the characters develops and build bonds with each other, despite being extremely different types of people. "My favourite thing is how it starts off, they are all quite isolated people, and through tap dancing they get to know each other, and get a little bit better at tap at the same time", Amanda explains. "They all have a lot more in common than they first realize and as an audience member I hope everyone is rooting for them."
Having spent the past eleven seasons on Britain's Got Talent watching the weird and the wonderful share their skills in front of the British public, Holden is no stranger to the underdog story. "I think the British public love an underdog because they are normally real people with real stories" Amanda explains. "It isn’t a polished performance, but you’re willing them on." At the end of Stepping Out the group perform for a charity performance and it is only when everything comes together do the characters realise how much hard work they have all put in along the way. "I think if we auditioned for BGT we would definitely reach the Semi’s, although I reckon Simon might buzz us". she laughs.
What makes this revival of Stepping Out even more extraordinary, aside from the star-studded cast is the fact that British musical theatre icon Maria Friedman is on board as Director. Having made a name for herself around the world as a performer, her first attempt at directing, Merrily We Roll Along, turned out to be a huge success in the West End. "I’m a massive fan of Maria", said Holden, "I jumped for joy when she agreed to direct this play. She has given us so much support and so much inspiration already. She has a hard job on her hands, working with a load of nutty actresses (and one man of course!)."
Amanda was confident that this new production will speak to audiences once again in 2016 and will resonate particularly with female audiences. "I think audiences will enjoy it as it's about a group of woman who want to escape from their lives for two hours a week, and this is still true today of lots of women", she explains. "Women today are asked to divide themselves into so many pieces, they barely have time left for themselves. This two hours of tap for the characters is their own me-time! And actually although we all miss our children, the rehearsals for us have also fulfilled this need as women."
Stepping Out has enjoyed success all around the UK, as well as a run on Broadway. It has been turned into two different musical versions and even a film that starred Liza Minnelli and Julie Walters. Holden is confident that the themes of the play will continue to resonate and that those familiar with the play and story will enjoy this new production. "Although this play has been done across the country, by various production companies, we are still setting it in the 1980s but we're bringing a fresh approach to the staging and direction" she explains. "Our relationships outside the room are over 25 years old, so hopefully people will enjoy the chemistry and warmth we enjoy in real life as well as on stage."
Amanda Holden stars in Stepping Out at the Vaudeville Theatre from 1 March 2017.