Interview with Jesus Christ Superstar's Mary Magdalene, Anoushka Lucas
Despite the weather the summer season is now firmly upon us and the wonderful Regent's Park Open Air Theatre is back with another exciting season. This year their musical comes from the canon of British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and sees a new production of his 1970 rock-opera Jesus Christ Superstar take over the immersive outdoor setting. Directed by Tim Sheader with choreography by Drew McOnie, the production features a vibrant cast including Declan Bennett in the leading role alongside Anoushka Lucas in her West End debut as Mary Magdalene.
Anoushka is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and singer who performs regularly at venues such as The Troubadour and Ronnie Scott’s, and won the Jazz FM Love Supreme competition in 2013. He recent theatrical credits include playing in the band of The Lightning Child at Shakespeare’s Globe and collaborating with Ché Walker on The Etienne Sisters at Theatre Royal, Stratford East. Jesus Christ Superstar will mark her first professional role as an actress. We caught up with Anoushka mid-rehearsals for Jesus Christ Superstar to find out more about this new production and what we can expect from her stage debut.
Dom O'Hanlon: Anoushka, you're mid-way through rehearsals for Jesus Christ Superstar – how is it all going?
Anoushka Lucas: It's going really well! It's been so intense in a really enjoyable way and I've just had time to process it all and think that I'm having a great time, it's unlike any other experience I've had in an entirely positive way.
DOH: This is your professional debut as an actor, how does it feel to be making that in such an iconic and well-loved role?
AL: It's not a bad role! I really like Mary. It feels fantastic, it feels in a strange way like a natural progression from what I've been doing in the last 10 years, crossing over this way was always in the back of my mind. You know when things just land in a certain way and slot into place and you just think 'Ahh...'
DOH: How did you get involved with the production, were you part of the open casting call that the show had?
AL: Last year I wrote a show that ran at Stratford East. I was MD'ing that and Will Burton, the casting director, worked on our show and we got on very well. Throughout the rehearsal process I was doing a lot of singing and performing a lot whilst I was teaching and he asked me if I'd ever consider performing, and I said it hadn't come up but it was always something I had thought about doing. The way that I see that music works, it's all about the storytelling and existing within a song, and I'd always been close to musical theatre. We stayed in touch and he gave me a ring and asked if I wanted to come in and sing for Mary – so I did, with very little agenda. He told me where it was on and I was so excited. The first time I ever saw a musical live it was in Regent's Park, and I was 7. It was The Music Man, and basically my mind exploded, I thought “What is this?!” and I just loved it. What a joy it would be to audition for that, I thought, and then I got the part!
DOH: What does Jesus Christ Superstar mean to you as a performer? Were you connected with the show at all before auditioning?
AL: No – I've obviously always been aware of Jesus Christ Superstar. The musicals that I have written and have been part of have always been quite different, but you can't have a foot anywhere near the musical theatre world without being aware of this show or the Lloyd Webber canon. It crosses over, my family are very pop-rock and I'm the strange musical theatre black sheep, so it's a really obvious crossover point and this show is bang in the middle.
DOH: Mary gets the biggest song from the show – is it daunting knowing you're covering such a well known and well loved song?
AL: I feel like I should say yes, but no. I think that what's really exciting about the way that Tim, Tom and Drew [Director, Musical Director and Choreographer] are approaching this – it's fresh and original, and anything that's previously been done is sort of left at the door. Other than the original movie, which is brilliant, I've tried to steer away from watching many other people do it. Coming from my background, I'm trying to approach 'the song' ["I Don't Know How to Love Him"] as the song, and why it's there, and it's a beautiful song to sing and such an enjoyable one to sing on a melodic level and a lyrical level. As a singer, that song is a gift, I sing it around my house all the time because it's just so beautiful to sing. Obviously I want to do it justice, and I'm very aware that there are lots of people coming with expectations, and I want to give them a new experience, but if I think about that too much I'll go crazy.
DOH: As an actor, how do you go about approaching a role such as Mary Magdalene, do you stick to just the script or do you widen your research?
AL: I did a bit of research and read up on the different interpretations of Mary – was she real, was she not real? Was she a prostitute, was she not a prostitute? Was she an apostle, was she not an apostle? Were they together, were they not together? I sort of got sucked into a vortex with that and it spirals out of control. It's fascinating – the entire myth and story, but from my point of view there is a universality in the storytelling – it's a very simple story and is one that is very relatable in this current climate. We've been talking about Brexit and modern day issues in the rehearsal room such as beliefs, mass mentality and idolising of people, so I am approaching her as being a person in a certain moment, and that could be anyone in any different moment of time. We feel very well supported by Tim – there's a lot of discovery happening in the room, and the key for me is exploring it through the music. I went in there thinking I maybe knew who I wanted Mary to be and its re-jigging as we continue to explore.
DOH: The show is over 45 years old, how do you think your new production speaks to audiences today in 2016?
AL: Oh it's so modern it's crazy. The whole idea is to make it feel like a festival – there's a lot of crossover between this story and that kind of vibe – the front stage at Glastonbury, it's very similar. Obviously with the setting it would be stupid for it not to be, we're outdoors on a summer's evening with a live rock band, I think that's also why everyone is so awed by the talent in the room. Not just singing and acting, almost everyone plays an instrument, there's a real musicality to it. It's a story that at no point becomes boring to watch or to listen to, it's such an interesting interpretation of this particular piece, but also the story, every time you tell it you can get so much from it.
DOH: The production is led by some incredible talent, namely Olivier Award-winning choreographer Drew McOnie – what's it like to work with one of the most sought after creatives?
AL: He's brilliant – I grew up doing a lot of dance, and then I shied away from it, so I'm glad to be discovering it again. He's a real visionary – I'm fascinated by his brain, he's not someone who is just concentrating on the dance steps, there's such cohesion between all aspects of the production. Tim and Drew are working so closely together. He's very nice, very patient – he brings a wonderful energy into the room, for him to come in and be just lovely – I just love working with him. I feel so lucky to be working with everyone in that room.
DOH: Do you feel in good hands with Declan Bennett in the role of Jesus, given his wealth of experience?
AL: Absolutely – watching him I learn a lot. He's very brave, he tries lots of things out and that gives the whole room confidence. Tim is very accommodating letting us try things in different ways, there's a real openness to the rehearsal process which is really stimulating, and Declan is a strong part of that because he has so much experience and is brilliant at what he does. It's nice to have someone like that leading us.
DOH: Are you scared about the challenges of performing outside in the great British summer?
AL: No – I'm so excited! I think it lends itself to that wonderful experience. How amazing to be linked in to the rest of the world, sometimes you walk into a theatre and feel very detached and locked away, this isn't that, you're outdoors! The rain is there, the sun is there, the wind is there and then there's this story happening and I think it's really important that these things cross over. Every performance is given even more power knowing that it's also influenced by whatever else is going on outside – a performance on a windy day will be different to a performance on a rainy day, or a hot sunny day, and that's really exciting.
DOH: Finally, why should audiences come and see Jesus Christ Superstar this summer?
Firstly – they should just come to Open Air Theatre because it's an incredible setting. Secondly, I think that the cast that has been assembled, the quality of the singing is unparalleled. There is a real joy in the singing that I think will translate to audiences. Thirdly, without giving too much away, I do think it's quite a unique approach to it and the parallels that are being drawn with he modern world, celebrity, festivals, mass mentality is definitely something new. Finally it's a great piece – if you like the show, you're definitely going to like it. It's just brilliant – you get caught up in the songs. The band are insane, they're just crazy good, it's going to be very loud and very live!