What made you want to return to Annie, and what is so appealing about the role of Miss Hannigan?
I just love this character so much; I am deeply in love with her. I think she is absolutely fantastic and an extremely misunderstood women. Playing her is like an actor’s playground, she is a tyrant and a villain, and those are always the most fun characters to play. I couldn’t believe that they wanted me to play Miss Hannigan at first, but I thought it would be great, and a real challenge for me. I play her for real- she’s not a pantomime dame, there’s no mucking about or breaking the fourth wall, she’s a very real character in a beautifully written show.
Are there any particular challenges to playing Miss Hannigan?
Well the challenges are that you need to be honest and real with it. Obviously, body languages has a lot to do with that, how she speaks, and the accent of course- which I spent months perfecting. As Annie is set in 1930s New York, it’s really nice to play a part who speaks differently than almost anyone does these days.
Audiences probably know you best as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing, do you enjoy performing and dancing on the stage as opposed to judging others?
Well, I grew up on musicals. I did West Side Story in Australia and then went into Me and My Girl and La Cage Aux Folles. I joined the famous Lido de Paris and the Moulin Rouge and then that led into being part of West End shows. The last musical I appeared in the West End was Crazy For You which opened in 1993. I had a really fun year that year. I then left to become a director and choreographer, and subsequently a judge on Strictly. My first hoorah back onto the boards was when I was asked to do panto over ten years ago, and that reignited my passion for performing again really. When I was then asked to do Annie a few years ago I couldn’t believe it, and I’ve not looked back since!
It’s long been said never work with children or animals, but in Annie you do both! Are there any challenges that come with this or do they bring something extra to the show?
We have several sets of children on Annie, so they bring something really organic to the show. You’ll never get the same show twice. You have to play it differently with each set of children and they are so talented and doing incredible work on the stage and are all fantastic young actors. They will come up with stuff and you’ve got to react to it live on stage which is a bit of a challenge!
What was your first experience of musical theatre?
The first show I ever went to see was Jesus Christ Superstar in Sydney back in the 1970s. I just fell in love with theatre right there and then. I started training when I was 14, and when I saw Cats in London around the same time, I knew that was absolutely what I wanted to do, to train for and study for.
You’ve toured before with various shows, is it something you enjoy, or do you find it a bit of a challenge?
I enjoy the difference in the theatres, the public and their relationships with the stage which always change. You can find audiences differ around the country and that’s what is so great about live theatre.
Do you have any ‘must-have’ items you take with you?
Eyelashes and eyelash glue.
You’re busy all year with Strictly, performing and often choreographing and directing shows as well. What do you like to do during any down time you get?
I like to cook, in my own home. I like sleeping in my own bed and cooking in my own home. There’s nothing better to pass the time- whether to test and make up some new recipes or really get stuck into cooking something. I love it, I could cook for days on end.
Have you ever been given a piece of advice, or some words of wisdom that have stuck with you?
My teacher used to say, “you need to be a like a tiger and fearless”, which is of course very apt for this industry. You must be prepared to fail, and as soon as you get used to that you start learning. Personally. I feel that listening to your inner voice is the most important thing, especially when making decisions in this industry. I don’t often rule with my head; I rule with my heart.
Finally, what can audience expect when they come to see you as Miss Hannigan in Annie?
Number one- entertainment, number two- a shock! Number three, some great singing, dancing and acting because we’ve got such a brilliantly talented cast, and of course all of the incredible songs that they know and love.