Q&A with City of Angels cast and director Josie Rourke
Posted on 19 February 2020
The Olivier Award-winning revival of City of Angels was a complete sell-out at the Donmar Warehouse and a West End transfer has been eagerly awaited by all those who missed out the first time around. Well, at long last our prayers have been answered and the production will be opening at London’s Garrick Theatre for a 6-month run! The musical will see some of its original Donmar cast return, including West End favourites Hadley Fraser and Rosalie Craig, along with some incredible news faces, including huge stars such as Vanessa Williams and Theo James.
Following a sneak peek in the rehearsal room, we had the chance to have a chat with some of the cast and the brilliant director, Josie Rourke. Read below to see what they had to say…
Interview with Hadley Fraser
I think its fair to say that doing this show, and the Donmar Warehouse production, is one of my favourite experiences of my career. It’s one of my favourite musicals. I don’t go away and listen to many musicals at home, but City of Angels would be one that, from time to time, finds its way into my ears. It’s a show that’s very close to my heart really. It always felt like at the Donmar, we had unfinished business because we only did a 6-week run to 250 people a night and because it was brilliantly received, won an Olivier Award, it felt we had some business we needed to finish with it. So, four-five years later, the fates all collided, and we were able to do it! And I was probably the keenest of the lot.
I love all that! When the guys wear high waisted trousers and fedora hats and go around smoking and drinking whiskey like it's going out of fashion. I mean no one has any sort of clue about looking after themselves and their health but that’s at the expense of being really stylish. I think if we all dressed like that, we’d be cooler innately. I’m not sure if it’d be as easy for the girls to wear the stuff the ladies wore back then but it was an infinitely more stylish time.
Well, I suppose I’m lucky because it's only myself and Theo [James] that don’t double, in effect we’re two sides of the same coin. So, we get away with not playing two characters. I suppose we drive those particular storylines through. However, there are moments in the show, at the end of act one and towards the end of act two, where we confront one another and so fact sort of becomes really blurred with fiction. For me, that’s when the show is at its most exciting and probably the most compelling, to think the audience can make up its own mind as to what’s happening. Whether it’s just a little bit of a Who Framed Roger Rabbit situation or whether it's more of a writer struggling with his own psychosis and the character he’s writing and suddenly hearing him talk and fighting him. So, there’s a great deal of scope with that which we enjoy as performers and which audiences can get a real kick out off.
Probably my wife Rosie [Rosalie Craig], who is my wife in real life and my wife on stage, because she gets my favourite song in the whole show which is towards the end of act two; a song called ‘It Needs Work’ and in that song I’ve basically been sleeping with other women, on stage I have to add, and she tears me a new one in this song and I just have to sit there and take it. So, I suppose I’d like to maybe put the shoe on the other foot.
It’s very glamorous!
Interview with Josie Rourke
Yeah! It was the first musical I ever directed, and it was quite a big deal because the Donmar’s got a famous history of musicals and, particularly, artistic directors like Sam Mendes and Michael Grandage. So, it was a big one to tackle for my first go.
We’re so keen to do it. I’m really grateful to Nikki Burns and Nimax for pursuing it and making it happen. And the Garrick’s a beautiful theatre. It’s a really perfect house for it, I think. We’re very excited to be in there.
Yeah! It sold out faster than any show in my time at the Donmar. I think it sold out in about 47 minutes! So, hopefully, people will get their tickets this time!
It’s glamorous and thoughtful. It’s got something to say and it’s got all the alure of Hollywood and particularly in the modern age, it’s got some fascinating, difficult things to say as well as this shiny, glamourous and alluring side. I love those old movies. It celebrates both those old movies in technicolour and in black and white. So, it's very visual. It’s exciting and magical, and there are amazing actors in it!
It's split in different ways. There’s a number split down the middle, but we keep moving that around!
I think we’re all addicted to red carpets. In the age of the smartphone, we love to scroll through and see what people wore. A lot of the idea of that glamour was constructed when this show was set, in the 1940s. It’s very much a product of the Hollywood studios. It was about finding these incredible images that will go out around the world and resonate with people and that’s very much part of the show.
Before its gone!
Interview with Rosalie Craig
I think it’s because it's so much fun as a piece and I sort of don’t feel like there’s anything else around like it. The jazz score, the amazing book, the opportunity of it! Also, it’s really interesting to do a story about the old Hollywood because we live in quite different times and if you look at the Harvey Weinstein scandal at the moment – well we’ve got a character who’s sort of based on him. I just think it’s a really good interrogation of the film industry as well as women’s sexuality and how we work our sexuality around men. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to be sexy, but we can use it as a weapon as well.
Also, it’s not often you get to tell a story from the writer’s point of view and how your property’s never really your own if you sell yourself over to Hollywood.
I love that era! I love the films from that period also. What’s not to love about playing characters from that time? It literally is like getting dressed up but its also the difference of the women then. We’re very different now. They were very strong and outspoken and like I said before they use their brain and wit as well as their sexuality to get what they wanted.
It's already there in the script and the music, but I think its because of Rob Jones, the designer, and the choreography, as well as Josie [director] of course; they’ve just married those words so simply together because on paper it looks like it's going to be impossible to do a black and white show and a colour show!
I didn’t realise how that could be realised but they’ve done that effortlessly and its actually a real thrill that they’re playing with the black and white vs colour. Sometimes they’re fighting each other or playing alongside each other. I think it’s a celebration of the film industry in that respect.
Because it’s great!
Interview with Vanessa Williams
I’ve actually never seen the show. When it was on Broadway, I was living in LA at the time, so I missed it and I never got to see a production here. But I love the music and I love the character and I got a lovely letter from Josie [Rourke] saying, “I’m a big fan and doing this show that did really well but we’re making it bigger. You are the one.” Then we Facetimed each other and she told me all about it. I asked her, “how do you make a black and white world on stage”, and she told me how she did it. She told me what she planned to do for this particular production and that was six years ago, so technology is even better now. So, I was sold and I’m happy for the chance to be able to show my range of skills for a whole range of audiences.
Yeah! I had been in two shows that were supposed to transfer to the West End but did not. I was devastated that they didn’t make it over here because I’ve wanted to perform in London for years. I’ve done Top of the Pops over here and stuff with my music, but to do theatre here is a delight. I’ve done Broadway for years, so it's nice to have another group of people to get a chance to appreciate what I’ve done for years.
It’s going to be very glamourous! So, for people who love beautiful costumes; lots of silks, lots of chiffon, lots of trains and lots of capes and furs, with the gloves and the cigarettes, you’ll see it all! You’ll see it in full colour and black and white. When we do the black and white its all tones of whites, silvers and blacks.
I guess Rosalie’s character because she’s got a beautiful song, so I’d wanna swap with her. And I guess she could do Clara and Alaura – she’s a talented actress!
Hot! Hot! Hot!
City of Angels opens on 5 March 2020 at the West End’s Garrick Theatre. This hugely acclaimed production showcases an incredible cast and creative team under the umbrella of a beloved musical. Don’t miss out and book your tickets for City of Angels whilst availability lasts!