Actress Julie Atherton has regularly performed in the West End, making her debut in the lead role of Sophie in Mamma Mia! She also originated the role of Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut in the original London production of Avenue Q at the Noel Coward and Gielgud Theatres. Among her extensive other credits are tours of Fame and Sister Act, as well as regional stagings of Just So (Chichester) and The Hired Man (Leicester Curve). In 2003 she also headlined and co-created the Notes From New York series which originally focused on presenting the work of contemporary American musical theatre composers in the West End, but the season also went on to incorporate the work of British composers. Indeed, Atherton has a reputation for helping to nurture and develop new musical theatre writing.
She is currently appearing in the new musical Another Way at The Cockpit Theatre, London. Rebecca Gordon met up with her.
What can we expect from Another Way?
It’s a very heart-warming, gut-busting show about real people and it follows three different stories which kind of intertwine at the end. It’s quite difficult to explain what it’s about without giving everything away!
What first attracted you to the role of Carrie?
I heard the music first of all, and writer Tori Allen-Martin basically came around one night and she explained the story to me. It sounded great. It was just the sort of role that I wanted to play at the time. Benedict’s music really touched me. It’s beautiful, he’s going to be a big star.
What do you love about Benedict’s music specifically?
I think it’s honest and it’s ‘different sounding’. It’s a difficult question! [Laughs] It’s to my taste.
You mentioned earlier that the musical is about real people, do you identify with Carrie yourself?
Definitely. I’ve just been through what she goes through at the beginning of the piece, which is what attracted me to it. The show is a little bit like therapy for me.
What is unique about this new musical if you could sum it up in a few words?
It’s very filmic. The music is the unique point about it and the fact that there’s no big dramas. It’s like a little look into people’s lives and I think that everyone can relate to the characters.
The show has recently opened, how has it been received by the audience?
Everyone seems to have loved it so far. Everyone has kind of left on a warm, happy note and said that it really touched them. I haven’t really heard anything negative about it which is lovely.
What challenges have you faced in preparation for the role, or in the developmental stages?
Getting a show on in two weeks is a challenge! It’s been hard work, but to develop a show in two weeks is completely new and nobody’s ever done it before. Even after press night, it’s still changing because that is what this process is about. It’s been a learning curve and very exciting. But very stressful as well.
What are the best things about being a musical theatre performer?
That’s a difficult one; just getting to play a different character all the time is brilliant.
What do you look for when you agree to take on a role?
I’m either looking for something different that I haven’t done before, so that it’s a challenge for me, or just something that I can get my teeth into.
You’re an established musical theatre performer, with a loyal fan base, and have been in a wide range of shows. Have you got any advice for new musical performers who are just breaking into the industry?
Do it for the right reasons, and that’s for the love of the work, and don’t give up if you feel that’s definitely what you want to do.
You’re a massive supporter of new writing and new musical theatre, what excites you about these areas most?
Just the fact that it’s never been done before and that’s exciting for an actor because there’s no preconceptions. I don’t have to be a carbon copy of anyone else, and I just think that we should move forward with musical theatre. I don’t think we do enough. I think there’s a lot of nostalgia in musical theatre, and in art, film, TV and music, and everything else, it seems to move forward, and musical theatre doesn’t seem to. But it’s changing, definitely. I think people are waking up a little bit more to new shows really. There’s not just one style; there’s plenty of different styles.
Do you think they’ll be a situation where new writing dominates and it will be the main thing that performers want to do?
I really hope so! I’m going to be optimistic and say yes.
Is there anyone you’d love to work with on a new project?
I’ve always wanted to work with director Jamie Lloyd. And also Jason Robert Brown. I would like to collaborate with composer Craig Adams again as well.
What musicals are you currently excited about?
I went to see the The Color Purple and that was absolutely incredible. I would definitely like to see The Book of Mormon.
What is next for you?
I’ve got the new musical The Opinion Makers which will be at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester (25 October–9 November) and the Derby Theatre (13–23 November). I’ve got a cabaret coming up at the St James Theatre on the 7 and 8 of December. I don’t think the others have been announced, so I’m not allowed to talk about anything else!
Another Way continues at The Cockpit Theatre until 5 October.