It couldn’t be a busier time for actress and singer KERRY ELLIS. This month sees the release of her brand new studio album (14 September – digital/15 September – physical), the beginning of her solo UK tour and she is still managing to fit in a limited run in the West End production of Wicked (until 25 October) where she has returned to the role of Elphaba, a part she played in London and on Broadway, and which changed the course of her career in 2007.
In May 2013 Ellis lived her dream of performing her first solo concert at the London Palladium – Musical Theatre Review critic Scott Matthewman said of the evening: “It takes a big presence to host a concert at the London Palladium, one of the West End’s larger auditoriums, and make it feel like an intimate cabaret gig. Kerry Ellis uses the combination of a phenomenally powerful voice and self-effacing humility to do just that.”
It wasn’t long afterwards that Ellis was asked if there was going to be a recording of the event. Her response has been not only to create one – inspired by the Palladium concert – but to also perform those songs for her fans up and down the country.
The self-titled album celebrates Ellis’ extensive theatre career and includes tracks from several of the roles she has created and played – including Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (her West End debut) and Nancy in Oliver! at the London Palladium – plus there are a few surprises along the way.
In addition to her West End roles (which include the role of Meat in Queen’s We Will Rock You, Ellen in Miss Saigon and Fantine in Les Misérables), Ellis has achieved chart success as a recording artist in collaboration with her long-time friend, Queen guitarist Brian May. Now she wants to make a mark with her latest solo recording.
Your new album has been made in association with Pledge Music. Does that mean your fans have played a part in its creation?
After my show at the London Palladium, a lot of people asked if there would be a recording, so it’s been brilliant to have the fans involved. The support I have been given has been incredible and the feedback invaluable.
I’ve hosted different events like afternoon teas and masterclasses and met such a variety of people. In a way, this is the people’s album, the musical theatre album my fans have wanted from me.
Can you tell us about some of the other songs you have included?
‘Let It Go’ from Frozen was high on the request list, but it’s very much my version. It has a huge choir on it and the arrangement employs a lot of percussion. I’ve rocked it up a bit.
There’s also a great duet with Joe McElderry. We performed in a concert in Scotland and sang ‘The Time of My Life’. The crowd went crazy for it, so before we knew it we were recording it. There’s also my version of ‘Alfie’, which is dedicated to my son who is ten months old now.
Is the album very different to your previous recordings in collaboration with Brian May?
There is a track with Brian (‘The Way We Were’), but this collection is something completely different. My friend and collaborator, composer Craig Adams, who I’ve worked with several times over the years, has provided the very contemporary arrangements.
There are not just some surprises on the album, but on the tour too…
I want to make the shows quite intimate, relaxed and interactive, so I have chosen to play smaller venues, 5-600 seaters. It’s also nice to get people involved, so there are local choirs taking part, and through Pledge people have bid to sing a duet with me on each stop of the tour. Plus there will be other special guests I have worked with joining me on all the dates too.
What was it like returning to Wicked and has your recent experience as a solo artist changed your approach to creating a musical theatre character?
I got the call from the Wicked producers, they told me about Willemijn [Verkaik]’s injury, and then everything seemed to happen within 24 hours. At first I was a little bit tentative, Wicked was wrapped up in a box for me, did I want to go there again? But it also seemed like the right time, and the limited run fitted in with my album and tour. I have had such a warm welcome back into the show, I know I made the right choice. I feel so fortunate.
The solo work influenced the way I engage with and relate to an audience, and I have brought that experience with me to Wicked. Plus I’m a little older and I’ve had a bit more life experience. I suppose I feel more rounded, more at home with being on the stage, it’s hard to explain.
Would you like to return to a musical after your tour is over?
I think I’m quite ready to do a new show, it has felt like a part of my life has been missing for a little while. I just need the right part/show to come along.
* Kerry Ellis was in conversation with Musical Theatre Review editor Lisa Martland
Kerry Ellis’ album will be released on Soundcheck Records – www.pledgemusic.com/projects/kerryellis
Kerry Ellis’ tour runs from 27 September to 26 October (for tickets go to www.ticketmaster.co.uk/Kerry-Ellis-tickets/artist/1618277?tm_link=artist_artistvenue_module)