Actress and musician SARAH VEZMAR is appearing as Lina Lamont in a brand new stage production of Singin’ in the Rain at the Salisbury Playhouse (before moving on to the Octagon Theatre, Bolton and the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme). As part of a company of talented actor-musicians, Sarah plays the drums, flute and percussion.
Sarah’s recent theatre credits include Tipping the Velvet (Lyric, Hammersmith), Hindle Wakes, Sweeney Todd (Octagon Theatre, Bolton), Refugee Boy (West Yorkshire Playhouse and tour) and Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down, The Legend of King Arthur (York Theatre Royal). Alongside her acting work she also plays the drums in the all-female 1950s rock‘n’roll band The Daisy Chains.
Musical Theatre Review’s contributor Aliya Al-Hassan caught up with Sarah during opening week.
Were you always performing when you were younger?
I loved music and dancing when I was very little, and I used to take part in all the school shows, but I was quite shy and I didn’t really start seriously thinking about pursuing acting until I was introduced to drama at GCSE level. I remember seeing Blood Brothers in the West End as a teenager with my GCSE drama group and thinking how fantastic it was to move people to tears. I had some fantastic teachers at school who really believed in me and pushed me to pursue both acting and music.
You trained at Rose Bruford College. Was musical theatre what you wanted to focus on at first, or was it something else?
I loved performing in dramas and playing my drums and flute and wanted find a way to continue both disciplines. I had no idea actor-musicianship existed, and it was only when we had a talk from a former student from Rose Bruford in sixth form, that I found out about the specialist course there. I remember on the first day arriving at Rose Bruford and Jeremy Harrison, our course leader, explaining actor-musician training as having a specialist tool bag. We all arrive with a certain amount of tools and throughout your training you are given new ones and others are sharpened or even upgraded. I found that analogy has stuck with me throughout my career and helped me to grow as an actor.
You play the drums, flute and percussion in Singin’ in the Rain, but also the piano and guitar. Where does your love and talent for music come from?
I have loved music from a very early age and I was encouraged at school to learn to play an instrument. I started on the flute and moved quite quickly onto the drums as a sort of rebellion against the beautifully soft tone of the flute. I play the piano and guitar to accompany myself and have picked up lots of instruments through working with different musical directors who need a specific sound.
You play the drums in 1950s rock‘n’roll band The Daisy Chains. When did you join and do you feel it complements your acting?
Yes, I love gigging with the Daisies! They are an amazing group of multi-talented girls, two of whom are also in Singin’ in the Rain [Wendy Paver and Barbara Hockaday]. I first joined the band nearly three years ago when they were looking for an alternate drummer. My first ever gig was at the Grand National in front of thousands of people, but I loved it and the girls and the music that people of all ages just want to dance to.
Do you like the fact it’s an all-female band?
Yes. I still find it amazing that people who watch us are still surprised by an all-female band who all play their own instruments and sing harmonies together. I feel it shouldn’t be a gimmick but unfortunately it is.
As such an iconic musical, how did you feel when you got the Singin’ in the Rain role as Lina Lamont?
I was shocked! I never thought I would have a chance at playing her. This is the first time I have been in such an iconic show and I am trying not to think of that and approach her and the piece as if it were the first time it has ever been performed. Elizabeth Newman [director of Singin’ in the Rain] is very keen for us to find the truth and drama of each scene and simply have honest conversations with each other. Ultimately, all you have to go on as an actor is the text and what the character says, so I have tried to stay as truthful to the text as I can, while running around and playing the drums in between scenes!
Lina Lamont must be a fantastic character to play. What do you like and dislike most about the part?
She is a gift of a part, both touching, humorous and strong willed. I love her tenacity and sheer determination. She is described as ‘hurricane Lina’ in the script, but I see her less as a hurricane and more of a determined serious businesswoman who is suffering unrequited love. I think it’s very easy to see her just as a dumb blonde, but there is so much more to her that I hope to bring to our version of Singin’ in the Rain.
Playing a singer who famously cannot actually sing must be challenging. How have you adapted yourself and your voice for the role?
Richard Reeday [musical director] and I wanted to find a balance between a piercing out of tune vocal quality described as ‘high-pitched, nasal and anything but attractive’ in the script, while also being careful not to completely alienate the audience. It’s a vocally challenging part, but one that I am relishing – it’s not often you’re allowed to make the ugliest sound you can. My vocal training has really come into play and I have been making sure I do thorough warm-ups, keep hydrated and look after myself and voice throughout the rehearsals.
What is your favourite scene and song?
It may be a cliché, but it’s ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ at the end of Act I. It’s just such a joyful moment in the show where everyone is onstage contributing to the moment and it is of course the most famous song and the one that brings the rain!
What is your favourite musical?
In our final year of college we created an actor-musician production of Into the Woods at Greenwich Theatre. I loved every second of it. The nuances Sondheim writes into the score are a gift for an actor. The piece is full of morals and ideals and is just a brilliant story. For me it was a true ensemble piece in which everyone felt equally important.
After Singin’ in the Rain, what is next on the horizon for you?
I am looking forward to going back to London, where I live with my fiancé. I have some gigs with The Daisy Chains and I also run my own little sewing business, Things I Like To Make (www.thingsiliketomake.co.uk). I’m looking forward to meeting some new casting directors and directors and will be ready for my next adventure, whenever it may come.
* Singin’ in the Rain runs first in Salisbury (5 to 28 May) then the Octagon Theatre Bolton (3 to 25 June) followed by the New Vic Theatre Newcastle-under-Lyme (30 June to 16 July).
* Readers may also be interested in:
Singin’ in the Rain – Salisbury Playhouse and Touring – Review