Woman of Many Hats: interview with actress and musical favourite Lucy Williamson
Lucy Williamson is no stranger to the musical stage. She has starred and featured in everything from Sweeney Todd to We Will Rock You on London’s West End, to The Wizard Of Oz and The Boy From Oz in, you guessed it, Oz.
A triple threat and then some, Williamson can sing, dance, act, and spends whatever spare time she can find cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Seriously, this gal should have her own cooking show, too.
Consistently delivering brilliant theatre and fun musical performances, it’s no surprise to hear audience members gush ‘I love Lucy’ in vox pops after any given show.
On the eve of her performance in Fame: The Musical in Perth, in which she plays English teacher Miss Sherman, Lucy chats about the depth of musicals and the inspirations behind her craft.
Interview by Antonino Tati
Hi Lucy. Musicals are as popular today as they were in the early 20th century. Why do you think contemporary audiences love a good musical?
People want to be entertained, and musicals do just that. This quote from Bertolt Brecht says it all, really: “From the start it has been the theatre’s business to entertain people; it needs no other passport than fun.” Musicals can be viewed as more light-hearted than other theatre genres, and while some are, musicals at their core are deep; very layered and very emotive. Audiences are often surprised by the depth of emotion they’ve felt after watching a musical!
Tell us about that depth.
For some people it’s the thrill of watching live performances, or hearing incredible live musicians. It could be a child watching theatre for the very first time, completely subsumed in what they are seeing. For some, it’s an escape from daily life. Some have hated the thought of ever watching a musical, but after seeing one they’ve completely changed their minds. There’s a musical out there for everyone, and that’s the endurance of them.
What continually draws you to the musical stage?
I’m extremely grateful for the wonderful opportunities I’ve had during my career, and consider myself incredibly lucky to work in the profession I have so much love and passion for. I’m drawn to every genre of theatre; indeed, every genre of the arts. There are countless roles I would absolutely love to play, whether in musicals, straight plays, Shakespearean, period pieces, etcetera. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and without doubt, I’m my own worst critic. I strive to make every performance better than the night before.
Your next musical is ‘Fame’ in which you portray English teacher, Miss Sherman. For those who haven’t witnessed earlier versions, or indeed previous formats of ‘Fame’, tell us a little about the role.
Miss Sherman is the English teacher at PA – the high school of Performing Arts, aka the ‘Fame’ school. She expects her students to work hard, both in academics and the arts, and wants the best for them. She has a tough relationship with [one student in particular], Tyrone. She desperately wants him to better himself and succeed, but her tough-love approach sees them crossing communicative wires throughout the show.
In the original ‘Fame’, Sherman is a strict, old-fashioned academic. How does your version of Sherman look and behave?
My costumes for the show are all authentic 1980s outfits. I purposely haven’t watched any other actresses’ interpretations of Miss Sherman. My understanding of her is that she’s very matter-of-fact and wants the best for her students. While she is strict, everything she does and says is her way of helping and it comes from a good place.
When playing Sherman, do you draw on experience, like, think back to how your English teacher used to treat you as a student?
Well, English was one of my favourite subjects! I did draw from memories of my teachers at school a little, however, I never really had a ‘Miss Sherman’ to draw from. I’ve absolutely loved finding her character, her fragility underneath her hard shell, and I especially love acting the Sherman/Tyrone scenes.
“It’s being able to step into your character’s very essence and soul. Being able to really ‘be’ who the author or playwright envisioned in their minds.”
In other musicals and plays that you have performed in, could you tell us which person or people you drew inspiration or nuances from? These are the roles:
Judy Garland in The Boy From Oz:
I loved, loved, loved every minute of The Boy From Oz. Directed by the absolutely brilliant talent that is Mr Drew Anthony. Miss Garland was my only inspiration. I adore her. Obviously when playing Judy, I research her movements, accentuated any intonations and ‘Judy-isms’ However I do tend to sound very ‘Judy-esque’ in general. Ironically, I’ve been known as, or called ‘Judy’ for as long as I can remember. It’s been a continuation wherever I go: school, college, my career. People have always thought I look and sound like Judy, and I consider it a huge honour.
Tanya in Mamma Mia:
I got the measure of Tanya fairly quickly; such a great role. I guess I took some inspiration from Joanna Lumley’s character ‘Patsy’ from Absolutely Fabulous.
Mrs Mi Tzu in The Good Person Of Sichuan:
If I’m honest, my inspiration for the direction of my role was being able to watch and learn from [lead role], Tanya Franks, who was brilliant. This was one of the first shows I did, directed by the very talented Nikolai Foster.
The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard Of Oz:
Margaret Hamilton was, of course, my inspiration. She is the original and the best. I think with a such an iconic role, people want to see what they ‘know’ on the stage. I hoped to put my own stamp on her whilst also giving a little nod to Miss Hamilton.
Sally Adams in Call Me Madam:
The fabulous Ethel Merman and Dinah Shore! These wonderful ladies’ versions were all the inspiration I needed. This show was directed by a very close friend of mine, Michael Strassen, whose talent as a director is, quite simply, genius.
Lady Macbeth in Macbeth:
Shakespeare’s brilliant skill makes our jobs as artists so much easier. You can see by the text itself exactly who the role is. I’m a history geek… I can remember researching ‘Gruoch’, who ‘Lady MacBeth’ is based on. Fascinating.
That last one makes me think of Shakespeare in general. Do you feel most Shakespearean plays feature characters we each can relate to in our own lives? Even characters that are almost fully our very own selves?
Shakespeare wrote about the human condition; about being human. So, we all connect with the love, anger, hate, grief and joy that Shakespeare’s characters live through, making it a very rich experience.
Being an actor and musical performer, you get to play different characters all the time. What is the best thing about being able to change who you are, and to be able to relay a different personality?
It’s being able to step into your character’s very essence and soul. Being able to really ‘be’ who the author or playwright envisioned in their minds. Although I don’t generally draw on people for inspiration, I do draw on my memories and life experiences. It might just be for only one scene, but to get there, I’ll have to summon up some very dark points in my life. It’s called muscle memory. An unavoidable necessity for artists.
Final question. Who are your three all-time favourite actors, dead or alive?
This is hard! There are so many that I respect and admire. I can’t possibly stick to three. The recently passed Helen McCrory was an unbelievably astounding actress. Her portrayal of ‘Medea’ was astonishing. I’m a big Meryl Streep fan. Jodie Foster, Dame Judi Dench, Daniel Day Lewis, Tom Hanks, Judy Garland, Laurence Olivier, Morgan Freeman, Sydney Poitier, Pete Postlethwaite, Ralph Fiennes, Kathy Bates, Helena Bonham-Carter, Audrey Hepburn… it is an endless list.
‘Fame’ is on at Crown Theatre, Perth, from April 16-24, 2022. For tickets, visit ticketmaster.com.au and for more information about the show, go to crownperth.com.au.
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