Cynthia Erivo graduated from RADA in 2010 and was quickly performing with the English Touring Theatre and at Theatre Royal Stratford East, before coming to the West End in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg in 2011. She recently finished the UK and Ireland tour of Sister Act, where she starred as feisty nun-on-the-run Deloris Van Cartier. Lucy Thackray caught up with her about starting the New Year with a new musical, Lift.
You’re getting ready to do Lift, a new musical by Craig Adams and Ian Watson, in January. What stage is that at?
We haven’t started rehearsing yet – I actually got my script this morning so I’ve been sitting and reading that today. It’s a completely new piece which has been in development for a while and this is its real debut. The premise is that there’s eight people in a lift – it’s technically supposed to be about a minute in time- but it’s about the lives that these eight strangers have and how they intertwine. For my character and another called the ballet dancer, there’s an unrequited love story – it sounds really simple but there are loads of complications within it. I think it’s the juiciest thing to get your teeth into because there’s a real heartbreak story there. It’s a great piece; I’m really looking forward to it.
Your character is just described as Lap Dancer – quite mysterious…
Having gone up for the auditions and sung the songs, I feel that she’s a really fully rounded person – obviously if you read Lap Dancer, you just think she’s really feisty and sexy and that’s all she does, but she’s a Lap Dancer to fund her dance training, to be a classical dancer as well. She’s feisty but she’s got real heart, she tries to fight being too sexy. She’s a gorgeous, heartbroken person and I’m looking forward to playing her. It’s only the second time I’ve been doing an English accent, because I’m always American. It’s really cool to be playing around my age as well because I usually age up or age right down, because I’m a midget!
You also did the Sister Act tour this year, how was that?
That was amazing, absolutely incredible. It was probably the craziest thing I’ve done so far because of how much energy, how much I had to do – it was a really upbeat, busy, fast, bright piece and I really enjoyed doing it.
Talk me through the process of landing a big rôle like that.
At that point I had done another two or three things since coming out of drama school in 2010 and was in the West End with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. While I was doing that I was asked to come in and audition for Sister Act. So I came in and sang two pieces from the show, then they called me back again. I think my audition process was a little strange because up until the very last audition I didn’t see anyone else go up for this rôle, which was strange but I think it was just timing. I was called in again for an all-day session, music, choreography and script work, then again in front of the producers and the director, and then in the last session the director told me in the room that I’d got it. It’s full on! Actually, it sounds like a lot of stages but it didn’t feel that way; it felt like there was a real reason for it – almost like workshopping, growing a bit every time I was in the room and knowing the rôle better. By the end, I really knew what I wanted to do with this character.
It must have been a brilliant experience, all the nuns on tour…
It was crazy, we had all these wonderful girls on tour, and the boys too. It was like a family really, along with the directors, producers, MDs as well. Because none of us were home last Christmas (no one had a chance to fly back as we were in Dublin at this point) we were sharing these special occasions together. We had a couple of Americans in the cast so, 4th July etcetera, we were making an effort to celebrate these things because you don’t have your family with you.
Are there dream rôles or shows you’d love to do?
Oh, yeah. One’s quite new actually, Memphis, which was on Broadway and closed in August. That was amazing, so if it ever came around again I’d love to do that. Then there’s something that I’ve already auditioned for and I’m waiting to see if I’ve got it or not; if I do, that will be amazing. I’m not going to say what it is.
But it might be the next thing we hear about?
What else is coming up for you in the New Year?
Well, Lift is quite a short run, January to February, and in between that I’ll be writing and recording stuff as a singer – that’s coming out of the woodwork now and doing really well.
Lift is at the Soho Theatre from 30 January – 24 February 2013. liftmusical.com
Image: Cynthia Erivo as Lap Dancer in Lift. Photography: Darren Bell.