The Last Five Years tours to Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury next week after a successful run in Chester in July (read our 4* review here). With diverse roles such as Nancy in Oliver! and Lady of the Lake in Spamalot, Laura Coard chats toThe Reviews Hub about playing Cathy and her varied musical career.
Where did your love of Musical Theatre come from?
Like most kids, I grew up watching Annie, Grease, Mary Poppins – all the musical films. while I went to local dance schools as a child, it wasn’t until I saw Les Miserables in the West-End at age nine that I really fell in love with Musical Theatre. I knew then that it was what I wanted to do.
Describe your first ever audition.
The first audition I remember was at the age of six. I was auditioning for a local amateur production of Annie. I was adamant that I wanted to be Annie and refused to be considered for anything else. I remember having to sing Tomorrow but I doubt that a six year old’s voice was up to such a big sing. Suffice to say, I didn’t get the part. My audition technique has fortunately changed since then!
Who inspires you?
I’ve always been mesmerised by both Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. My parents brought me up on both and they’ve been my idols for as long as I can remember. Aside from their huge voices and tremendous talents, I love that both women were not ‘typical Hollywood’. Despite both being told that they don’t look right for Hollywood and that they don’t ‘fit the mould’, both went on to be two of the greatest performers of all time. I’m like that – I don’t fit the mould – but they inspire me to keep fighting for bigger and better things and to be true to myself.
Imelda Staunton is my current inspiration – watching her as Mama Rose sing Rose’s Turn is a moment that will stay with me forever. I absolutely sobbed. She performed with absolute truth and you believed that it was her first ever time singing those words.
You’ve had a varied career so far – what have been your career highlights?
I think the most interesting thing for me is that I’ve been so lucky to be able to work in so many diverse roles. When I went to drama school, I saw myself as a straight ingenue actress – that was all I’d ever played in local amateur theatre. I didn’t see myself as a ‘character actress’ and I still feel more comfortable in more serious dramatic roles. More and more, I’ve been cast in comedic roles which has been interesting as I don’t see myself that way. Maybe that’s why it works. As I move into an older casting bracket, it’s something that will hopefully help me work more as older female roles tend to be more ‘character’ than ‘serious’.
For anyone who hasn’t seen it, could you describe The Last Five Years?
The Last Five Years is a universal love story. Cathy and Jamie are a couple that fell in love young – they’re still working out who they are and what they want in life – and, as most of us will know, it’s how you deal with everything that life throws at you that will determine whether that relationship survives. I think that’s what makes it so powerful – anyone can watch the show and relate to it.
What are you looking forward to most about doing the show again?
Returning to Cathy’s story. I can see so much of myself in Cathy. It’s also very unusual to perform a show where you get the opportunity to sing so many songs, and such varied ones at that, that I just can’t wait to be singing Jason Robert Brown’s beautiful lyrics and music again.
Is there a musical number in the show you’re not performing, but wish you were?
If I Didn’t Believe In You – what an absolutely beautiful song! The lyrics are so powerful – I believe it’s the best acting piece in the whole show. Very jealous that Michael [Thomas Jenkins] gets to perform it.
What is your favourite lyric of the show and why?
Oh no! There are so many good lyrics – it’s so hard to choose!
I love ‘If I didn’t believe in you, we wouldn’t be having this fight’ – because it reflects those intricacies of a relationship that shows that conflict comes from love. I also like so many of the lyrics in Cathy’s audition song because they’re so true! ‘I should have told them I was sick last week, they’re gonna think this is the way I sing…’
What’s been the biggest challenge for you in regards to The Last Five Years?
As an actor, it’s important to think about your character’s journey through a show. You need to know how you are beginning and how you are at the end and know how your character will develop to that point. The difficulty with Cathy is that her story goes backwards. We start at the end of her story and work backwards in time. Jamie’s story goes forwards in time and the characters meet in the middle. Therefore, my process has to ensure that I a) get younger as the show develops, and b) I have to forget what’s happened in my previous song as it can’t inform my next song as it won’t have happened yet in her story. Ultimately, it’s meant that Michael and I have had to work very closely in understanding how our stories entwine – even though we only meet once in the middle of the show. It’s a challenge but a wonderful one.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in the industry?
It’s a tough industry but, if you want it enough, go for it. Be positive, work hard and, if you struggle to get work, create your own work. Most importantly – be kind, ALWAYS. No matter how frustrated you are or how difficult the industry can sometimes seem. Nobody wants to work with negative or unkind people.
What’s your favourite musical?
My gut reaction is always Les Miserables because it’s the show I first fell in love with and remains the job that I absolutely have to do one day. That said, there’s so many incredible shows out there that I love too many to single any out. I think there’s so much variety in musical theatre today that there’s something for every taste and every mood.
Finally – what roles are on your bucket list?
I’ve been lucky enough to play a few of my dream roles already. Nancy in Oliver! has always been a goal and I was so thrilled to be able to spend Christmas last year in the role.
My top five roles yet to play are: Fantine in Les Miserables, Glinda in Wicked, Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, Mama Rose in Gypsy, Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. Who knows if I’ll ever get to play them but a girl can dream.