BWW Interview: Kerry Ellis Discusses Her New Charity Single
First Lady of the West End, Kerry Ellis, has teamed up with 1,000 West End Stage summer school students for a special recording of "A Million Dreams" from the hit film The Greatest Showman, which is now available on iTunes.
Kerry speaks to BroadwayWorld about her career and the charity single, which is in aid of NSPCC's Childline service.
Who or what inspired you to get into the performing business?
I don't know exactly. When I was younger I knew I just loved to sing. My dad is a rocker and brought me up on Meatloaf, the Beatles, Status Quo and Queen. Eventually I found my musical theatre passion. I went to see Les Miserables for my 13th birthday and just fell in love with it.
I've always loved all kinds of music and singing along to Elaine Paige, Barbara Streisand etc. I guess it's always been in my blood, cliché as it is. It's something I know I've always loved doing, simple as that.
What is your connection with West End Stage and how did this charity single come about?
I've been a patron of WES for quite a while. I've been in and out doing lots of workshops and Q&As over the years. I'm very fond of the company. When I was approached with this idea of a charity single involving the students, I thought it was a fab idea. It's a brilliant chance for them and a great project to be part of and feature in.
What does Childline mean to you personally?
I think Childline are a bit overlooked, with other organisations like Children in Need etc. We have some big, big children's charities, but these guys provide a vital service. It takes me back to being a kid when Esther Rantzen was involved in campaigning with Childline to let young people know there was a way they could access help.
Now that there's a lot of stuff with social media, I hope it's easier for children to find help when they need it, as well as the phone line and online services that Childline run.
Life's changed for me massively in the last five years in becoming a mother. I'm so fortunate to be a parent and to have two healthy (touch wood!) and happy children. It's so important to have something out there for kids to be able to reach out for help.
How has the recording process been?
I went in and recorded my part on my own in the studio first to give the students something to work with, but I also got to surprise the different groups at various workshops over a period of a few weeks. It was fun to pop out from behind a screen while they were playing my track! We then sang it together and filmed a bit of it. I hope in the music video you'll get to see some of that footage.
It's wonderful to work with children who are following their dreams of performing, doing what they love. The song we've picked is very poignant and the lyrics hit home with an important message. When I was younger, I'd have bitten someone's hand off for the chance to do something like this.
The charity single is "A Million Dreams" from The Greatest Showman. The soundtrack for the film recently went double platinum. What do you think is so appealing about Pasek and Paul's music?
I don't know really. If everyone know the secret to a good record then we'd all be millionaires. I think the music is very melodic and easy to sing along to. It's accessible, the lyrics are easy to pick up and are very inspiring. The themes relate to everyone - adults, children, parents...everyone!
I love Pasek and Paul's other work too. At the moment I'm obsessed with Dear Evan Hansen, which I sang a little of in my Zedel shows, as well as some of The Greatest Showman. Even if people aren't familiar with the music, they engage with the subject matter straightaway.
Looking back at your most recent role, how did you find your time in The Importance of being Earnest compared to being in a musical?
It was a very different experience, obviously because there was no music. What was really weird was getting used to walking on stage as Gwendolen to just the sound of my own footsteps!
I was working with incredible people though. I fell in love with Gwen Taylor, who played Lady Bracknell. She was there every night, giving 100%. She was magnificent - her dedication was unbelievable and gave me a boost.
Often in the workshops and things I do I'm being told I inspire other people, which is lovely, but now to work with someone who in turn inspired me was just magical. It was an amazing experience and I just loved it. I'd love to do more plays in the future.
Do you prefer being yourself in a concert setting or playing a character in a play or musical?
Very good question. If you'd asked me this 5-10 years ago, I'd have 100% said I prefer being a character in a musical. But now I love the variety that there is in getting to do both.
In a concert you get to talk to an audience, hear them and interact with them, which you just don't get to do in a musical. I'm grateful that I get to do both and love them both equally in different ways.
What's your favourite thing about delivering workshops to young performers?
For me, rather selfishly, I get excited about finding out more about the students: what inspires them, why they go to the theatre, what music they're listening to etc. I find the more workshops I do, the more I get out of them.
When I started doing them I found I used to talk a lot more about myself and my career, but now I get so excited by them sharing what's current for them and what excites them about theatre.
What advice would you give your younger self?
What I tend to share when I'm at these workshops is that you shouldn't be frightened. Get out there. Try everything. Do everything. Believe in yourself.
It's a tough business. You're so self-aware when you're younger. I think if I had lost my inhibitions a bit earlier and not worried so much about what people think about me, I'd have had an easier ride.
You have to be brave, especially now it's harder in the social media age. I think it's important to be yourself and not worry about what someone is saying on Twitter, and that will help you in a performing career.
How was your Zedel residency last month?
Oh, I absolutely loved it. It's great to have a residency somewhere like Zedel. I changed the show each night. I had this little box, from which people picked out songs from my career, which mixed things up.
I had different guests each night and tried to have very different people along to keep things interesting. I invited students to join me, but I also had people like Emma Hatton, who's also played Elphaba in Wicked, on stage with me.
I loved just sitting there and hearing from the audience. At times it almost felt like having a dialogue with them in a living room. I was very grateful to be there.
Each evening was special. Zedel is such a unique venue. You get to see performers in an unusual and intimate environment.
Do you have any future projects coming up that you can tell us about?
Oh yes, I have a lot more concerts coming up. Lots of Christmas concerts. I'm working on a new album. I'm going to Japan early next year for more concerts. It's a big time for me. There are a lot of new shows coming up, so I'll be hopefully auditioning for those. It's busy, but it's good for me.
What is one of your "million dreams" in life?
I dream about having a good work/life balance. I'm so fortunate to have a career that I love, but the hardest bit is balancing it with family. You always want to be in two places at once. So yeah, I guess I'd just love to have a happy family and to keep doing what I'm doing at the moment.
'A Million Dreams' is available on iTunes now