As she starts performances tonight (9 September) in Irving Berlin’s 1950 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Call Me Madam, Olivier Award nominee Rosemary Ashe took time out of rehearsals to tell us why she wanted another opportunity to step into Ethel Merman’s shoes.
Amongst her best-known West End credits, Rosemary Ashe originated the role of Carlotta in the premiere cast of The Phantom of the Opera, opposite Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, at Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1986. She also originated the roles of Miss Andrews in Mary Poppins (Prince Edward Theatre) and Felicia Gabriel in The Witches of Eastwick, at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, for which she was Olivier nominated.
Her first solo show, Call Me Merman, a tribute to Ethel Merman, has been seen and loved by audiences since 2012, while her new show, Adorable Dora, about the legendary British actress, Dora Bryan, premiered in June 2021 and has already played sell-out performances at Jermyn Street Theatre and the Brighton and Bedford Park Festivals.
How familiar were you with Call Me Madam before this production?
I knew most of the songs from Call Me Madam and I saw the show back in the 1980s with Noele Gordon. I have also seen the film, of course, with Ethel Merman.
Tell us about your character.
Sally Adams is from humble beginnings in Oklahoma. Her father discovered oil on his land, which consequently made her very wealthy. She is a Washington socialite known for her lavish parties and generosity. A ballsy woman who thinks money can buy everything!
What did you think when you first read the script?
I gulped at how much I had to learn! It’s very witty and has some great one-liners. Having always been a massive fan of Ethel Merman (I wrote and regularly perform a one-woman show about her: Call Me Merman), I really wanted to step into her shoes and play this part. It doesn’t come up very often, and you really carry the show, which also doesn’t happen that often!
Do you have a favourite song in the show?
All the songs in the show are terrific, it’s hard to pick a favourite. I thoroughly enjoy singing them all, but do like “The Best Thing For You”. It goes on a musical path that you don’t expect and yet has simplicity.
What are you most looking forward to about the run in Highgate?
Upstairs at the Gatehouse is a lovely venue and the whole Call Me Madam team are being made very welcome. It’s a great space to work in with the audience on three sides. I’m really looking forward to having a good run at this fantastic role.
Call Me Madam isn’t your first time back onstage post-Covid. Tell us about Adorable Dora.
I’ve always admired Dora Bryan. I wrote and devised Adorable Dora during lockdown having come across an old cassette of her act whilst having a clearout. Dora Bryan was such a versatile performer and had an amazing career, still performing in her eighties. I don’t want her to be forgotten, she was one of a kind. I’m performing it next on 31 October at Above The Stag.
As a performer, what has been the most difficult thing about the past 18 months?
Of course, I missed performing terribly. Like many people, I lost a lot of work. It was difficult to keep motivated, but I continued to have singing lessons and also give them, plus write the Dora show. There were times, though, when it all felt pointless. Thankfully, they are now behind me.
Why should audiences come and see Call Me Madam?
Audiences will have a really good night out when they come to see Call Me Madam. It’s great fun, has a huge heart, and the musical numbers are a joy. I’m working with an excellent cast and fantastic five-piece band who are knocking it out of the park! It will be a joyous experience.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Please come and see the show and be thoroughly entertained!
Call Me Madam runs from 9 September to 10 October 2021 at London’s Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate, London N6 4BD, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, Sundays at 4pm. Tickets are priced £15-24. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!