Tips for breaking into musical theatre

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Stylist Team
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Stylist speaks to Louise Dearman, Gina Beck and Ben Freeman, the new stars of award-winning musical Wicked , for their tips on making it as a West End star, from discipline and tackling nerves to dealing with knockbacks

A spate of reality TV shows have fuelled interest in stage musicals over the past few years, but it remains an incredibly competitive area to get into. With limited parts going and an abundance of talent, meaty roles are like gold-dust and take a huge amount of tenacity, skill and hard work to come by.

Louise Dearman, Gina Beck and Ben Freeman were recently unveiled as the new leads of Wicked, the hugely popular West End musical based on a re-telling of stories and characters involved in L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Here they tell Stylist about the challenges and rewards of performing in a show seen by over five million people since its London launch seven years ago.

"I’m just glad someone wrote a musical for two women, two major female parts," says Gina who plays saccharine sorceress Glinda in the show. "I’ve been in Phantom (Of The Opera) and Les Mis where obviously the main character is a man and it’s just great to be up there, it’s real women power."

"The first time round I absolutely adored being in Wicked it was the cherry on top of the cake for me as far as my career was going," says Louise, who has gone from playing Glinda to heroine Elphaba, in a move that involves her now smothering herself in green paint every day to take on the luminous lead.

"To be invited back to audition for Elphaba was overwhelming. It was something I always thought about doing but I would never have had the guts to ask for it."

ABOVE: Louise Dearman, who plays Elphaba, and Gina Beck, who plays Glinda

"The Wicked fans are so die-hard, they’ll come and support us come rain or sunshine. They’re so loyal and I’ve never known anything like it. They’re very protective of the show. At the end of a night when we’re so nervous and there’s so much adrenalin, it’s amazing (to get a great reception). It makes all the hard work completely worthwhile, it’s lovely."

Ben came from Emmerdale to star as Fiyero in the show, as his first taste of musical theatre.

"I never went to drama school so I never learnt how to sing or dance or anything. I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to make the transition in theatre, because theatre is like nothing else," he says.

"There’s nothing like being on stage and knowing that whatever you do, that’s what people see. If you say a line wrong, you can't take that back you can’t be like, 'Can I do another take please,' or do a clever edit so it makes you look good. You are very exposed.

"It’s a massive adrenalin rush and as long as you can manage that and don’t turn it into fear or nerves, it’s such a brilliant thing."

Nerves are something that all the cast face on a day-to-day basis and they're frank about how they deal with it.

"I get petrified before each and every show. It’s full-on, you really have to pull it back and get a grip," says Louise. "It’s just annoying to hear the nerves affect your voice and you’re trying to calm yourself down in your head."

According to Ben, "I’m normally really nervous and have bits of OCD where I have to do certain things."

"It’s so hard," adds Gina. "Luckily when you’re on-stage and the audience is there to react, it’s easy to forget. It’s just when you’re off-stage waiting to go on. But the adrenalin really sharpens you."

ABOVE: Ben Freeman, who plays Fiyero

Above all though, it's the hard work that really takes its toll; with eight shows over six days, working in the West End is not for the faint-hearted.

"You get used to it. It’s a lot of drinking water, a lot of early nights, a lot of not drinking alcohol. There’s a lot of discipline involved, you really have to discipline yourself," says Ben. "You’ve got to keep fresh; you can’t come in and do the same thing every night because otherwise you get into a pattern and it gets a bit stale."

"No partying, no staying up late, usually by midnight I’m tucked up in bed with my sleep inhaler in my hands. It’s hard but it’s worth it for roles like this, it’s totally worth it," says Louise.

For anyone wanting to break into theatre, she recommends doing a lot of research.

"Find the best way to train whether that’s going to a college for three years or a course at the weekend, just know what you’re getting into. Find out as much as you possibly can about the industry," she says. "You never stop training, we don’t stop training now; it’s all about confidence and you get lots of knockbacks."

"You have to have a thick skin," says Gina." I would definitely advise training as the best way of getting into the business because it really sets you up, after three years, to kind of launch you into getting an agent and all that sort of thing. It’s very hard otherwise, unless there’s a talent show way – that’s been a good way for lots of people I know recently. Just try and get as much experience as you can."

Wicked is playing at the Apollo Victoria Theatre now. Visit Wicked's Facebook page for more information