‘There’s nothing like it!’ Musical stars return to storm the stage

Performers from the hits Hamilton, Pretty Woman and Back to the Future consider theatre’s comeback and the shows they can’t wait to see

Trevor Dion Nicholas: ‘I’m optimistic but it’s still scary’

We thought we’d be home for a couple of weeks when theatres closed last March. Then maybe a couple of months. We kept shifting our expectations. A lot of people aren’t returning to the business, whether that’s through the emotional toll or a lack of financial support. Everybody has a different breaking point. I feel cautiously optimistic that we will rebuild better and take care of each other, but it’s still scary and uncertain.

When I saw Hamilton for the first time on Broadway, I loved the whole vibe and really connected with George Washington. So getting the opportunity to play him in London was phenomenal. The difficult part was having to stop after five months and spend more than a year at home. But over lockdown I played Muhammad Ali in a BBC radio series narrated by Nas. It was really cool to voice a legend like that. And we’ve got a special Hamilton surprise for the West End concert The Show Must Go On! It’s something we don’t think has been done in Hamilton cast history.

In the last week, London has started to feel a bit more normal. I’m so pleased that Broadway shows have dates lined up too. New York City has been a ghost town but they’ve done a lot to galvanise the industry during that quiet time in terms of how to come back stronger, with better understanding of equal rights, and fighting to make the workplace somewhere for artists to feel better represented and protected. I see those strides here as well but there’s still work to do. We need to keep those conversations going.

I’m excited to see some of the casting changes in the West End – like Lucy St Louis as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera. That’s monumental – it’s been too long, waiting to see this kind of representation, but we’re there now. Before lockdown I didn’t get to see Prince of Egypt, Mary Poppins, Dear Evan Hansen – I want to see them all but especially the Back to the Future musical. On my birthday I rewatched all three movies back to back. I even have a hoverboard doormat!

Aimie Atkinson, centre, in Pretty Woman.
‘Excitement and anticipation’ … Aimie Atkinson, centre, in Pretty Woman. Photograph: Helen Maybanks

Aimie Atkinson: ‘I’ll be doing a massive theatre splurge’

It’s been such a long time, I can’t wait to sing again on stage. When you’re performing in a musical, you get into a rhythm and build up the stamina to do eight shows a week. To suddenly not be doing that feels quite odd, like you’re not firing on all cylinders. There’s nothing like live theatre. You can’t beat sitting in the audience, waiting for the music to start, hearing the orchestra tuning up. All that excitement and anticipation. And you come out of a musical feeling great. Before the pandemic, the last show I saw was & Juliet and I left feeling fantastic.

In March last year, we didn’t realise that the Saturday night performance of Pretty Woman would be our last show. We all came in on the Monday and our producers told us we couldn’t go on. We’ll be having an extensive rehearsal period before returning because it’s been over a year – we need to get back into it. Stamina is the most important thing. I’ve been really lucky to do lots of online concerts and teaching, so have been keeping my voice and my dancing up by doing things like that. It’s not going to be a struggle but it’s about getting back into that physicality again. It’s kind of like being an athlete when you do that many shows and have to be at 100% every day.

I want to see all the shows that are opening up. When you’re in a musical, you get one day off a week and you’re knackered. You might think the last place you want to be is back at the theatre but I try to see as much as possible. Before Pretty Woman opens again I’ll be doing a massive theatre splurge.

Olly Dobson as Marty McFly (right) with Mark Oxtoby in Back to the Future.
‘This can’t be real!’ … Olly Dobson as Marty McFly (right) with Mark Oxtoby in Back to the Future. Photograph: Sean Ebsworth Barnes

Olly Dobson: ‘What a form of escapism!’

For my parents, Back to the Future was a way to keep their kid still in front of the TV for a couple of hours. We watch it every Christmas. When the role of Marty McFly in the musical came along it was one of those gigs where I thought: this can’t be real! I said to my agent: “I have to go in for it.” I’d never really put my foot down before like that. I needed this and knew I could do it. We haven’t had a chance as a family to sit down and watch the film again since everything that’s gone on.

We had just opened Back to the Future in Manchester when we heard that theatres were closing. We packed up our stuff and now here we are over a year later. I’ve been with this job since workshops began – I felt very fortunate with the position that I was in. I live in a household with other actors. Telling yourself every day to stay positive can be exhausting. That’s not life. But taking each day as it comes, and accomplishing what you need to, kept me sane.

My first West End gig was in Matilda. It’s still my favourite show. I’ve been feeling pulled back to the Cambridge theatre to see it again – I’ve got old friends in it who have been bumped up to bigger roles. After this troubled year that everyone’s gone through, it would be great to see something like that which is impeccable from start to finish.

When you watch a musical you feel the bass in your feet, in the seat, you feel this old building start to shake. Like Back to the Future, most musicals have a fun element. On the surface some might take themselves seriously but once you’re in the room you find all these little unexpected moments. What a form of escapism. There’s a sense that what people are doing on stage is just for you.


Interviews by Chris Wiegand

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