September is only one day away, and along with all the brand new productions set to open in the West End throughout the month, it also brings with it some exciting cast changes. First reported back in June for example, award-winning recording artist Beverly Knight joins the company of The Bodyguard from 9th September 2013, making her West End debut as Rachel Marron opposite the show’s new leading man, stage and screen star Tristan Gemmill. The musical adaption of the classic 1992 film, which starred Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, opened at the Adelphi Theatre in December 2012 and has settled into Theatreland quite comfortably. It has been a successful addition to the West End and Knight and Gemmill can only hope to lead the new company further along that same road. Many people have been a part of making the show a success, including former leading lady Heather Headley. So before the faces change again, this week’s In Profile recognises one of The Bodyguard’s current cast members: Holly James.
Holly James is a graduate of the Urdang Academy, receiving her training right in the heart of the West End courtesy of one of the finest performing arts schools in the UK. She is joined on its list of alumni by such West End stage performers as Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, David Page, Leanne Pinder and Nathan Amzi.
Her training at the Academy provided her with a solid base upon which to build a professional stage career, and she is doing just that. One of her earliest roles came in the 2005 production of The Genius of Ray Charles at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. James performed an ensemble role in the musical tribute to the late singer. She then went on to perform in her first tour production, travelling around the UK with the touring company of Starlight Express, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s popular train-themed musical. She strapped on her skates with the rest of the cast to play the role of Joule, the dynamite truck of ‘Engine of the Future’ Electra.
She was back in the West End in 2006, performing at the Savoy Theatre in Trevor Nunn’s revival of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. As a swing and also dance captain for the production, she can be proud of the great reviews that it received, with critic Paul Taylor for The Independent praising the ‘vibrant dancing that pulses with sassiness and sex.” Nunn’s musical theatre adaption of the opera, which was led by Clarke Peters and Nicola Hughes in the (respective) titles roles, was ultimately unable to survive on good reviews alone however and the production ended its run early.
The musical’s end didn’t stop James though. She continued making strides in the industry by joining the company of another West End show, this time in the original London production of Hairspray! at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Opening in October 2007, she performed as one of the Dynamites and appeared alongside a stellar cast which included Michael Ball (Edna Turnblad), Mel Smith (Wilbur Turnblad), Rachel Wooding (Amber), Ben James-Ellis (Link) and then-newcomer Leanne Jones as Tracy. The production was won several Olivier Awards, including ‘Best New Musical’ and ran for nearly 2 ½ years before closing in March 2010.
After her time in the show, it was back to the road for James with the UK tour of Fame, in which she played the role of fame-obsessed dancer Carmen Diaz. Then her travels continued in another touring show, as she joined the stadium tour of Lloyd Webber’s Cats. She performed in a principal role for the production, playing ‘skittish’ Queen’ cat Demeter.
In 2009, she was part of the Peter Pan musical adaption at The Curve, Leicester. Starring Spencer Charles Noll as eternally youthful title character, the show was well received and James was once again noticed for her performance as the Native American princess Tiger Lilly; The Public Reviews’ 4* review named her as ‘a most accomplished performer’ and praised her dancing skills and ‘excellent stage presence’.
She then returned to the West End to perform in the company of Hair at the Gielgud Theatre. The 2010 revival ran for just under 6 months and received an enthusiastic response from critics. James performed in the show’s ensemble and was also understudy to the leading role of Dionne. She then appeared at Sadlers Wells in Stephen Mear’s Shoes as a featured dancer, alongside former Hair cast mate Patrick Smyth (swing). After a successful run there, the musical then transferred to the Peacock Theatre – with James in tow – for a limited 8-week engagement. It continued to garner good reviews, with one describing James’ dancing as ‘exquisite’.
Her next musical theatre venture was the 2011 revival of Schwartz’s Pippin at the Menier Chocolate Factory. She had an ensemble role in this vivid, contemporary re-telling which also featured Harry Hepple, Frances Ruffelle and Matt Rawle in the cast. Following that, she joined the Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Kiss Me Kate in the summer of 2012. A popular piece of musical theatre, the CFT revival of this award-winning musical hugely benefitted from the contributions of director Trevor Nunn and choreographer Stephen Mear, as well as its talented cast which included Hannah Waddingham, Clive Rowe, and of course, Holly James in an ensemble role. She also understudied the role of Hattie. The acclaimed production subsequently transferred to the Old Vic Theatre at the end of 2012.
James has also appeared as a soloist in La Varite at the Hackney Empire and was a guest vocalist in Michael Ball’s Heroes tour in the UK. In addition to her theatre credits, James was once a member of the four-piece girl band Tymes 4. They had two Top 40 hits, including their debut single ‘Bodyrock’. James left the band in 2002 to pursue a solo career and also to try her hand at acting. She featured as ‘Girl in Car’ in the music video for ‘Ayo Technology’ with Justin Timberlake and 50 Cent and was a singer on Jason Nevin’s No. 7 hit, ‘I’m in Heaven’. Her future however, lies more with the world of musical theatre than the music industry it would seem, something which many theatre fans can be thankful for.
She is currently appearing in The Bodyguard at the Adelphi Theatre, where she performs as a member of the ensemble team and also covers the leading role of Nicki Marron, singing superstar Rachel Marron’s side-lined sister. A wonderful talent, one can only hope that we see a lot more of Holly James in the years to come.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Saturday 31st August 2013