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Interview with Jodie Jacobs Rock of Ages

At the time of the interview Jodie was performing as Regina/Candi in Rock of Ages at the Shaftesbury Theatre for which she recently won an award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

Making her stage debut in Peter Pan at Actress Jodie JacobsRichmond Theatre, Jodie followed this up by going to Off-Broadway where she sang Charles Miller songs to packed houses every night.

She made her West End debut in We Will Rock You before starring in the lead role of Serena in Fame at the Aldwych Theatre. Her stage credits include Little Shop of Horrors at the Duke of York’s Theatre as well as successful UK tours with Footloose The Musical.

Describing herself, Jodie says “I’m a woman of extremes”. Have a read of a brilliant interview with a fabulous actress who has a wonderful voice, and a great sense of humour.

When did you first discover that you like to sing?
I always sang because you just do, don’t you, everyone sings. I was in the choir in primary school but I then went to quite a religious secondary school and girls weren’t encouraged to perform. When I was about 15, that school closed down for one reason or another and I was moved to a secular school which was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I didn’t have loads of friends.  I don’t even remember why but I joined the drama group. I remember auditioning for the first school show and singing the line we had to sing for the audition. All the teachers just stood looking at me funny.  My mum came to pick me up from the auditions and they grabbed her and they said, “Has she ever been to singing lessons or anything?” My mum was, like, “no”.  They replied: “You need to send her to class ‘because she’s got something”. But even then I was a bit like, “nah”. I took theatre A level and I failed everything; every exam I took in theatre studies and singing and music. Music I dropped out of. I failed everything.

When I left school I went to work at Marks and Spencer. I still didn’t pursue music. I was doing some amateur dramatics and I really enjoyed it. It’s very difficult to think, “well I’m good enough to do this”. I don’t know when I realised, “I think I can make a career out of this”. I don’t think I ever did, I think it was all a fluke.

When was one of your earliest performances?
I was a little kid and we went to a holiday camp, one of those Haven Holiday Camps and my sister and I sang Starlight Express at the talent competition. I remember wearing these Andy Pandy striped dungarees. That was the first time I can remember getting up and singing. The first time I really performed was at a school show that I auditioned for – The Dracula Spectacular where I again played the comedy best friend, always the comedy best friend.  So I was about 15/16 when I first did a show.

You trained at the London School of Musical Theatre, what are your favourite memories of then?
I loved every single minute of every single day at LSMT. I’d done a lot of auditions for a lot of the schools, and none of them wanted me.  They all said no. Mountview gave me a conditional place, so that if someone had dropped out I’d have got a place. At LSMT I remember them opening the door of the building and going, “Hello Jodie” as if they already knew who I was. I was like, “I’m in”. I made a lot of friends there who I’m still friends with now. I did my first job for them when I left school. Every single minute of every lesson there was brilliant, I loved it.

Where did you make your professional debut?
When I left LSMT I got panto with Bonnie Langford in Peter Pan at Richmond Theatre.  I was playing Tinkerbell. That was my first stage role. At school I’d been doing gigs by then, gigging weekends at Bar Mitzvahs and stuff.  I got this job in panto.  But then the Head of Music at my school had written so many amazing songs – his name’s Charles Miller. His song book’s out and Julie Atherton’s done an album of his songs.  He got commissioned to do a song cycle of his songs Off-Broadway and he asked me to go out and do it.  I always count that as my first professional job. It was every night and we were performing in a theatre. It was sold out. It was brilliant.

I remember seeing pictures from then. At the time I thought “I must do stage make-up”! It was a tiny little cabaret venue and I’ve got a whited-out face, red dots in the corner of my eyes, fake lashes, I look ridiculous. I think that was my first pro-job.  As soon as I finished panto I went out and did that. It all goes round in a big circle because I now live with Bonnie Langford’s niece.

You made your West End debut in We Will Rock You in the Ensemble and Understudy for two of the lead roles of Scaramouche and Meat. What was it like performing in the show?
It was amazing. That’s a great job to start in. I think the only reason I got it was because I was a little bit like Hannah Jane Fox. We were both a little bit ‘awkward’. They were looking for an understudy for Hannah at the time. I remember going to see it and thinking, “I’m never going to get this, don’t be ridiculous”. This again is another full circle story; the guy I went to, to help me learn the song is now the musical director, we used to do amateur dramatics together (Stuart Morley) and now he’s the musical director of We Will Rock You. It was amazing. I did that first year as the Scaramouche/Meat understudy. I was the second cover and I was on all of the time. The more you go on, the better you get, the more you’re feeling it and the second year I got bumped up and I was both covers. I was on all the time as well. I loved it.

Do you have a favourite song from We Will Rock You?
Yeah. No One But You, from day one. I loved that song before I did that show. I was always a Queen fan, I’ve always been a rock fan. That song especially when you watch the documentary of when Freddie died and it’s the play-off song, it’s the credits song. When you associate it with really why they wrote it, it’s heartbreaking and a little bit country and I love a little bit of country.  It’s brilliant.

You starred as Serena in Fame at the Aldwych Theatre.  Does the musical resemble real life for actors?
Kind of, I think things are always taken from real-life. Drama school wasn’t like that for me. So yeah, that happens in Fame so that’s similar.
But otherwise no. It’s a really heightened version. Because my school was a one-year course, not a three-year course, I never had the intensity that everyone else had. Perhaps for people who do a three-year course it is, but not so much for me.

You were ‘standby’ Audrey to Sheridan Smith in Little Shop of Horrors, at the Duke of York’s Theatre, what was it like being a part of this classic sci-fi musical?

Little Shop of Horrors was one of the first shows I did at amateur dramatics. Then when I was 19 I did a workshop you used to be able to buy in The Stage, and James Powell who was directing it, he now directs Dirty Dancing, said to me halfway through the week’s run of this course you really remind me of Ellen Greene. That’s a massive compliment! I met her as well and I cried.  She was sitting down, I went to see Betwixt! and then we did the Dress Circle Benefit. I was very good friends with my agent and he said, “you’ve gotta go and meet her, you’ve gotta go and say something”. I was like, “I can’t, I absolutely can’t”. We had a photo and I burst into tears.

I was the number two. You always got that unfortunate feeling because Sheridan is such a super celebrity and the hardest working girl I have ever worked with. Literally she would film during the day and get couriered on a bike to warm up. She was couriered like a parcel from the studios filming Love Soup to come and do the show and be on it every night. She was a great girl. Then she partied with us at night. She was brilliant, brilliant. You’re always aware that the audience have come to see Sheridan.  So when I was on I was never 100% comfortable in it. They had such an intense rehearsal period at the Chocolate Factory, they always do. I was thrown in without the rehearsal that they’d had to bond with each other. It’s the only job I’ve ever done that I can’t honestly say I’ve loved as much as the others.

You were on tour with Footloose The Musical. What are the highs and lows when you’re on tour?
Twice I’ve been on tour with Footloose. I love touring. So for me it’s all highs. I get on very well with my mum and dad and I miss them terribly when I’m not there but I absolutely love that gypsy lifestyle.

I don’t know why. I have no ties here in London. I have no boyfriend. But, I’ve got a flat now so I’d really think twice about going on tour this time again. I love just packing my bags and seeing a different theatre every week and it being a different experience every week.  It really is.  You become so close on a tour, sometimes to your detriment but it’s a completely different experience.  I absolutely love it.

Where do you stay while you are on tour?
We get a list, a big fat folder and all the accommodation for every town is in this book. It’s updated monthly. What I’ve discovered from my experience, having toured three or four times now, the best way to do it is either to do it months in advance,  the day you get the job, six months before you leave for that tour, you either book those digs up then or you leave it to the night before you get there. They’re the best ways to do it. I’ve never had bad digs. Sometimes it’s a room in someone’s house. I stayed with a wonderful lady called the Reverend Wendy Huff in Bristol. She speaks nine languages. The church was next door. That was amazing. I also stayed in fantastic digs in Liverpool next to the stage door.

You’ve got to get good digs in Aberdeen because you’re so far from home.  I’ve had really good digs in Aberdeen, a lovely lady at the Allan Guest House. You basically get a big folder with the numbers of everyone, and every house and every hotel that might put you up and you phone them and you turn up.

How do the audiences on tour compare with the West End?
The further north you get the more crazy they are.  So anywhere north of Birmingham upwards you know you’re pretty much onto a winner.

The further north you go the more up for it they often are. But it varies. I remember doing Liverpool in the Footloose Tour I just did, I’ve done it twice and it was quite a bad week. They were quite quiet with us. Then you go to somewhere like Woking where you don’t think they’re going to be very responsive and they go nuts. So it’s different everywhere.

How would you describe your current roles of Regina and Candi in Rock of Ages?
Well.  Regina is crazy, she’s a protester. She’s almost like a hippy. Although the show’s set in the eighties it’s like I always imagine that her parents grew up in a commune, it’s the only explanation as to why she’s so nuts. She takes on every cause, even causes that aren’t her cause. I almost think growing up in that commune she wasn’t heard very much so she has to protest against everything just to get her voice heard. She’s anti-pulling down the strip, she’s anti-this, anti-that and she ends up having a fight with a bunch of Germans. In contrast Candi is a man! So I get a spectrum to play.

I get a very carb-friendly costume for the first part of the show. Then I have to take absolutely everything off.  Actually I’m much more comfortable out of my clothes. So as soon as I found out I was doing one of those scenes I was like, “yeah that’s better for me”. So I’m happy there.

Why should everyone go and see Rock of Ages?
Because it’s absolutely the best show in town of its genre. From the first time I heard the soundtrack until tonight I’ve never changed the way I feel about it.  It is the best job I’ve ever had.  It’s the funniest show I’ve ever seen. It’s the funniest show I’ve ever listened to. When I put it on for the first time, just the soundtrack, I howled. It’s fun.  No other show’s gonna serve you beer in the aisle.  If you’re not gonna go and see us go and see Matilda. Otherwise I think you go to see a show for it to be cathartic or to relieve you of your worries. I went to see Love Story and I absolutely lost itI can’t tell you what it feels like when you look out and everyone’s standing up already. So I think if you want to go and hear a bunch of great songs, an amazing band and the best vocalists in the West End, then ours is the show.

Backstage who are the comedians in Rock of Ages?
Simon Lipkin, he’s a clown and naturally funny all the time.  He’s an actual clown. Two of our boys are swings, Ian McIntosh and Jamie Muscato.  Ian is Fran’s cover and Jamie is the Drew cover. They are a little team and backstage they are the funniest pair ever.

How important is humour to you in your life?
Well it’s funny because I seem to always get cast as the comedy best friend part.  I’m not that funny, but you kind of end up in a niche. But yeah, it’s very important. I wouldn’t trade it in for being able to sing.  But if I could wish for one other thing it’d be to be funnier, definitely.

Do you look for humour in everything?
Yeah. I do sit and watch things and think, “that’s funny, how can you use that, how can you make that funny”.  Simon Lipkin’s the best person to watch. He’s brilliant at it, he watches himself in the mirror and he tries things out. He’s got no fear. I think that’s the key with comedy. It’s having no fear to try something. If it falls flat it falls flat.  It’s live theatre. You can try something different the next night, that’s the beauty of it. But it’s not as technical as singing. You know if you’re going for a note you’re gonna hit it or not. With comedy I think you have to be fearless and you have to just try stuff. I’m not quite there yet. But it is good I think to watch people do things.

Do you see yourself as a comedienne?
I see myself as a singer and that I can do funny stuff. But it doesn’t always land.

Who’s your favourite singer?
It’s a really hard question. Male – Neil Diamond. Not that I love every song, I just love his voice.  Female  – My top three would be, Carrie Underwood, I guess, I love her voice.  I guess, do you know what, sometimes someone can have a technically brilliant voice that can hit amazing notes but actually if you put someone like Liza Minnelli on, immediately she starts to sing you go, “I know who that is”. I think for that reason Liza (like we’re best friends I call her first name). Liza Minnelli and for the same reason Barbra Streisand. I kind of grew up listening to that. It’s a really hard question.  Oh, Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac that’s a great voice.  Voices immediately you hear them you know who they are.  Pat Benatar. Oh that’s not a top three is it!

Who’s your favourite rock artist?
Aerosmith are definitely my favourite band and Whitesnake.  Aerosmith are the top definitely.  Then Mr Big, really old school and I’ve got the entire discography and there is not a bad song among them.  So that’s the order, Aerosmith, Mr Big, then Whitesnake.  I wasn’t a massive Def Leppard fan because I didn’t really know their stuff.  Then doing Rock of Ages I started listening to it and that’s brilliant as well. But I’ve always liked rock music

What’s your favourite rock song then?
Don’t Stop Believing.  Yeah, everyone’s favourite song.  I never get bored of hearing it.  I could cry every night when he goes, “and then there’s Drew and Sherrie”.

What is it like performing as Sherrie?
I’ve played Sherrie a few times now.  I love going on as Sherrie, I love it.  Who doesn’t love going on as the lead, sure. But it’s quite a lonely track. You don’t really see anyone backstage.  You only see who you see cast-wise on stage.  But as Regina I get to spend 60% of my show with the entire cast.  That makes my show. I love going on as Sherrie, I love it.  I love not having to shout every line I do.  It’s a gorgeous sing. I’m a lucky girl because I get to do both intermittently.

As Regina I do like a collective 12 lines. You know what I’ve never lost my voice so much as in this job because I shout so much. All my spoken lines are yelled.  Then everything I sing is up there but that’s exactly where I live, up there.  I’m a woman of extremes.  I’m happy to play loud.

Not sure if you drive or not, but what song do you sing in the car or at home?
I don’t drive.  I’m a hazard on the road.  I’ve had about 70 lessons.  My favourite songs at the moment – I’ve got three.  Funnily enough they’re all musical theatre.  Scott Alan’s Home and Shoshana Bean’s version of it. It is a big belty song. A Jason Brown song called There With You that he wrote for Natalie Weiss and it’s brilliant. It’s a really uplifting happy song about meeting someone and knowing they feel the same about you, blah, blah. And Don’t Stop Believing.  I absolutely love that song. I know it’s a cliché. I never get bored of hearing it, especially the original. I love it.

You went on a working holiday to Korea. Can you tell us about that?
I work for this amazing company called Livecom. They encourage communities to design things to make the community better. Essentially they have a big award ceremony, the whole world is involved and I sing for them over dinner.
I’ve been all over the world with this company. I’ve been to Canada, Prague, Spain, I’ve done a London one, China twice, Korea, so that’s why I went. The gig is 45 minutes and the rest of the week is a holiday.  So that’s why I ended up in Korea, singing Memory and Don’t Rain on My Parade and things like that. It’s an amazing charity. You want to see some of things they get up to.  They show you around, and you get to see the sights and cultural things. It’s brilliant. Places you’d never pick.

Have you got anything else planned with Livecom?
In 2012 we’re in Al Ain, just outside Abu Dhabi. I don’t like going on holiday because I get a fear of missing out. I was miserable the week I was away in Korea. Britney Spears and Alfie Boe came to see the show and I missed it!

So some quick fire questions:
Ice cream or ice lolly?  Ice lolly
Beach or shopping?   Shopping: groceries and home-ware
Australia or America?  America every time
Tour or West End?  West End
Michael Buble or Bruno Mars?  Bruno Mars absolutely
Twitter or Facebook?  Twitter
Bed of Roses or Dead or Alive?  Dead or Alive

And finally any message to say to your supporters?
Thank you for everything. I have never ever felt so supported and loved as I am now doing this job. It has made me feel like when they tell you what it’s all going to be like when you watch something like Fame, and you think “I want my musical career to be like that”, this is the one job that is that. This is the one job, with the people that I work with and the people that come to watch that I have really felt it. So thanks!

Many thanks Jodie for a lovely interview!

You can follow Jodie on Twitter @Show_Jo

Interviewed by Neil who you follow @LondonTheatre1

Updated 27th November 2015