Claire Sweeney has that look on her face
Actress and singer Claire Sweeney has gone back to her stage roots in a new version of the hit musical Tell Me On A Sunday, which arrives at Norwich Theatre Royal this week. She talks fame, fashion and reaching the big 4-0 with EMMA LEE.
'There's nowhere to hide and it's a big responsibility,' says Claire Sweeney. The popular former Brookside actress and singer is talking about starring in a new version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black's one-woman show Tell Me On A Sunday, which arrives at the Theatre Royal next week.
The musical was one of the major West End and Broadway hits of the late '70s and early 80s, and, aided by the chart-topping song Take That Look Off Your Face, helped propel Marti Webb to fame.
Following a successful West End revival starring Denise Van Outen, the show has been especially remodelled for Claire to reflect her Scouse roots and features a brand new song called Dreams Never Run On Time.
Claire is on stage on her own for an hour and a half and has to perform 26 songs.
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Isn't that a bit daunting, even for a performer of her calibre? 'You have to try to be on the ball,' she agrees. 'The lyrics and score are beautiful and it's nice to find new stuff in it. It's going great actually – really, really well.'
The musical follows the romantic misadventures of an English girl who moves to New York in the search for success and love. But she comes to realise that finding the right man to settle down with is not as easy as it seems, no matter which side of the Atlantic you're on.
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There's a Norfolk link to the show. The set – a loft apartment, complete with furniture and a specially reinforced ceiling where a live band will perform – has been built by 3D Creations, which is based at Gorleston.
Claire recently turned 40 – and she says that there's lots in the story that she can identify with.
'It's every girl's life story, really. You can relate to it – to being in love and having your heart broken. I put a lot of me into the character and I bring my personal experiences in to it,' she says.
Claire says that she can't wait to return to Norwich and the Theatre Royal.
'I've been there many times – it's such a great city. I was there with [the musical] Shout and I did Loose Women there. And the Theatre Royal is gorgeous – I'm really looking forward to coming back,' she says.
Tell Me On A Sunday is nearing the end of its tour – it started in Bromley back in February and ends in Aberdeen in August, following a tour of one and two-nighters last autumn.
It's a long time to be living out of a suitcase, and Claire says that there's good and bad things about life on the road.
'We're near the homeward stretch now. I like exploring the cities I'm in, shopping and catching up with friends,' she says. 'It's quite a nomadic existence really. You miss your home and friends, but you do catch up with other friends around the country – that's the bonus.'
Claire was a performer from an early age. She had been working the cruise ship circuit when she was catapulted to fame by joining the cast of the Channel 4 soap Brookside – the perfect job as it was filmed in her old stomping ground.
'It was great – I'd spent five years on cruise ships and it was great for me to come back to Liverpool. I loved it,' she says.
Multi-talented Claire has done it all – she's released albums, she's braved the Celebrity Big Brother house, she's tested her cookery skills to the limit on Celebrity Come Dine With Me, shimmied on Strictly Come Dancing, was a member of the Loose Women panel and is a seasoned TV presenter.
And she recently returned to the small screen in the BBC series Candy Cabs about a group of women who set up a taxi firm.
Penned by Merseyside-based pair Johanne McAndrew and Elliot Hope, she starred opposite West End favourite Jodie Prenger, Jo Joyner (Tanya in EastEnders) and Melanie Hill (Aveline in Bread).
Unfortunately it didn't get a second series, but Claire says that filming was a blast.
'It was such good fun – it's so disappointing that it's not being re-commissioned. It was a great group of women and we had such a laugh. It was a really good show,' she says.
And then, of course there's her stage CV.
She famously played Roxie Hart in Chicago in London and has also done Guys and Dolls. She reels off a list of her current favourite shows and when she mentions one, you can instantly picture her in the lead role – Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers, which, of course, is set in her home city.
'I love Blood Brothers – and Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Jersey Boys,' she says.
Aside from singing and acting, stylish Claire has a real passion for fashion – she loves nothing better than hitting the shops for a bit of retail therapy. And she's working on her own line for the online store Fashion World.
'They approached me because I've got an eye for fashion and love clothes,' she says.
'I love Roland Mouret, Dolce and Gabbana, Alexander McQueen and Victoria Beckham. And on the high street I love River Island. I'm designing my own range – it's heaven,' she says.
n Tell Me On A Sunday is at Norwich Theatre Royal from July 11-16, �26-�6.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk