Connie Fisher overcomes vocal scare with wonderful new show
She shot to fame playing Maria in the Sound of Music, but a rare vocal chord condition threatened to cut Connie Fisher's singing career short. Now she is back winning rave reviews in Wonderful Town. EMMA LEE spoke to her ahead of performing in Norwich.
Reading the glowing reviews for her new show Wonderful Town, Connie Fisher must have to pinch herself.
Only three years ago starring in a musical was something that she didn't dare to dream about.
The singer, who shot to fame on the BBC talent show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, had suffered from problems with her voice while playing the lead role in The Sound of Music.
It was discovered that she had holes in her vocal chords.
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Told that she was in danger of not being able to sing again, Connie flew to America for specialist treatment and then took time out of the spotlight to recuperate.
While she might describe herself as a 'singing Marge Simpson' — she's now an alto rather than a soprano — she's getting rave reviews for her performance in the revival of Leonard Bernstein's musical.
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'It's great, having been told I would never sing again three years ago,' Connie says. 'I've got a character voice now, and in musical comedy I get to use the quirks.
'It's confidence building for me. To find a role that's vocally right for me has transformed me as an actress. And to get four- and five-star reviews and for the audience to jump to their feet shows that they accept me for the performer I am now.'
Connie plays Ruth Sherwood, a sort of proto-Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw, a writer who moves to New York from Ohio, with her sister.
Dreaming of romance and riches, Ruth has the brains, while Eileen, an actress, always gets the guys. Things get complicated when they fall for the same man.
Based on the play My Sister Eileen, the show debuted in the 1950s. It has a string of awards to its name, including the Tony Award for best musical.
'It's a wonderful show,' says Connie. 'Bernstein wrote it a couple of years before West Side Story so there are some of the same themes.
'It's a feel-good musical. You go in not knowing the songs and you come out knowing them all. There is a bit of everything - salsa and some swing - as well as the big musical numbers.'
It's a chance for Connie to show her versatility.
'It's great to show a different side to me as a performer,' she says. 'It's much more fun than playing Maria – and I don't get chased by Nazis!
'I have to dance which keeps me fit and it gives me the opportunity to show that I can deliver a joke as well.
'I always wanted to entertain people. I love making people laugh,' she says.
Wonderful Town was last staged in the 1980s, with Maureen Lipman playing the role of Ruth.
'We've dusted it down and brought it back to life,' says Connie. 'It feels like a brand new show.
'Maureen Lipman is a hero of mine alongside Joyce Grenfell. So to follow in Maureen Lipman's footsteps is a dream come true.'
The show, which will be at Norwich Theatre Royal from June 5-9, is directed by Braham Murray, a founding artistic director of the Royal Exchange Theatre Company and is co-produced by Kenny Wax, who produced Top Hat which played at Norwich Theatre Royal for two weeks last autumn before transferring to the West End.
'It's a great creative team – the best,' says Connie. 'I'm very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with those amazing people. It's like a West End production on tour.'
Connie's co-stars include Olivier Award nominee Michael Xavier and Love Never Dies star Lucy Van Gasse. And she gets to perform with a 17-piece orchestra.
'It's such a quality cast,' says Connie. 'You're like one big family.'
While she's best known as a stage performer, Connie has also branched out in to TV. As well as presenting, she's recently done some filming on Casualty and is about to launch a jewellery range based on her own designs and made in Wales, where she lives.
Having found her voice again, Connie has a whole new cast of characters opened up to her. And she has some roles in mind.
'I've no idea what the future holds, but I'd like to do Funny Girl and Sweet Charity. Quirky is my middle name,' she laughs.
? Wonderful Town, Norwich Theatre Royal, June 5-9, �39.50-�6.50, 01603 630000, www.theatraroyalnorwich.co.uk