Life is a cabaret for Michelle Ryan
From dramas of the small screen to an iconic musical — Michelle Ryan is getting set to dazzle, taking on Liza Minelli's conic role in Cabaret. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.
She had a role in one of the most talked-about British soap opera story lines and she has lived and worked in the US, as the lead in a prominent television series.
But, as Michelle Ryan prepares to arrive in Norwich with Cabaret, she admits nothing is as exhilarating as appearing live on stage.
'I am very excited about it,' she says. 'This is the first time I have been in a West End musical and it is going to be great fun.
'I used to be nervous before going out on stage but now the adrenaline kicks in just before you go out and then it is like you are flying.
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'It is an amazing feeling.'
Michelle, who is best known to British audiences for portraying the role of Zoe in EastEnders, will play Sally Bowles in the show, performing opposite Will Young as Emcee and Sian Phillips.
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This was the role famously played by Liza Minelli in the Oscar-winning film of 1972 — and Michelle cannot wait to get stuck in.
'There has been a lot of preparation. I do have a background in singing and dancing — dancing is something that comes very naturally to me — so it is all coming together nicely now,' she says.
'Sally is such a brilliant character to play, a really interesting role in a show that is really quite dark, and Will is just lovely. I have not worked with him before but am really looking forward to it.'
Since its Broadway premiere in 1966, and the release of the famous movie version, Cabaret has won numerous stage and screen awards, including eight Oscars, seven BAFTAs and 13 Tonys.
Presented by Bill Kenwright, this double Olivier-award winning version has been directed by Rufus Norris and choreographed by Javier De Frutos.
Turning Weimar Berlin of 1931 into a sexy, sizzling haven of decadence, it focuses on the goings on of the notorious Emcee and sassy Sally Bowles, who perform nightly at the infamous Kit Kat Klub.
And it features the expected show-stopping dancing, dazzling costumes, and, of course, some of the most iconic songs in musical theatre, including Money Makes The World Go Round, Two Ladies, Maybe This Time and, of course, Cabaret.
The show is travelling to Southampton, Nottingham and Salford Quays, as well playing in Norwich and the West End, and Michelle admits one of the most enjoyable elements of her post soap opera life is being free to move about.
'Since leaving EastEnders, I have been all over the place,' she points out. 'I spent a year in LA and Vancouver, , which was very exciting. I am willing to go wherever the roles take me. I like the adventure and am quite happy to follow my instincts anywhere.'
Having spent five years on EastEnders, playing Zoe Slater and appearing in some of the series' most sizzling storylines — most notably being revealed as the daughter of her 'sister' — it is not surprising Michelle has itchy feet.
'EastEnders was a great opportunity for me but having done it for all that time I do not feel it is something I need to revisit,' she says.
'People do still remember me from the show, which in some ways is very sweet – there is a real nostalgia about it – but although I do still see lots of the girls from the programme, it was so long ago that it no longer seems relevant to what I am doing now.'
Albert Square is a far cry from the Hollywood hills, where the 28-year-old was hailed as the latest British talent to hit US screens after winning the part of Bionic Woman in 2007.
However, the series was cancelled after just one season, and the actress decided to return to Britain, where she has made appearances in Doctor Who, Merlin, Mansfield Park with Billie Piper, Jekyll opposite James Nesbitt and Miss Marple.
'The Bionic Woman was the most challenging role I've played to date probably. Just the sheer scale of it was huge,' she says.
She hasn't let the experience put her off working in the States again, although she says: 'You definitely need a reason to be there, and have the right script and the right character.'
Right now Ryan, who started acting in theatre at the age of 10, doesn't seem to need Hollywood because she's got the best of British. She has had two Brit flicks coming out already this year: The Man Inside and Cockneys Vs Zombies.
In gritty boxing drama The Man Inside, the Enfield-born actress played heroin addict Alexia, alongside Ashley 'Bashy' Thomas and Peter Mullan.
'I loved the character because she's so complex. It just felt like one of those projects you dream of getting because it was very layered and is completely different from what I normally get sent,' she explains.
In horror-comedy Cockneys Vs Zombies, Ryan got to fight the walking dead alongside co-stars Honor Blackman and Alan Ford.
'It was just so much fun, using a samurai sword to take out a zombie! And you've got all the older actors as well, who all have so much to bring — Honor Blackman is one sassy lady,' she says.
For now she is fully focussed on her role in Cabaret. 'I'm very excited,' she says. 'This is what I started doing when I was younger so I feel like I've come full circle. I love dancing, being on stage and I'm really enjoying the singing process, which we've just started.
'This will always be Liza's role and it's just been loaned out to me. It's not like I'm trying to fill her shoes because it's a new production.'
Contrary to rumours, Ryan insists she has not received any advice from Minelli herself. 'I did meet her very briefly after her concert. She was charming and lovely — that felt like a nice thing to do before rehearsals start.'
The challenge for Ryan is in seeking out new and different parts. 'This is going to sound really cheesy, but my heart lies with a really good script and great roles,' she says, laughing.
'I'm like a bloodhound: I'll sniff and dig out the great roles. They're not always easy to come by and you have to fight your own path sometimes. It can be an emotional rollercoaster.
'I spent a lot of the last few years turning down lots of things. I just didn't feel they were right. If I'm repeating what I've done or it's not great directing or an interesting idea, then it just seems like a waste of time.
'Projects where the women are just victims or accessories are the strangest parts. They don't do anything for humankind. There should be a little more fire in everyone.'
The future is bright for Ryan, but you won't catch her blowing her own trumpet. 'I would love to do more comedy now,' she adds. 'That is not really something I have touched on very much. I really just want to keep building on what I have done already and to work with more really great people.
'I haven't been to Norwich before but I am looking forward to getting there. That's what I love about this job – travelling, getting to know new places and doing things I have not done before, such as this musical. That is what keeps it so exciting.'
? Cabaret, Norwich Theatre Royal, September 17-22, �39.50-�6.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk