10 June 2017 by Chris High
When Kerry Ellis’ parents took her to see the West End production of Les Miserables for her thirteenth birthday, the youngster got much more than a fabulous show to watch: “Right then and there I knew I wanted to be on the stage.”
Not a bad career choice as it turns out. Following graduation from Laine Theatre Arts School in 1998, Kerry became first understudy to the legendary musicals star Marti Webb in a UK concert tour of The Magic of the Musicals. This in turn led to her understudying Martine McCutcheon in 2000s My Fair Lady at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane West End; a production which also starred Jonathan Pryce.
Yet it was to be an impressive audition in front of Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor for a role in the smash hit musical We Will Rock You that would truly set her on the path to musical stardom. May was so impressed with Kerry’s singing ability, he had the show’s writer Ben Elton create a role specifically for her – that of Meat Loaf – and, also, provided her with the only original song to be written for the show, No One But You.
Two recorded albums alongside May followed, Anthems and the recently released Golden Days – as well as starring roles in the likes of Wicked and Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now Kerry is set to appear in a whole new adventure. At The Liverpool Empire from June 12th, starring as Alice in Neil Eckersley’s adaptation of the iconic Lewis Carol tale Wonderland, with Wendi Peters as The Queen of Hearts and Dave Willets as White Rabbit, during what has been an extremely long and critically acclaimed tour.
Be aware though, that this is not the little girl Alice Carol created. “We stared in Edinburgh way back in January and finish in Bournemouth in August, so it is sadly near the end now,” Kerry said. “We’ve been absolutely all over the place and had such a wonderful time; people just seem to love it.”
“For something that’s new and perhaps something to which people don’t really now the music, it’s testament to just how good it is that there are people jumping around towards the end, which is always great for us to see from up on stage.”
For Kerry, Wonderland has brought back a few childhood memories having read the legendary books and, also, took in the famous Disney classic. “I remember being around the story a lot growing up, but didn’t see Alice Through the Looking Glass until after I got this show. That’s when I started finding out a lot more about Lewis Carol as a person and what he was getting at with the stories and characters.”
“It’s been a great experience all round, particularly being a parent myself now, to be able to share some of this with my own family in a different kind of way. What you have to remember is that the story of Alice in Wonderland can be pretty dark in places, which is kind of its brilliance and why I think it appeals to people of all ages. On the surface it may be all light and fun, but scratch a little bit beneath that and it all starts getting a bit murky.” The story of a girl falling down the rabbit hole into a madcap kingdom populated by the likes of The Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat and Queen of Hearts is rich ground for colourful adaptation. In this version, Alice is a 40-year-old single mum stuck in the drudge of ordinary life, sacked from her job and still obsessing over her ex. It’s left to her own young daughter Ellie, played here by Naomie Morris, to try and talk some sense into her, although both are crazy enough to follow a giant white into a broken lift shaft.
“Oh how my casting has changed! I’m not even forty yet,” Kerry laughed. “I follow my daughter down the famous rabbit hole and come across all of these fantastic characters that everybody knows and loves so much, but it’s quite a different twist on that which is to be expected, thanks to Frank Wildhorn’s superb script and music.”
“It’s kind of a story relating to contemporary modern life, in a way, and when I met with Frank it was his enthusiasm that really got to me. That and the fact I’d heard some of the music already. It’s also been something so very different to anything I’ve done previously. To do something so far removed from anything else was incredibly attractive and I’ve loved every second of it.”
Kerry Ellis as Alice
Wonderland is also visually spectacular, not unlike other shows that Kerry has been a part of such as Wicked. “It’s always great to have that magic surrounding you on stage, but this a lot more subtle in regards to the effects that are used. With shows like Wicked, the effects sort of tell you what’s happening whereas with Wonderland you’ll have to use a little bit more of your imagination.”
“The thing about this show is that the music is just brilliant. It takes something special to come out humming the tunes to songs you may not necessarily have known two hours beforehand, which again is down to Frank’s brilliance.”
Kerry Ellis is no stranger to Liverpool. She’s appeared at The Liverpool Empire, Echo Arena and – alongside Brian May – The Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in recent years and is really looking forward to her return visit. “I absolutely love Liverpool. I always feel very comfortable there and seem to get a good response. The people are just really lovely. I’ve been there a lot for different things recently and I’m really excited to be coming back. I always get to have a good time when I’m there … and then there’s the shopping, which is just fabulous!”
“I’m quite lucky with shows like this that I can take a bit of time and go out-and-about a bit more than I can if I’m gigging, which tend to be odd nights here and there. On one night shows like that, you see your hotel room, the theatre and the transport and that’s it pretty much.”
“With shows like this, there’s a bit more freedom to get out and take a look around. I’ve been especially lucky on this show, too, because I’ve been able to have my family around in some of the cities. Going out exploring with them has been great.”
2017 has been a busy year. Currently in Wonderland, the second collaborative album with legendary Queen guitarist Brian May, Golden Days, was released in April and to round things off, at the end of the year, she begins a whole new touring show, Heaven on Earth which again takes in Liverpool in 2018. “It’s been very exciting. The album has received some great responses and we’re about to do a Radio Edit Launch of a new single, Panic Attack.
It’s been busy but I prefer that. I don’t like being quiet, waiting for the phone to ring.”
Unfortunately, a tour with May had been planned for December 2016 but had to be cancelled due to the guitarist becoming ill. There is good news on that front however. “Brian’s about to go on tour with Queen and Adam Lambert at the end of the year, then of course I’m doing this until August then Heaven on Earth, so it’s a question of when we can find the time to reschedule those dates we sadly had to cancel. Hopefully though, it’ll be happening in the summer of next year.”
“Brian is very much better now, thank goodness. It’ll be great to get out there again and this time to do some tracks from Golden Days. To do new work is what it’s about for me. I’m doing this which is new, and the album which is new then Heaven on Earth which is a brand new arena show based around the story of Adam and Eve. Heaven on Earth, from what I’ve seen of the stage set drawings, is going to be huge. It’s all very exciting and I genuinely couldn’t be happier.”
So what can an audience expect from Wonderland? “You’ll definitely come out of the theatre humming and bopping along to the music. It’s such a fun story, with a fair bit of emotion thrown in. It’s very much a feel good show that’ll appeal to everybody, but mostly it’s just a whole lot of fun.”
For More Kerry Ellis Information: www.kerryellis.com
Wonderland runs at The Liverpool Empire Theatre June 12 – June 17.
For Tickets: www.atgtickets.com/shows/wonderland/liverpool-empire/