Rosalie Craig has appeared in musicals up and down the U.K., from London Road at the National and Ragtime in Regent’s Park to the out-of-town tryout of Finding Neverland, directed by Rob Ashford. But the actress literally soars as Princess Althea in the National Theatre premiere of The Light Princess, the new musical collaboration by Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson. The show and Craig’s star-making performance both made the shortlist for the 2013 Evening Standard Theatre Awards, so it’s small wonder that a recent chat with Broadway.com found Craig in a gravity-defying mood—just like the weightless heroine she plays in a fairy tale rooted in war that ends in love.
You’re starring in the first-ever musical from the singer-songwriter Tori Amos. What has it been like to be a part of her crossover into musical theater?
When I first heard that Tori was doing this musical four years ago, I thought it was such a brilliant idea! The songs on her albums are story-based anyway, and it’s almost as if she is playing characters in them. In that way [The Light Princess] felt like a natural progression.
Tell me about of the extensive workshop process of this musical.
For a while I was playing someone called Edwina, a daughter of the king who was a baddie, and she was so attractive as a character that it was almost as if she was taking attention away from the central role. She’s not in the show anymore, but I guess that’s no bad thing since it led me on to Althea [the star part]. This project has been unlike any other that I have ever been through.
The physical requirements demanded of you are astonishing. You spend so much time wafting and twirling and reeling high above the stage.
There was one bit in technical rehearsals where they took me to the absolute heights of the Lyttelton in a harness and said, “Don’t look down” because they thought I might be scared, but I wasn’t, actually. The glorious thing about the way we rehearsed is that it was always about getting to a certain point and then moving on, so there wasn’t really time for fear to set in. I suspect once the job is over, I will reflect on things and think, “I wonder whether I could ever do that again?”
You must be getting very fit doing this.
I think I am! The thing about this production is that we are running in repertory, so we are not on every night, but I find that I have to keep up the [physical regimen] even when I am not at the National. There’s never a day when I don’t train or when I think, I can just eat a pizza and have a day off: it is definitely a commitment in that sense.
Were you aware of the challenges before taking on the role? At one point, several members of the ensemble hold you aloft by the sheer strength of their legs.
The acrobat stuff wasn’t that hard, but I don’t think I fully understood the idea of floating on wires until Marianne [Elliott, the director] invited me to have a look. Suddenly, it dawned on me: “I wonder if I have to sing at the same time?” [Laughs.] Now I love flying in a harness; I can’t fathom doing the show without it.
The physicality of the part aside, what do you like about playing this lovesick teenager who falls for the son of the king of her father’s opposing realm?
Althea’s wonderful to play because she’s wrangling with everything that we all have to go through. At its core, the show is about how a young person grows up not acknowledging a physical and mental problem [the character can’t cry and appears doomed to remain weightless], and how society deals with that.
I’m a great admirer of Tori Amos’ score, which feels more like of a soundscape than a conventional musical theater construct with buttons on every number.
I agree completely. To me, what Tori has written feels like a deep tapestry in that when you come back to it a second or third time, you see so many details you didn’t discover before. At one point, she writes that she wants the orchestra “to weep,” so it’s as if she has a different understanding of music. I do actually think she’s a genius.
Much has been made of the physical resemblance between you and your composer.
[Laughs.] We call each other “coz,” as in cousins—she’s always like, “Hey, coz!” But, you know, apart from our [red] hair color, I don’t think we look that much alike. That was a happy accident, but one that the creative team were keen to embrace.
You came to The Light Princess following a run in Leicester in the Finding Neverland musical, which is being retooled for Broadway.
Yes, and I did the British workshop of the Sting musical, The Last Ship, which is on its way to Broadway, too. Finding Neverland was very different to The Light Princess in that quite a few people had workshopped it before I got cast, and the show itself felt like a different sort of musical theater to this one. But it was wonderful to get to work with Rob [Ashford] and I was lucky enough to do the Kenneth Branagh Macbeth [in Manchester] with him afterwards. [Producer] Harvey Weinstein popped in to see The Light Princess in previews; he’s been a very, very loyal and supportive man.
You got to play Eliza opposite Alex Jennings’ Henry Higgins in a scene from My Fair Lady as part of the National Theatre’s recent 50th birthday gala. What was that like?
I’d never played Eliza before so I was coming at it running, and it was like, “Right, I’ve got one chance to do this number.” But, in fact, it was amazing. There I am following Roger Allam, with Helen Mirren in the wings going “good luck.” It was one of those extraordinary things when you think you’ve woken up in the middle of a surreal dream.
I see on Twitter that you’re engaged to the actor-singer Hadley Fraser [now rehearsing for the Donmar’s Coriolanus].
Yes, we’re hoping to be married next year, but you know the classic actor’s life: So much depends on what we are doing work-wise.
A career-making role in an acclaimed new musical and a fiancé: Things must seem pretty good at the moment!
That’s what I’m terrified about—2014 has got a lot to live up to!