Katherine Kingsley has received Olivier nominations in a variety of diverse shows, from Piaf to Singin’ in the Rain, to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The English actress may find herself in the running again next year for her turn as the sprightly Christine Colgate in the musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Savoy Theatre, inheriting the role originated on Broadway by Sherie Rene Scott. The always-charming performer spoke to Broadway.com about landing Broadway roles on the West End, the shift from singing to Shakespeare and back again, and the joy that comes with delaying your entrance until well into the first act.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels made a splash on Broadway in 2005. Did you know the show already?
I didn’t know anything about it. When it first came up, I was doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is a very different thing altogether, but I thought, “OK, I’ll go in and meet Jerry [Mitchell, director/choreographer] because he’s a big deal here, and I would be a fool to turn down that meeting,” so I read the script and heard the music and thought, “I quite like this.”
What happened then?
I got offered the part very quickly and then had to decide whether that was what I wanted to do next—or did I want maybe to do more straight acting roles or more screen stuff. But in the end it was too good an opportunity to turn down, and I am really glad that I have done it.
Did you have any concerns about the part?
If I’m honest, my worry was that the character was going to be bland—but everybody who had seen it told me that Christine Colgate is not bland, which just goes to show how wrong an actor can be.
Plus, you’ve got billing just below Robert Lindsay and Rufus Hound.
I know, and I’d been so used to playing supporting roles that this seemed a wonderful opportunity to play an interesting leading role with an edge where the story is yours as opposed to trying to make your mark in someone else’s story.
You also get to make a wonderfully showy entrance late in the first act with the number “Here I Am.”
To be handed one of those big belty Broadway numbers is such a gift. Jerry told me he thinks it’s probably one of the greatest musical theater entrances that a female lead can have. The song literally just says, “Hi, I’ve arrived, here we go!” and it’s huge and brilliant and funny. I love David Yazbek’s music!
Did you listen to your Broadway predecessor Sherie Rene Scott’s take on the part?
I knew who she was and she’s amazing, but that’s dangerous territory when you start listening too hard to someone else’s version; in fact, I haven’t seen the film either. Sherie has got the most wonderful voice but it’s not my voice, so I just tried to make the part my own.
It must be fun because you can get a measure of the audience from backstage before you go out to perform.
Oh, it is. I hear the show, I hear the audience, and I kind of know what to expect and what to anticipate—whether they’re particularly warm or not very reactive or whatever, I hear it all. I’ve come to absolutely love my late entrance. Initially it was terrifying and I thought, “Great, I’ve got half an hour to get really nervous,” but now I love it because the rest of the cast has to warm the audience up and then once I’m on, I’m on; I just step out there!
You’ve worked with many notable British directors—Trevor Nunn, Jamie Lloyd, Michael Grandage—but here is an opportunity to work with an American one.
That was actually what attracted me in the first place. I’d never worked with an American, from the beginning I found that Jerry’s very focused. He knows what he wants from people and he expects them to do their homework and to deliver. Right from the beginning, he moved incredibly fast and everything was very full-out and full-on, which is a different approach to that of Trevor and Michael, for instance. I loved it, actually.
In this cast, there’s an Olivier and Tony winner [Lindsay], a popular comedian [Hound] and a renowned classical actress [Samantha Bond] making her musical debut. What was it like getting everyone on the same page?
It’s been an eye-opener. I like to think we all complement one another and can learn from each other, and it’s been great, for instance, watching Sam take to musicals like a duck to water. I think the fundamental ingredient we all have is that we’ve all done comedy in our careers, so that’s probably the glue that keeps us together.
Speaking of comedy, you displayed impressive comic chops in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for which you scored your third Olivier nomination.
That whole experience was such a delight and a relief to me—the fact that I was doing something unexpected that people wouldn’t associate with me and yet in a part that I’d always empathized with and understood and had wanted to play. People sometimes don’t realize that I trained classically in drama at the Bristol Old Vic but it just seems that in London I have had more success in musicals. So to be given Helena was such a treat.
You’ve got one of the absolute prerequisites for that role, which is height.
I’m 5’9” and have incredibly long legs, so my proportions make me look even taller. And there I was eight times a week playing this gangly low-confidence girl who suddenly finds herself in a nighty wrestling to the ground a 6’2” castmate who’s not wearing much of anything; that was really tough [laughs].
The best thing is it proved your versatility, as if proof were needed given your resume.
This business is constantly about trying to break down perception. What you want as an actor is to play as many different sorts of characters and roles as you can. I just want to be able to do it all.