The route from TV talent show to musical theatre star is a well-trodden road. Some contestants flirt with stage success for a brief moment during the dying moments of their 15 minutes of fame. Others discover passion and talent they didn’t previously know existed. Alexandra Burke falls firmly in the latter camp.
Since winning The X Factor a decade ago, she has starred in touring productions of Sister Act and The Bodyguard The Musical, and made her West End debut in the recent revival of Chess. This month, she becomes the latest performer to pull on theatre’s most famous black tights to join the cast of Chicago. And all that might not have happened were it not for Children in Need.
Alexandra Burke tells us more:
What is Chicago about?
Chicago, set in the 1920s jazz age, is about the justice system. A number of women, accused of murder, face trial and all that comes with it – corruption, money, fame and sex…
You’re playing Roxie Hart. What can you tell us about her?
Roxie is great. She’s sexy, sassy, manipulative, clever and irresistible to men. Although on trial for murder, she gets a taste for fame and enjoys the attention from the media.
Why do you think Chicago is such an enduring success?
It has it all – drama, sass, dancing and jazz! I think it would be hard to not love it, which is why it is still going strong both Stateside and in the UK. I am so happy to be a part of it. I saw Brandy in NYC playing Roxie and thought I would love the opportunity to do this show… and here we are!
How challenging is it joining a cast that is already used to performing together?
The thought of joining an already established cast is very daunting. I sat in and watched the show before the offer was made to me and I remember thinking, “Wow these guys are tight!” But I think that’s so important in theatre. You need to be connected for the performance to flow, and boy does it in this show! I am in the middle of rehearsals, so have been working with some of the team already. I am really looking forward to getting to know the others in the coming weeks.
How different is performing in musicals to performing a concert?
It is so different. I am not theatre trained, but I have had a mic in my hand, singing music since I was 6 years old. Music comes naturally to me. Acting is something that I have learnt on the job. But I absolutely love it, and it has always been a dream of mine to do this show.
How are you feeling about performing at the Phoenix Theatre?
I can’t wait! It is such an intimate theatre in the heart of London.
What was your first experience of theatre?
My first experience of theatre was a performance of Les Misérables’ On My Own for Children in Need. I was in the full costume and it was an absolutely amazing experience! I think it was then that I thought, “If the opportunity to do theatre comes my way, I’m going to grab it with both hands.”
Why is watching a live performance so special?
It’s real, it’s raw and it’s true talent. There’s nothing I enjoy more than watching live music – big bands with drums, guitar, bass, backing vocalists, the full works. During my time in the musical Chess at the London Coliseum, I got to perform accompanied by a 50-piece orchestra, which was absolutely amazing. In my opinion, you just can’t beat live music or performance.
What one piece of advice would you give aspiring performers?
To follow your dreams, work as hard as you can to get there and never give up. If you want it, go get it!
Apart from the Phoenix Theatre, which is your favourite London theatre?
The London Palladium is one of my favourites. There have been so many magical moments created in that building through entertainment. Some of the best shows in the world have played there.
Why do you think London is such a special place to experience theatre?
The West End is a magical place for the world of theatre – so many shows come in and out.
Which other London show are you excited about at the moment?
Where is your favourite place in London to visit?
Notting Hill. It’s so cool. Full of life. Amazing shops. Great street food – great stalls! And amazing people playing music while they’re walking around. It just has a great energy.
What’s your top tip for a trip to the theatre?
Take snacks, have an interval drink, turn your phones off and sit back and enjoy the show! Theatre and the cinema are my favourite places to drop out of the world for a couple of hours and get lost in entertainment.