Kiss Me, Kate at the Victoria Palace continues to be one of the most popular musicals in the West End. Having transferred from Broadway, it brings a very American energy and style to London — not least because its four leads (Marin Mazzie, Brent Barrett, Michael Berresse and Nancy Anderson) are all from the States.
What is it like for an American in London? How does the West End compare with Broadway? To find out, Theatrenow went to the Victoria Palace to interview Nancy Anderson, who stops the show every night with her amazingly sexy and sassy rendition of "Always True To You Darling (In My Fashion)."
When it comes to relating to the English, was your experience playing in By Jeeves in the States helpful? "Yes! It was fascinating playing in a show full of British comic stereotypes and getting their characters across while still putting enough of a twist on them for American audiences to be able to relate to them. What's really fun is coming over here and actually seeing these various types in real life! The British humor that was responsible for Wodehouse's stories and for By Jeeves becomes much more understandable once you are living in the society that they came from."
What would you say is the main difference between American and British humor? "When it comes to plays or shows, Americans like to have their jokes set up for them, so there'll be a set up, a further set up and then the punch line. They like to be almost told when to laugh. Whereas English humor is much more throwaway and peppers a whole script. American audiences tend to miss a lot of the British humor as a result, whereas Brits will laugh at various points throughout a play, not just when the humor has been flagged up for them. This isn't a case of Brits being more sophisticated or whatever; it's just a different style and tradition of humor." Any other obvious differences? "Londoners tend to be more reserved than New Yorkers, more aware of their personal space, and though I've always found them very friendly, there is much more of a sense of privacy and reserve about the British. Not that that's a bad thing..."
How about the pubs? "There's more of a tradition of going to a stage-door pub after the show and unwinding together in London than in New York — partly because its an older tradition, and the stage-door pubs, having been going longer, have a real atmosphere about them. The only trouble is I've discovered I'm allergic to beer! Though I've really gotten into English tea and those little scones."
How about the food?"I love your chocolate! The range and quality of chocolate over here is amazing. I'm also into the British Sunday roast lunch now, though my family has always been aware of Britain and British habits, as my great grandmother was British."
Was she on the stage, too? "She certainly was! She was an opening act for Buffalo Bill's show when he toured his Wild West show 'round Britain in the late 1880's or early 1890's. Her name was Edith Ogilvy-Stewart, and she fell in love with my great-grandfather, an American who also worked on the show. They married and he took her back to Chiacgo around 1905, and given that London was the center of the world then and Chicago relatively undeveloped, I don't think she ever really forgave him!"
Do you get a chance to get outside London? "Yes, because although I love simply walking around London — there's a sense of history and people's lives that just comes off the streets at you in an amazing way — I also like to see something of the countryside. I went to Warwick Castle the other day, for example. And, as England (for an American, anyway), is so close to mainland Europe, I'm going to visit Italy with my Mum because it's so close to London!"
Finally, why do you think American musicals have such an energy about them? "Partly they're great shows, but also it's down to the fact that there are just so many actors in America trying for whatever jobs are available. The competition, in terms of numbers of actors and available Broadway theatres, is so much stronger than it is in London, so to get into a Broadway show you have to really push yourself forward, to notch up the energy levels in order to be noticed, and this creates that sort of momentum and energy that Broadway shows are known for.
"One of the interesting things for me about Kiss Me, Kate, and as an actress performing it in London, is that although its very much an American show, Cole Porter had a very English sensibility. He spent a lot of time over here and in Europe and so the show (especially its humor) is easier for British audiences to relate to than some Broadway musicals, but has the appeal of being different, and American, and so fairly exotic to Londoners. It a great combination!"
—By Paul Webb Theatrenow