Wendy Ferguson, who plays Carlotta in the London production of The Phantom of the Opera, dicusses returning to play the Phantom diva after a short break, lets us in on her warm-up routine, and reveals why her fabulous Carlotta costumes are both a blessing and a curse… watch out for more to come from Wendy in the second part of our interview next week.
Last year, you returned to the role of Carlotta, after playing her previously. What is it like to return to Her Majesty’s?
I suppose coming back to Her Majesty’s is a bit like coming back to a little family. I first joined the cast in 2002 and stayed until 2008. So I had a 2-year break, and came back last September. People ask if it feels like I’ve never been away but time passes, we all change a little bit, and so do our performances, hopefully! It’s great being back, I feel very lucky to have been invited back to the cast.
You were in the cast when the new digital sound system was fitted. Have you noticed the difference?
I was lucky enough to be here when the new sound system was being installed into the theatre so I was here for the whole process of the changeover – that was very exciting at the time because it just opened up a whole new world in the auditorium, getting the surround sound, we used to sneak out and watch some of the Phantom bits during rehearsals which was amazing. It’s made a big difference to the show, I think.
Has your portrayal of Carlotta changed over the years?
I played the role for a few years, and to be back now again – to find a truth behind the character it has to change a little bit, so every day is different. We like to say no two shows are the same, so what was my truth last year is a bit different to this year. What you go through in life alters your performance as well.
How do you warm up before a show and how do you wind down afterwards?
I think everyone in the show has their own set routines. My routine is that I come into the theatre quite early – I’m usually in about 2 hours before the show starts. I go to one of the pianos in the building and have a 20-minute vocal warm-up, then I like to come back to my room, watch some TV and eat my dinner, relax – that’s what works best for me. Just knowing I’m in the theatre and can relax is good for me. And afterwards – I definitely can’t go home and just go straight to sleep, I like to stay awake. I think working late nights suits me – it’s just impossible to go home and sleep with all the adrenaline pumping round. That’s how I do it anyway – I think everyone is different, but I like to just be here and get myself in character.
What’s your favourite part of the show?
My favourite part of the show that I’m not involved in is the moment that the audience are suddenly backstage at the show. It is just beautiful, when you’ve got the end of the gala and Christine and Meg going into the dressing room with the Degas scene in the background – it is just breathtaking. I adore watching it, seeing the ballet girls and how their lives continue after the performance, how they’re supposedly there till midnight still practising. Between the music and the design and the dance it’s just stunning. I can’t even pick a favourite bit for the part I play – all the scenes are quite special. I enjoy my part, that’s the main thing!
Do you like Carlotta?
I love Carlotta. Carlotta’s fantastic! There’s so much more to her than just a funny lady who comes in in fabulous costumes – there’s a real story that she tells and I think that’s what makes her so special. She has her own crisis; she has her own journey and a path that follows. What makes it so interesting is I’m there as the fallout from the love triangle and you see how that resonates through all the other characters. I think she’s fabulous.
If you could ask the original creative team one question, what would it be?
I don’t think there is a question I would ask because I’ve asked everything! I’ve been really lucky while I’ve been in this building that I’ve had the chance to work with Hal Prince and Gillian Lynne… spending time in their rehearsals is just breathtaking. They are filled with so much passion, they impart all their knowledge – it’s interesting being in this show, a long-running show obviously changes and develops and they develop with it, so I’ve asked a lot of my questions.
Have you ever had any scary moments in the show?
I have scary moments in the show practically every night; I think that’s the joy. The scariest moment for me is standing behind the cloth as the Overture is playing and I have to go out and sing the Cadenza, that is a little moment when I always get butterflies – so every night is a scary night for me.
How would you describe Phantom to someone who hasn’t seen the show?
I think first and foremost, I would tell them that it is the most beautiful love story. There’s not enough romance in the world and this show really pulls at your heart strings. Secondly, the music in this show is just stunning, there’s not a tune that doesn’t resonate with you, and there’s so many hit songs that you don’t think you know but you do know. I grew up with [Andrew’s music] in the 80’s, and I think it’s beautiful. The look of the show is stunning, like the dancing – as someone who is not a dancer by any means – watching these girls and boys, what they do on the stage is beautiful. And the costumes – don’t even start me on the costumes! And the swags, and the curtains, and the design… so basically, if you haven’t seen Phantom, go!
My costumes are both a blessing and a curse. They are stunning – I’m so fortunate. Never again will I get to wear a costume like the ones I wear in this show. Before I started rehearsals when I re-joined the cast last year, I came in a couple of months early and started my wardrobe fittings. The detail that goes into them is phenomenal, when I was getting my costumes made this time we had Maria Bjornson’s designs and they had a lot of the old costumes that the makers were checking against. Our Wardrobe Mistress just found the most beautiful materials this year. But to say that they’re difficult to wear is putting it mildly. My Hannibal dress, when I make my first entrance – well, the skirt itself weighs about 4 stone, and then you’re corseted on top of that so every move you make on the stage is dictated by what you’re wearing. It takes quite a while to learn how to walk in the costumes, to learn how to hold yourself, to not get them in anyone else’s way. There’s an awful lot of things that can go wrong with my costumes and many of them have gone wrong if truth be told, but we just get on with it and try not to get too many rips as the show goes on…
In the next installment of our interview with Wendy, she answers a selection of your fan questions…