A story of murder, corruption and fame comes to town next month when Chicago brings all that jazz to Tunbridge Wells. Leading lady Ali Bastian tells us how she has discovered the magic of musicals.
When Ali Bastien steps onto the stage at the Assembly Hall Theatre in May, she will be following in some very impressive footsteps. Over the decades a host of renowned actresses have played jail bird Roxie Hart in the timeless musical Chicago, including Ginger Rogers, Renée Zellweger, Melanie Griffith and Michelle Williams. Now Ali, former star of Hollyoaks and The Bill, is the latest to bring the coveted role to life.
“It’s a dream role to play Roxie,” she says. “I’ve never done a musical before so I’ve been learning everything for the first time. The company is so supportive and they’re really looking after me. Everyone is willing everyone else to do well.”
Set in 1920s Prohibition-era America, Chicago tells the story of naive chorus girl Roxie Hart, who murders her lover and as a result is thrown into prison alongside a variety of hard-bitten female prisoners. Her only hope of escaping the death penalty rests with Billy Flynn, a lawyer who specialises in winning acquittals by turning his clients into celebrities. He soon works his magic on Roxie and she becomes the darling of the sensationalist press – to the annoyance of Velma Kelly, a double murderer whose own fame is being eclipsed by the newcomer.
Featuring songs such All That Jazz and Razzle Dazzle, the show has been captivating audiences since it was first staged on Broadway in 1926.
“The script is incredible – it’s so well written and such a great story,” Ali says. “I think that’s a big part of its appeal. The characters are so well developed and it’s all there for you as an actor. Everybody loves the songs because they’re quite iconic. There’s a good balance of acting, singing and dancing in it, plus the show is so precise and everything is there for a reason. There’s no line in that script which is just thrown in – it’s all about telling the story. I feel really passionate about it.”
As a semi-finalist in the 2009 series of Strictly Come Dancing, Ali is no stranger to the pressure of live theatre. But the demands of Bob Fosse’s acclaimed choreography still required a rigorous preparation period for Ali and her leading co-stars, Tupele Dorgu of Coronation Street fame and former Eastender, Stefan Booth.
“We had a really intense training period to get on top of our own routines, then the rest of the company joined us and we rehearsed for a few more weeks,” Ali says. “Strictly really gave me that bug for live performance and reawakened my passion for dance, but Bob Fosse’s style of dancing is different to anything I’ve ever done before.”
Although she found fame as a television actor, Ali is keen to keep the momentum of musicals going.
“I would love to go back to TV, but I also really love what I’m doing and I’d like to do more theatre and musicals,” she says. “Though I would have said that this is my dream role – I don’t know what would top it.”
Chicago can be seen at the Assembly Hall Theatre from Monday May 7 to Saturday May 12. Book tickets online at assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk or call 01892 530 613 / 532 072.