INTERVIEW: Jodie Steele talks Rock of Ages, playing strong women and voice-over work

West End and theatre powerhouse Jodie Steele is no stranger to taking on big roles; she has Fame’s Carmen Diaz, Rent’s Mimi, Wicked’s Elphaba and Heathers antagonist Heather Chandler in her back catalogue.

Currently rocking her way across the UK as small-town girl Sherrie Christian in Rock of Ages, Jodie took some time out of her week at Wolverhampton Grand to chat to us about why Sherrie has always been a dream role, what she has learned from the diverse range of characters she has portrayed and her recent voice-over work.

For those who haven’t seen it – summarise Rock of Ages in one sentence Rock of Ages is sex, drugs, rock and roll and 80’s greatest rock hits rolled into one!

What attracted you to the role of Sherrie? I’ve always wanted to play Sherrie, I think as you enter the musical theatre industry there are those staple roles that you think to yourself “imagine if I ever get to play her one day” so when I actually got it I couldn’t believe it. For me this a role that’s about chasing and following your dreams and leaving everything at home to achieve them, and that kind of reflects on my own life a little bit. When I started in musical theatre I had to leave everything behind and having not had a great school life, drama school was a fresh start. In a way, that’s what it’s like for Sherrie heading to LA, and although things do go a bit pear-shaped for a while she sorts it out in the end.

What has playing her taught you? Playing Sherrie has taught me to remind myself that women, no matter what is thrown at them, are feisty and should never be treated less than equal to men. In this show particularly there is a lot of sexism and we have to address it because it was so prolific in the ’80s, so we can’t pretend it didn’t happen – so it’s definitely reaffirmed to me women’s enduring strength in the face of adversity.

Sherrie is such a physical role and I have really learnt that rest and sleep is key to doing justice to this part. Back when I graduated I was playing the more physical roles like Mimi and Carmen and they were hugely demanding both in terms of the choreography and the vocals and managing both is actually very contradictory for your body. So it’s been a bit of an eye-opener in terms of making sure I stay in shape and rest my voice – it’s re-taught me how to be a bit of a boss-woman but I love the sass and the physicality of the role.

Do you have a favourite moment on the show? I absolutely love Harden My Heart with Justice and the scene with Drew immediately before the number because I think it’s very real. At this point Sherrie has broken down all her ditzy walls and she’s really toughened up because of what’s been thrown at her and I think that’s the first time Drew has seen that side of her.

I also love the scene with Justice before Every Rose and I love Every Rose… 

Rock of Ages is a very particular genre of musical. How much do you enjoy performing these types of numbers versus more traditional show tunes? I love it! I wasn’t really exposed to musical theatre until I got to drama school and I remember listening to Queen with my dad in the car when I was younger, those guitar solos and that genre of music was very much what I grew up with. I’m so often told off for adding extra flourishes into my performances, particularly when I was doing Elphaba. So for me, I think pop/rock is where my voice naturally sits…

Saying that I absolutely love singing opera but nobody knows that about me as I have never had a job in that field! I love the freedom of opera as an artist you are able to feel the music rather than be limited to the rigidity of the notes on the page.

Rock of Ages has been produced several times both on stage and screen. What makes this production different from all the others? It’s so different from the movie. I think Rock of Ages is so much better on stage; the jokes work so much better when delivered directly to an audience rather than through the screen. Compared to the original stage production there are some significant differences. The costumes are a lot more risque for one! We’ve hammed up the comedy yet made the serious bits grittier. I think the light and shade of our production compared to the original is a lot vaster. Our director Nick wanted to have truth somewhere in the show so he found those moments particularly through the interactions between Justice, Sherrie and Drew.

You’ve played a range of diverse women. Is there a common quality that you feel you’ve given to or taken from them? I have definitely given them truth – very much so, because I always try to give a part of myself to every role that I play. Finding the truth in the person I am playing is the most important thing. Taken from them – strength, because every single character that I have played has either had to find strength from the situation they have found themselves in. Or in the case of Elphaba and Mimi, the need to be strong was thrust upon them very early. It’s a big reminder of how lucky I am as Jodie for everything that I have got, which brings me back to the truth and why I have to give those characters their own truth – because they deserve it.

Last year you starred in the hugely successful UK premiere of Heathers a show that has a particularly devoted fan base. How was it performing in such a cult favourite? I was not prepared! People doing the workshops told me that I wasn’t ready for what’s going to happen. Having done Wicked I thought it would be totally fine – but it’s on another level! It was a huge responsibility to deliver something that was so loved and important to so many people, so the pressure was on every night. It was such an honour to perform in that show. Although to any fans of the show – please do not be anything like Heather Chandler at any point in your life!

I personally think that the reason the show resonates so much with young people is that it’s written for them. Ordinarily, parents and society wouldn’t allow young people to be exposed to the subjects covered in Heathers, the sex scene, the suicides for instance and it’s talking about the real stuff in life and how hard school is. I think because they know it’s written for them they are hugely protective of it and nobody can take it away from them.

You have recently joined a voice over agency. Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been working on?  It’s been so crazy since I joined Damn Good Voices; I’ve done so many demos. I’ve actually got to do one tonight! The demos have ranged from zombie voices to baby singing, to the narration of a really serious documentary to doing a recording session for a large computer software company.  I literally had to spend an hour and a half saying “Has anybody got a charger, I’m dying” – trust me after an hour and a half those words lose all meaning.

How does it feel being in a booth as opposed to being in front of an audience? Oh my gosh, it’s entirely different. I mean the pressure is off because you haven’t got an audience but it’s just as nerve-wracking because you’ve got a client there who are expecting a certain thing from you and you have to deliver it but without being quite sure on exactly what they want. Then you start judging the way you speak, which is the weirdest thing, plus you literally second guess everything. The pressure is on because time is money in that world so it is a completely different kind of nerves – I am always sweating like a pig when I go in the booth.

You spend most of your time performing in the theatre, but do you enjoy being in the audience? What was the most recent show you saw and what do you wish you’d seen but missed? I love being in the audience and I wish I had more time, inevitably though when you are a performer it often means that you are performing when all the shows are on so I miss a lot of stuff.

I wish I had seen Young Frankenstein just because I love those childhood stories that never die. I was gutted that I didn’t get to see Company because Rosalie Craig is an absolute idol of mine. The last thing I saw was Come From Away and I cried like a child, I literally could not stop. I thought it was genius from start to finish and it deserves every award that it is ever nominated for.

We then asked Jodie some quick fire questions…

Elsa or Elphaba – Elphaba

Sondheim or Lloyd Webber – Sondheim

Broadway or West End – Broadway

Dream Role – Glinda

Favourite musical number – No Good Deed (wow this is very Wicked heavy isn’t it?)

Go to audition song – River Deep by Tina Turner

Favourite musical – Rent

Your inspiration growing up – Celine Dion

Catch Jodie in the Rock of Ages UK tour until August.

Photo Credit: Richard Davenport

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