It’s an oft quoted moan from musical theatre actors that in the UK they struggle to achieve work on television and film or in straight theatre due to the stigma attacked to musicals on the part of casting directors, or perhaps the producers they work for.
Now while there may be some truth to the idea that it is not easy, in my eight years of agenting, I have not found it to be an insurmountable challenge.
Recently, we achieved two fresh screen credits for David Bedella (pictured above), originally of Jerry Springer the Opera fame, and later a Holby regular – he was seen last week on BBC1′s new series By Any Means and has a guest lead on the forthcoming Steve Pemberton/Reece Shearesmith penned Inside No.9. We had success placing Amy Nuttall in the biggest TV drama in the world, Downton Abbey, on ITV1, recently achieved a TV regular return for Samantha Womack on Mount Pleasant on Sky following several years in South Pacific. Zizi Strallen has followed consecutive runs in Rock of Ages and Merrily We Roll Along with a spot of filming on Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella feature film for Disney, and Eastenders star and musical theatre regular Emma Barton has filmed You, Me, Us and Them for Hat Trick Productions.
Our most recent exciting news of a musical theatre actress achieving her first TV lead regular is Laura Checkley, who could be spotted in the ensemble of Trevor Nunn’s Gone With The Wind and is filming the new ITV1 comedy drama Edge of Heaven from the producers of Sherlock, alongside Blake Harrison and Adrian Scarborough.
I think a turning point has been seeing leading TV actors have a moment so big in West End theatre that it actually takes them to a higher level of success arguably than their screen work that preceeded it. Sheridan Smith stepped up a gear in her year in Legally Blonde and it was her turn as Elle, rather than Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps before it, that elevated her status to near national treasure, that saw her star in Mrs Biggs which won her her first BAFTA. James Corden’s career peak must still surely be Gavin and Stacey, but after much documented lull, it was undoubtedly his success in One Man Two Guvnors which brought him back the nation’s hearts. One of our most successful international exports is Lara Pulver, whose career continues to sky rocket after stints in True Blood, Spooks, Sherlock and Da Vinci’s Demons, following her Olivier nomination in Parade in the Donmar. And Call the Midwife star Helen Thomas is now a red carpet favourite, a long way from her turn in the UK tour of High School Musical.
I think maybe this slight urban myth, or certainly over-exaggeration, comes from actors in the ensemble of a musical finding the musical credits holding them back for their first TV credits, and this is probably true. But if you excel in a lead role in a musical, particularly in one with which you receive attention, then I find this as an agent a great marketing tool when trying to help a musical theatre actor make that transition from stage to screen.
I think it’s important for the agent to remain optimistic, while being realistic, when submitting suggestions to casting directors, because if we ourselves let pessimism creep in then how can the casting director be blamed for having the same cynicism. After all, you’ve gotta be in it to win it.