X Factor winner turned West End star Alexandra Burke is in the Sister Act habit
- Credit: �Tristram Kenton
After her success in The Bodyguard, X Factor winner turned West End star Alexandra Burke is back in another film turned hit musical, Sister Act.
Alexandra Burke seems to have cornered the market in playing divas in peril. After two years in the role of Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard, The X Factor winner turned West End actress is now playing Deloris Van Cartier in the hit musical Sister Act.
It is a lead role that requires a slightly lighter touch as she plays the sassy singer who witnesses a gangland murder and is placed out of harm's way in a convent.
The ever popular movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith is the basis for a show that features original music by Tony and eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken — the man behind Disney's Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and Enchanted.
Directed and choreographed by Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood, the latest touring production, currently at Norwich Theatre Royal, is packed with dance routines and songs inspired by Motown, soul, disco and gospel tunes.
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It is a perfect role for Alexandra who after winning The X Factor back in 2008 saw her debut single Hallelujah became a European record holder for single sales in 24 hours shifting a massive 105,000 copies. American success, arena tours and hit albums followed, but she has more recently carved out a successful career as a stage actress.
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Did you jump at the chance to play Deloris Van Cartier?
The producer Jamie Wilson offered me the role and I actually wasn't too sure about saying yes although it was a fantastic opportunity. I didn't know if I was made for the role. I think it is a confidence thing. I was the same when I was offered The Bodyguard. Again, it was an issue about me not having enough self-confidence.
What persuaded you?
Jamie gave me the soundtrack, script and the film. I watched half of the movie and I listened to the soundtrack and it was actually the soundtrack that made me say yes. The songs are just so beautiful and I thought it would be a privilege to sing them.
The songs have a Motown influence with a strong gospel base. How would you describe them?
I would say it is more of the gospel aspect that is appealing to me and just being able to be un-restricted in what I do. The creative team are allowing me to take the journey and do whatever happens naturally. There are no restrictions which is great and we are able to just be ourselves and just sing. I say that for everyone. Those who have their own solo moments can take advantage of them because we can all just be ourselves and be free with the music which is great.
Were you careful not to just copy the film performance of Whoopi Goldberg as Deloris?
I always want to put my own spin and my own interpretation on anything that I do because everyone has different ways of bringing a character out of them regardless of what role they are playing. In fact, I have deliberately not watched the whole movie.
The musical is a mix of comedy and drama. Was that part of the appeal?
Deloris is a very interesting character and very different to Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard. It allows me to even more open than I was playing Rachel and playing this role means I have to just let go and allow myself to trust my instincts. That is always something I have always been afraid to do because I always want to be perfect at everything.
Craig Revel Horwood, who has directed and choreographed the show, has been very complementary about the way you have embraced the comedy elements of the show…
It is great he is saying those kind words. Everyone in rehearsals has said there is no such thing as making a mistake. It is just creating a different interpretation. I had a really good time creating a role with a team and we are all on the same journey.
Is part of being in a show like this the appeal of working with an ensemble cast?
I am learning so much and it is great to soak in everyone else's characters. Everyone brings a different energy. Every day is different because we are all discovering loads of different things. What I also see with this team is that everyone supports each other. It is a very loving and family-oriented type of vibe. Everyone is there for each other and there are no egos.
Is being on a long tour with a show like Sister Act tough when you're away from loved ones for long periods?
I do the touring because I want to play the role. What makes it great is performing and nothing else can give me that feeling when I come off stage. I just hope I can make people laugh, cry and smile when they see the performance more than anything. It is also fantastic to have so much fan support. I have a good grounding as well from my family and friends that help me take care of me and they are always there for me.
Your mum Melissa Bell is a successful singer herself, including with Soul II Soul. Was she a stereotypical pushy showbiz mum?
No. Music has run in the family, it's always been in my blood, though thankfully she wasn't the kind of mother who forced me into it, she has let me make my own journey in life. But any time I've need advice she has always been there. She is my biggest influence really. She really has taught me everything that I know. I still think she is still a fantastic singer.
Wasn't it her who persuaded you to return for a second attempt at The X Factor, which proved sound advice given that you won it?
I first went on when I was 16 then went back at 19 and won. I had no intention of going back again but that was an occasion where my mum dragged me back to the audition and said that I had nothing to lose. She was right. I'm happy I did it because it's given me opportunities and an amazing life.
It is over eight years since The X Factor. In contrast to the subsequent mixed fortunes of some contestants, you keep winning high profile roles…
I feel very fortunate to still be working hard for what I want in life. It is a privilege to be offered these kinds of roles. I have learned so much over the past couple of years especially doing The Bodyguard and now Sister Act. It is also hard work keeping the energy up when you are doing lots of shows in a week. I have a major respect for people who do theatre. I don't think people realise how hard it is if they don't experience it.
• Sister Act, Norwich Theatre Royal, until May 6, 7.30pm, 2.30pm May 6, £34.50-£8, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
• Alexandra Burke will perform evening performances only. For matinee performances the role of Deloris Van Cartier is performed by Joanna Francis.