Cassidy Janson is currently blowing audiences away as Carole King in hit West End musical Beautiful. Appropriately, we met Cassidy on one of the windiest days of the year!
Cassidy, thanks for making it through a tornado to talk to us. You must be up to your eyes in Beautiful’s first birthday celebrations?
Yes, everything happens at once. It’s blowing a gale outside…and of course it’s today that both the washing machine and the TV decide to break down!
Sorry to hear that Cassidy…or should we call you CJ?
Actually I go by both, but I guess I tend to refer to myself as CJ.
How long have you been with the show now?
Since last year – and I’m loving it!
Had you already seen Beautiful when you auditioned for the role of Carole King?
Yes, and that was a blessing because I already knew how special the part was. I’m good friends with Katie Brayben who originated the role in London – in fact it was Katie who suggested I audition.
Is there a unique pressure in playing the title character?
I’ve played leads before, so I understand the importance of looking after myself. In Avenue Q it was very much “we’re all in it together”; in Wicked, Elphaba and Glinda share the spotlight; in Beautiful, Carole is the focus of the show and you do feel that pressure. But Theatre is about communicating with the people on stage and backstage as well as with an audience -it’s not my show, it’s our show and I can’t do my stuff if they’re not doing their stuff!
Is there additional pressure in playing a real person rather than a fictional character – particularly one who so many people know and love?
I approach it in much the same way. I do as much research as I can – this show takes the audience up to the Carnegie Hall concert, but there’s a life afterwards which helps to get deeper into Carole’s psyche. You have to use your body, your voice and say the words that are written truthfully and then hopefully all those pieces add up to a performance that shows people Carole King.
What was the first show you saw in the West End?
It was Cats. I was 10 and it made a huge impression on me. I can remember watching it and being fascinated by the fact that this could be a career! I remember asking my parents and they said “Yes, this is their full time job”. I was just blown away.
Do you come from a theatrical family?
Not at all! My Dad is a plumber and my mum’s a housewife. They used to say that I “came from the faeries”. I went to a really normal mainstream school – but as far back as I remember I was singing. When I turned sixteen I went to the London Studio Centre and then for my final year I went to Millennium Dance.
So was that first trip to Cats a light-bulb moment?
At the time I think I just wanted to be Kylie… but it was certainly the first time I appreciated that you could combine singing and dancing in theatre. From the age of ten I went to every Easter and Summer workshop I could at Mountview Theatre School, with Sam Spencer Lane. I think she was the first person who told my parents “CJ could go on to do this professionally”.
What was your first ever Theatre job?
Snoopy the Musical, first at the Rosemary Branch and then at Jermyn St with Gemma McLean, Stephen Carlile, Stuart Piper and Sarah Lark. We’ve all gone on to have our own successes – not just in performing – Stuart runs Cole Kitchenn now which is a really successful agency.
What was your big break?
Tick Tick Boom! at the Menier Chocolate Factory with Neil Patrick Harris and Tee Jaye – and then Wicked – covering Elphaba in the original London Cast.
Do you remember the first time you went on as Elphaba?
Vividly. It went: Saturday, Idina [Menzel], Monday Kerry Ellis and then Tuesday…me! It wasn’t scheduled…I remember I was on the tube going in for my normal track on the show. I had a call from the company manager who was with Joe Mantello. I thought they were joking but they said “No really, you’re on tonight – Shona White has laryngitis.” I’ve never had such a rush of adrenalin. I called my Mum, then I called my agent and then the train went underground!
Carole King has inspired many women – which women do you look up to?
I’m a huge admirer of Lily James. She is fascinating to watch. I’ve been glued to War and Peace! She’s beautiful, but the bottom line is she’s a really exciting actress and I just love seeing new talent emerge. I massively admire Cynthia Erivo – I’ve just seen her in The Colour Purple on Broadway. Working with her on Dessa Rose was wonderful. She’s tenacious and hugely talented, but she also has a superb work ethic and that’s something I really admire.
Do you ever suffer from self-doubt? How do you work through those moments?
I find rehearsals a labour of love, painful a lot of the time. I have my best friend Lizzie Deane – she’s a soul and blues singer. I generally call her and inevitably she says “I was waiting for the day…”
What is it you find so emotional about the rehearsal process?
It’s just very exposing. You lay your heart on the ground. For this show in particular, all the other leads were staying. Everyone knew their characters and I felt like I was flailing around trying to find Carole. But I must say they were all amazingly supportive, particularly Alan Morrissey who plays Gerry Goffin. He kept saying “You’re doing great” – the total opposite to the voice in my head.
So it’s all about the teamwork?
Yes, it really is. The MD, Matt Spencer-Smith was just brilliant with me as were Dominic Shaw the resident director and Marc Bruni who came over from the States. I always felt that everyone had my back.
Do you have a favourite song in the show?
I love singing Beautiful. I love the sentiment in the song, it’s something I connect to. In the past 18 months I’ve been gigging a lot with a band called The Jive Aces and doing live gigs every weekend has really helped me. We’ve even played the main stage at Glastonbury! Because of that, coming back to theatre has been a really smooth transition. That song, coming at the end of the show, really feels like I’m at a gig.
Do you still get to perform with The Jive Aces at all?
Yes, in fact we’ve just played Ronnie Scott’s in Soho. I was supposed to do a six month tour of the US, but then Beautiful happened. The Jive Aces are like my brothers.
You appeared in Avenue Q. If they made a puppet of you, what would it be like?
No-one’s ever asked me that! I suppose it would have strawberry blonde hair and a very big gob!
If you could play any role in Musical Theatre?
Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. I’ve been singing her songs since I was fifteen! But then the role I really want to play might not even have been written yet…you never know what’s around the corner.
Do you ever find yourself on stage wondering “what’s for dinner”?
Absolutely. It happens in long runs, especially when you’re tired. I think most performers can occasionally find their minds wandering…but it tends to be quite a short journey with an audience watching!
And finally, if you could go back and give your younger self some advice?
I guess it would be “don’t worry about what people think of you” and “don’t beat yourself up so much during rehearsals”. But then I could give myself the same advice now.