Louise Joy chats with Gina Beck, who plays Magnolia Hawks in West End musical, Show Boat, about the differences between performing in London’s Theatreland and touring America, and what the cast get up to after hours.
First of all, how would you sum up Show Boat to someone who has never seen it before?
It’s an epic musical, it was probably one of the first musicals that actually had a plot and songs that supported the plot. It was first written in 1927 so even though it’s 90 years old, it still stands the test of time. It’s one of the most brilliant pieces of musical theatre with amazing hit songs like Old Man River and Can’t Help Loving That Man. It goes on a journey; the story starts on the showboat travelling up and down The Mississippi in 1887 and we finish back in 1927 back on the boat, 40 years later. It’s definitely a show that takes its audience on a journey and it’s uplifting and heart breaking at the same time.
If you could use three words to describe your character - Magnolia Hawks – what would they be?
Innocent, loyal and courageous.
What is your favourite number to perform from Showboat?
There’s a beautiful love duet between me and Gaylord Ravenal’s character called You Are Love, which is probably one of the most romantic songs I’ve ever been able to sing. It’s just beautiful and very classical. It feels really powerful to sing it.
Do you have a favourite scene from the show?
There’s a scene in the second act where I have to audition. Magnolia is older now and she has to audition for a nightclub in Chicago because she wants to be a singer. It’s a really fun scene where I get to sing Can’t Help Loving That Man, but slightly differently to how it’s done at the beginning of the show. It sits really low in my voice and I think the audience aren’t expecting it.
Gina Beck (Magnolia Hawks) and Chris Peluso (Gaylord Ravenal) in Show Boat. Photo credit Johan Persson
Showboat tackles many powerful themes and issues such as the need for equality between races and equal rights for women – what are your personal thoughts on these issues or the way they are portrayed in the show?
Well obviously it’s unfortunate that both issues are still very relevant today. I think that’s what makes Showboat still a very contemporary narrative story which is actually quite modern when you’re watching it. We start the show with an image of the confederate flag flying, which is still very much in the news today in America, the controversy surround that flag itself. I think this show was ground-breaking at the time.
What do the cast of Showboat get up to before and after shows?
Well we have a warm up on stage where we have to do some energising kind of aerobics and we then have a vocal warm up, led by whoever is conducting us that day. Then we have a fight call, as there’s a couple of moments of stage fighting so we have to practice every day as it can be dangerous. Then we go through any notes from the director, and if there is anybody who is a new understudy, we practice bits of the scenes with them as they haven’t done it before. And then afterwards I take all my wig and costume off and go outside to see if anyone wants my autograph [laughs].
Do you ever go out with the cast afterwards?
Quite often. Since it’s a new show, I’ve had lots of friends coming to watch so sometimes I go for a drink with them afterwards, but on Saturday nights we all get together. We’ve got a membership to The Hospital Club in London so we all go there and have a swanky drink.
One of your biggest roles to date is playing Glinda in Wicked in the United States – even though you’re English and primarily tour in the UK. How did that come about?
Well I was doing Wicked in London for two years and someone just had the bright idea. There was a girl that was leaving the US tour in December, and my contract in London was finishing in November and someone just thought ‘oh that could be easy, just to send her out there’ since I had all the costumes and knew all the words. It just happened really quickly. They asked me in September and I was out there by the end of November.
The cast of Show Boat. Photo by Johan Persson
What was it like playing on the West End in the US?
It was amazing. It’s quite different to London because here, everyone lives kind of near London, whereas in America people don’t live anywhere near New York, or they might not have even been to New York. They look forward to these big shows coming into their local towns. There’s a much bigger audience catch and they’re all so excited. The audience just seem to be so much more upbeat. Every time we came into the city it was a big deal. It was really fun.
What has been one of your favourite theatres to perform in so far?
I think Her Majesty’s Theatre is a beautiful theatre, it’s definitely the most beautiful. I prefer the more classical theatres with chandlers, ornate, and red velvet, I like that.
What has been your favourite role to play so far?
Definitely Magnolia Hawkes. It’s just a role that seems to be a perfect fit for me. There’s not one piece of the show that I don’t enjoy playing, all the songs are so fantastic, it really sits well in my voice, and I get to show off my high notes.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like going to the cinema and I spend a lot of time watching other people in plays. We have Sundays and Monday nights off which is unusual. So I actually get the chance to see other shows which is brilliant. We went to see Sunset Boulevard last week, it’s great. I don’t really get much downtime, so when I’m off the show, I generally just like to relax.
Show Boat is booking at the New London Theatre until the 27th August. Group rates are available.
(Lead image photo credit: Johan Persson).