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Move It, Matt!

Move It, Matt!

Above: Matt Terry and the company of Madagascar the Musical in rehearsal

Matt with Sardines’ Editor, Paul Johnson

Released in 2005, the movie Madagascar has since become an iconic piece of animated film history, spawning two sequels, a spin-off and a TV show. The original, which featured the vocal talents of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith and Sacha Baron Cohen, has grossed over half a billion dollars worldwide.

Last week the new UK tour of the film’s brand-new musical adaptation premiered at New Wimbledon Theatre starring 2016 X Factor winner, Matt Terry.

Sardines dropped in for a chat with Matt just one week before the show’s big opening in SW19 where we discovered that, in just under two months Matt will be headlining in the very same theatre where he used to sell ice-cream!

MATT: That’s right! I used to work front of house at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre where I always used to get told off for selling cut-price ice cream! I did a couple of pantos at the Churchill too when I was younger. That’s when I was training at D&B School of Performing Arts, just up the road, and they used to send students up for the panto every year.
It’s going to be great because we go to Bromley in September as part of the tour, but it will be a bit weird coming back and thinking, ‘God, I used to sell ice-cream here, and now I’m on stage!’

This is quite an early venture into musical theatre seeing as you only won X Factor two years ago?
MATT: To be honest I trained in musical theatre first and was in the final call-backs for Thriller Live, Book of Mormon, Kinky Boots… I was auditioning all the time and then fell into X factor, which I ended up winning! I still love music, and singing pop, and two years later I’m still doing it but that’s the difference nowadays; things are evolving. One minute you’re on TV presenting and the next minute you’re releasing an album, appearing in a musical, a TV show. Everyone is prepared to do everything nowadays, which I’m happy about, I love the variety of being able to do so many different things. But this is where I started, my foundation, and definitely my main love. I just love being part of a cast.

How does the film version of Madagascar fit into your OWN childhood timeline?
MATT: I’m 25 so I must have been eleven or twelve when it came out. I just remember watching it, in the front room, cross-legged on the carpet eating grapes. I’ve always loved it and the movie is pretty iconic now. There have obviously been three movies and a spin-off or two. It’s timeless. I think naturally the next step now in this country is for it to be musical. You can’t help but draw parallels with other films which have become musicals like Shrek, and I guess the parallel there is that it’s a family show. There’ll be lines that adults will laugh at and understand that will go straight over the kids’ heads but, of course, there’ll also be all the favourite elements that the kids will love and understand – such as The Floss halfway through one of the big numbers. Just incorporating that alone will make the kids go nuts because it’s such a viral phenomenon at the moment. The adults probably won’t understand any of that!

Alex the Lion was famously brought to life by Ben Stiller. What can we expect from Matt Terry’s version?
MATT: I think they’ve cast us all very well, not only in appearance but according to our personalities too. We all have very similar traits to our characters. Melman, for example, who is played by Jamie [Lee-Morgan] – identical charismas, and that goes for the others too; Marty and Antoine [Murray-Straughan], Gloria and Timmika [Ramsay], and hopefully me and Alex. It’s ok,I am aware that I’m not a lion but that’s probably really the only difference; it’s not the movie, it’s an adapted musical of the film. But we all play the characters well and I’m really excited how we’ve brought them to life. And of course Alex is singing some big numbers, which is new.”

Are the costumes a problem with all that moving around?
MATT: It is very hot! My costume is obviously a muscley lion that makes me look about twenty stone. With a chest out here, arms out there, just like in the film – it’s very realistic. I’ve really jumped in the deep end with this haven’t I! Perhaps I should have started off with a nice quiet straight acting role, ha, ha! Big costume, lots of choreography, big numbers… But I’m loving it!

What has been the hardest aspect of being in the show for you to get used to?
MATT: I fully realise that I’ve gone from winning X factor quickly into a big musical and that some of the critics will be expecting a disaster. But luckily I don’t take life too seriously and I have fun with everything. No matter what I do I give it everything I’ve got and I’m just enjoying the process. That’s not to say we’re not still learning, right now we’re still in the rehearsal process, so it’s not perfect yet but we’re sharpening up all the time. We’ve actually only had three weeks to put on an entire musical, which is nuts, but I’m excited. Three weeks is about the length of time you usually get to rehearse for a pantomime and, this is a full UK tour, but it’s gonna be great – I hope so anyway, you’re coming to the first week in Wimbledon! Ha, ha!

Dropping in on our chat are some of the new show’s creatives (Director, Kirk Jameson, Choreographer, Fabian Aloise and Puppet Director, Emma Brunton) as well as co-stars, Jamie Lee-Morgan (Melman), Antoine Murray-Straughan (Marty) and Timmika Ramsay (Gloria), so it’s lucky we had some extra questions:

Can you tell us what taking on this show means to you?
KIRK: First and foremost, the timing feels right. The movie is so iconic, along the lines of Shrek, which of course is a complete smash hit. I’ve actually had very extensive notes from my nephews. The first thing I was told is that we have to include Move It!

JAMIE: The film has had quite a few sequels, including the TV shows, so I agree that the time is right to see it live. That’s the natural evolution of it. A lot of the parents who will bring their kids were kids themselves when the film came out twelve years ago, so they’re almost passing it on to that next generation. That means both the parents and children have expectations as they walk through the door.

FABIAN: Y’know, there aren’t that many family shows, with the exception of things like Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There are kids shows, and there are adult shows, but this falls right in the middle of the genre so both parents and kids can come in and laugh together. When Kirk and I first met up and talked about what kind of a show we wanted to make, it was almost like we’d opened the lid of this box where anything and everything should be possible. And that’s what makes this group of people so special, is that they allow for it to happen. We’ve rarely had any kind of pushback on any ideas we’ve had; if anything, everyone kind of stands there for a second and thinks, ‘Yeah, how can we make this work? How can we make this more like the movie? How can we make this funnier? How can we relate it to something else that someone recognises?’

Are there any elements of creating a new show that excite you?
KIRK: The fact that we work-shopped a brand-new show has meant that the production we’re opening in Wimbledon is absolutely not what landed on my doorstep eight months ago. It’s actually completely different and restructured. We’ve added scenes, taken stuff away, added songs, in fact we’ve completely remoulded it. So this really is a premiere because this version has never ever been performed anywhere.

JAMIE: One of the most exciting things about creating a new show rather than going into an existing established production is that we have got a lot of creative freedom, so it’s been really nice to workshop together where everybody’s ideas have been thrown into the pot and we’ve come up with what we like the most.

How has the use of puppetry been during the development process?
KIRK: They’ve taken the puppetry on unbelievably well. I was so worried about the it during the planning stages, but I knew it was something I desperately wanted as soon as I read the script. The problem is that puppetry is something that can look very bad, and it’s very easy to do badly. Those guys [Jo Parsons, Laura Johnson, Jessica Niles, Matthew Pennington, Shane McDaid and Victoria Boden] have been a dream, they’re so amazing to work with and have made it so much less of an issue than I thought it was going to be. The puppets are actually the least of my concerns in the show now.

FABIAN: I think with the exception of Jamie [Lee-Morgan], who did War Horse, the challenge for us was to replicate the great job that DreamWorks did with the animation. Because it’s not just traditional puppetry, it’s trying to make puppet reminiscent of the original animation, and that’s really tricky. Even things like Move It! is bordering on the impossible to get anyone to do what the animation does. That’s been the biggest challenge I think.

EMMA: It’s been really interesting having Max Humphries give us such an amazing diversity of puppets in terms of what we have to create, and they’re all very different. We were lucky enough to have a workshop early on to decide how they were going to move, and how we thought they should move, and it was endearing having the mechanics working at that stage. What’s been fascinating for me as a puppetry director with a background in dance is that being able to see the puppeteer can actually add an energy to what’s happening through the puppet. This means you can actually embrace the fact that you can see the puppeteer and they give an echo of the movement that the puppets are creating.

Your favourite part of the show?
Antoine: I Like to Move It!

Jamie: The crate scene on the boat before they reach Madagascar.

Timmika: When we first arrive in paradise, it’s really funny!

Matt: The costumes, everybody’s in for a surprise.

Fabian: Anything with Mort. She’s the most amazing thing ever!

Emma: All the puppetry!

KIRK: There’s a number in act two called Steak, when Alex gets withdrawal symptoms and goes a bit delirious as he starts to dream about steak. It’s a big glitzy Las Vegas showgirl number of which Fabian has done an amazing job, the girls are fantastic, Matt’s fronting it beautifully… And it’s completely nothing to do with the style of the rest of the show. We just go to Vegas for four and half minutes, and I absolutely love it.

Win When You’re Singing

Win When You’re Singing

Julie Miles, vocal coach

If you’re one of those cynical types who can’t stand X Factor, BGT or The Voice then read on. Julie Miles is a vocal coach and founder of Vocal Ovation. You’ll often find her – if not one of ‘the hundred’, in All Together Now – she’ll be giving some one-on-one coaching to the many ‘amateurs’ who are appearing on our screens as they attempt to wow the celebrity judges.

Sardines spoke with Julie in July and uncovered a few home truths about some of the most popular TV talent shows…

How are you, four months into lockdown?

“I’m actually pretty good. Life has adapted nicely to being at home; I’ve got back-to-back online lessons, Monday to Friday, so it’s all good! Even though I should have been teaching in Poland now, and that had to be cancelled… then I was involved in the Little Mix tour, and that had to be cancelled… Onwards and upwards; I’ve not got too much I can complain about compared to what some people have been going through.

“It’ll be seventeen weeks on Thursday since I called it a day with face-to-face lessons and decided to take things online. I thought, ‘Oh, great, I’m going to have loads of time on my hands to get all kinds of things done,’ but I couldn’t have been more wrong! I’m really not complaining. Ha, ha!”

When do you think things will get back to normal?

“Well, I am getting more questions now about when I’m going to resume face-to-face sessions. I’m going to start staggering it. Towards the end of August I’ll start some face-to-face lessons and, in terms of performances – I deal with a lot of people who want careers in the industry – I’ve been lucky to have people who are either doing it part-time or their parents are still paying. So, I haven’t been hit in the same way that people in the West End have, who are completely reliant on their jobs. Plus, West End performers simply can’t afford to pay for vocal coaching at the moment. Some of my singers who are semi-professional have started to perform outside now – being booked for outdoor parties and that kind of thing. But in terms of ‘normal’, I really think we’re going to be quite a way away from what we know as normal.”

Have you been spending much time people how to produce a great sound via Zoom-type platforms?

“Yes, absolutely! A lot of singers I work with have also got a large presence on social media and they’re already used to posting videos online via YouTube, Instagram or Facebook etc. Because I’ve had so many students who have done that, the ones who have been a bit scared to dip their toe in the water have really been forced into it. These are the available platforms on which to show off their talent.

“The other thing that’s been brilliant is that I’ve always been involved in competitions. And the one that I’ve been involved the closest with went completely online this year. That gives singers an outlet and a goal to actually work towards. It’s a weird situation because I think really a performer wants to perform, they want the audience. When you’re doing a ‘live on Facebook’ you can see how many people are watching but you’re not getting that instant audience interaction – no matter how good the technology gets. That’s what feeds the performance, by having those people sat in front of them. You can see their faces and how they are reacting to you. So, while it is good to be able to do it, it’s essential to be able to do both.

“X Factor was originally acapella before they switched the auditions into much larger venues. I think in that situation, when you have – hopefully – got thousands of people really rooting for you, it is on one hand nerve-wracking but you can also see that immediate gratification of a crowd cheering. You can’t get any better than that. In an acapella audition scenario, you have got judges and potential employers sat in front of you. So you are at least getting a sense of how you’re doing, but I think with the old X Factor process they were really there to kind of intimidate rather than anything else. And I know that in terms of going for big musical theatre shows in the West End, the people who are doing the auditioning are absolutely brutal. They take no prisoners, their purpose isn’t to make you feel really, really comfortable. They just want to get the numbers in and out and find ‘the one’.”

Many musical ‘lockdown’ performances on YouTube look and sound great. has more work gone into their production than people realise?

“Oh, my goodness, yes! The amount of work that goes into producing something like a video for YouTube is absolutely huge! Unlike a live performance where any little glitch is over in a split-second, when it’s a pre-recorded video you’re leaving yourself open for every minute bit of critique… not only from the audience but also from YOU. You don’t usually get a chance to watch yourself immediately with a live performance. So with these recordings I know people who have literally spent all day, doing thirty, forty, fifty takes to get something that they’re really happy with. Perfectionism gets taken to a crazy level! So, when there are more people involved they have to get it right, quickly. That takes a lot of work, to produce something viewable for the public – and to a standard the public is used to.

You spend a lot of time working on TV talent shows. Does this usually involve inexperienced amateurs or professionals?

“It’s definitely a mix. Again, years ago, when the whole X Factor thing was a lot more popular, you would definitely get queues and queues of people who were complete amateurs – and, in some cases, delusional. We’ve all seen that and I think the whole focus on mental health, empathising and being kind to people has exposed that it’s not entertaining but cringe-worthy, in my opinion. So the queues – where people just had to click on the website to enter – used to include a lot of amateurs. The reality NOW is that on any of the serious stages, the people who get in front of the cameras, have been scouted and invited to audition.”

“That’s where I get involved a lot; having a number of really great singers who are ready to appear on a show like that. I’ll do showcases for all of the main TV competitions and the producers actually come to my studio and watch my singers doing their stuff. And from that they can start sifting the ones who have stood out. There might be very few of them who are actually earning a living from singing, all of them have put a lot of hours into their singing and performing. So, yes, they do tend to pick the cream off the top to make a good show, really.

“It’s all about making television. Going back to your earlier question about what goes into making these YouTube performances; you do see every detail. You can get in a lot closer in with a camera that you can sitting twenty rows back in a theatre, so it really does come down to the minute facial expressions.”

Can you tell us a little about Vocal Ovation?

“It’s my ten-year anniversary this summer. I started out as a professional singer who got involved in the performing arts when I left school. But it’s tough earning a living as an entertainer, so I got a ‘proper’ job on the side until, eventually, I stepped away from performing completely and just worked solely for a FTSE 100 company. I took voluntary redundancy when the opportunity came along and my husband booked me a surprise lesson with David Grant [of David & Carrie Grant] who I’d loved watching over the years with Fame Academy and Pop Idol. That lesson was amazing so I took some more slots, and on the second one David asked me, ‘Julie, have you ever thought of being a vocal coach?’ … and it all stemmed from there; I travelled down to London every month to work with David and I went on from there. My studio, which is on the side of the house, has a stage and everything. I’m actually in the middle of the countryside so when people come up – and you do have to have transport just to get to me – when they walk into the studio they cannot believe it. So the space I’ve got has really helped, plus I do train hard. I put people in the mind-space that they can step onstage with a full P.A. and sing to an audience… and don’t forget experience is everything!”

What is the most important aspect of performing that amateurs need to focus on in a live performance?

“Well, I’m bound to say training and having a coach is very important, but also studying people you admire and, perhaps aspire to, is a powerful tool. Look at how they perform and what they do onstage. Having the mindset that when you are onstage – and it doesn’t matter whether you’re an amateur or a professional – you need to be able to deliver the exact same performance every time. You cannot step onstage and think, ‘well, I’m an amateur; if it doesn’t go right people will understand.’ To want to be on that stage, you could be getting paid thousands of pounds or just because you love it, but at the end of the day the most successful people genuinely love what they do anyway. Don’t get onstage unless you love performing to an audience or you’ll be found out very quickly. And there are professionals who don’t always get that right.”

Has the quality of any untrained contestants on the many TV talent shows you’ve worked on ever shocked you? Likewise, have you ever come across any amateurs with a natural ability?
“Yes to both of those questions. Starting with professionals, going back to the TV shows I’ve been sorely disappointed with some of the ‘special’ guests they’ve had on who do this for a living. It’s a nerve-wracking thing for any famous singer to put themselves on that X Factor stage and perform when there are ten or twelve incredible amateur singers waiting for their moment. Time after time, the likes of Katy Perry and Cheryl Cole, and you think, ‘Oh my, that was absolutely awful.’ These guys are putting themselves through so much pressure every week singing live, and you’ve come onstage and lip-synced. Doing that is really setting yourself up for a lot of controversy. Some of them haven’t even got any idea about who the performers are anyway! They’re getting standing ovations really because of who they are rather than what they’ve just done.

“Equally, bearing in mind I work in quite a detailed way with singers, helping them with their technique and locking the issues that are stopping their voices from working, you will see singers getting up on these shows and blowing your socks off. But then they might say, ‘I’ve never had any vocal coaching.’ Sometimes it’s not quite true. But on the ones where it IS, then it’s a completely natural ability. Some people have the most incredible voice. When, for some reason somebody has a God-given talent and their voice is working so beautifully, I sometimes notice that they may have an amazing voice, but they’ve also got no stage-presence or I’ve not ‘believed’ in a performance of a song. There’s normally something which immediately draws you to it and carries the possibility of boring people. It’s my job then to work on the complete package. This industry is not just about possessing a brilliant voice. I would rather hear a few flaws here and there or a voice cracking from emotions that are coming through rather than give a flawless vocal that can leave you a little bit, ‘Whatever!’”