Graduating Arts Ed and taking home both the Sondheim Performer of the Year and the Rising Star Award, Alex Cardall is making his professional debut as Oscar in the Watermill Theatre’s production of Sweet Charity.
Merging both his love for theatre and music, the actor muso production proves to be a new challenge for Alex. “Having never done actor muso before, I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope,” he said. “Once I got my head around the music, I started looking into the acting and storyline. It is very hard to sew the two together but it has actually been an incredible experience.”
Sweet Charity first opened in 1966 and tells the story of a New York dance hall hostess Charity Hope Valentine who dreams of finding romance. Always falling for the wrong man, Charity finds herself in difficult situations as she gives her heart to one undeserving man after another. As a charismatic young girl with lots of heart, it’s a comical yet poignant story of her adventures.
Director Paul Hart is taking a fresh look on the classic musical and is really bringing it to life in this new production. “Stylistically it is going to look very modern. Charity is the only thing in colour and then her positive attitude and outlook on life that she throws onto other people gives them their colour,” Alex said. “They take on a bit of her love and aspirations and gain a coloured piece of clothing like a red bow tie or coloured hat, so the costume represents our emotional storytelling.”
Approaching the production as an actor muso adds a whole new challenge to musical theatre. “All the other characters have a guitar or portable instrument that they can carry around. For me playing the drums, that isn’t the case,” he said. “Oscar is claustrophobic so I wanted to make the drums the thing that he really uses to get his frustrations out. There are a lot of times where Oscar will run away from scenes and run away from Charity and go back to his happy place – the drums.”
Really breaking away from the original idea, Alex’s character Oscar is in his 20s, a lot younger than the character originally written. “For me, my Oscar lives with his mum at his flat in New York but he wants to get out of his shell and discover new things,” he said. “When he meets Charity, he finds a new lease of life.
“He has had a very neglected childhood, his claustrophobia comes from being locked underneath the stairs as a child which is what makes him quite immature. It’s a really interesting part and I’ve loved getting to know him and getting to grips with what he is all about.”
After graduating from Arts Ed, Alex competed in the Stephen Sondheim Performer of the Year competition and took home the prize. Then just weeks after starting rehearsals for his debut in Sweet Charity, he found out he won Arts Ed’s Rising Star award. After losing his dad in his final year at drama school, Alex worked remarkably hard to make him proud, and he has gone from success to success.
“The whole cast are an absolute dream, I couldn’t wish for a better debut.”
At the age of six, Alex started performing and pursuing his other passion in life, drumming. Now with a role that ties all of this together, he really does feel like he’s won the jackpot. “I think being able to do both and nurture the two skills together is something I never thought I’d do in my career, let alone my first job,” Alex said. “Part of me doesn’t think it will get any better than this. After a really awful end to last year losing my dad, I am having a pretty phenomenal start to this year. I believe it is a testament to how you can really accomplish something amazing after something terrible has happened to you.
I didn’t plan any of this but the turnaround has been amazing. Not that I say it wouldn’t have happened should my dad of been here, but it is still so current in my life and I think having that in the back of my mind makes me want to pursue it even more. I haven’t really had the chance to soak it all in and process it all.”
After watching Michael Xavier perform as Oscar in Sweet Charity in concert at Cadogan Hall back in 2015, Alex fell in love with the part. “It’s really exciting because especially with this production, it feels really different. “The audiences that know it will get the same storyline and the same script, but it will hopefully shock them in the right way,” Alex explained. “I think people will expect a classic musical, but will be thrown into something really different because of the way we are styling it. This production really does challenge stereotypes of old musicals and how they can be made new.”
Known for their innovative and intimate productions, it’s an exciting time for director Paul Hart to be tackling such an iconic musical in the rural venue. “You follow this girl’s journey and I think the audience will leave with a lot of hope that she will succeed and get what she wants. When the show starts, she says that all she really wants in life is love,” Alex said. “It’s a beautiful show with amazing writing by Neil Simon. The story is funny, hard-hitting and so sad, but also an incredible piece of musical theatre and this production really takes it to a new level.”
Sweet Charity is on at the Watermill Theatre until the 15th of September, tickets and information can be found online here.
Photo credit: Philip Tull