Thursday, 8 August 2013

INTERVIEW with Zizi Strallen - August 2013

If you've seen a West End musical recently, the chances are that you've come across one of four talented sisters. The Strallen's - Scarlett, Summer, Zizi and Saskia have all followed parents Cherida and Sandy and aunt Bonnie Langford into a career in the limelight. I chatted to Zizi about her experiences so far.

So you've found yourself teaching workshops and sharing your expertise to youngsters as part of West End Experience. How did that come about for you? 
Well... I actually fell into it by mistake! I wasn't originally one of the tutors, my friend Amy Thornton was set up to do it but she got a last minute offer to be dance captain in Matilda and so she called me and said "Zi, I can't do these workshops now, will you go and do them...?" and I thought sure, it sounds fun! We were both in Rock Of Ages together, we both had to do the same choreography so fortunately I can offer the same workshop!"

How is it for you, at such a young age yourself being able to give back your expertise to young and aspiring performers?
Even though I am so young still I've been working in the West End since I was 16 so I've got years of experience to pass on to them already. The main thing I always say is it's all about confidence - the best thing to do is believe in yourself and tell the audience that through the way in which you perform. 

And how are the children of Wolverhampton getting on in your workshop? 
The children of Wolverhampton are amazing! They're great and they've not been talking! Usually when you have quite a large group of children to teach they'll all chit chat and you have to stand there for five minutes and wait for them to be quiet. I was worried because I've got an audition coming up and I didn't want to overuse and lose my voice but I've had no problems. The children are great at picking stuff up, they've been so good at learning the choreography and haven't moaned about doing it over and over and over again, they're really eager to learn which is lovely. The thing is with the songs of Rock Of Ages you can't just stand there and sing them - they're really full on and involve lots of energy. 

You've just finished in Merrily We Roll Along and that took the West End by storm - what was that like for you?
It was an amazing experience, I loved it, but originally I didn't really know what I was going up for. I'm not really familiar with many Sondheim shows, I knew a couple of the songs so I went for it and as far as we were concerned at the time it was just going to be a three month run at the Menier Chocolate Factory and then as the show went on the run had completely sold out and there was a great buzz about it! There was this talk that it was going to transfer to the West End and we just expected to finish at the end of February and we finished at the end of July! It was incredible and such an amazing job to be involved in and part of the hype of it. More or less every night we had somebody important coming in to watch it like a director or a casting director or a TV or film star and above all it was just great to do!

What's been your favourite production that you've been in? Or highlights from a few favourites?
Oh this is difficult...! I've been lucky that everything I've done has been so different and varied. My first job was Music Man in Chichester at the Festival Theatre. It was very prim and proper, American accent, blonde wig and I played this really annoying young girl and I had to walk around saying "Ye Gods!" all the time! Then completely different I went into Dirty Dancing and I had to be really sexy and I learnt all this Latin and Ballroom and then I got to carry on dancing by spending a year in Matthew Bourne's dance company and you know what that's like compared to the next job in Rock Of Ages which was thrashing about  - completely diverse career! It's hard to pick a favourite, I've loved it all! 

Are there any productions or roles out there that you'd love to have a go at in the future?
Two of my favourite roles that I could see myself in are Louise in Gypsy and Bianca in Kiss Me Kate... ooh, and maybe Sally Bowles in Cabaret ... but I've just missed out on that time-wise with the new tour!

Zizi and sisters Summer, Saskia and Scarlett (Photo:

What was it like growing up as a Strallen... all singing, all dancing?
Haha, for me it's just normal! That's the thing... I've never known anything else but I can imagine for other people that sounds quite full on. My whole childhood has been around theatre and it really is all I've ever known. That's not to say it's all we ever talk about either, my parents always said to us "keep work work and life life..." They told us not to always bring work home and they really encouraged us to find other hobbies and talk about the news and whatever... They were very particular about that because with our entire family involved in theatre all any of us would have talked about is what was going on on stage or who was annoying who in the dressing room! 

Was there any chance at all that you may have taken a different career path at any point or was it purely theatre that you wanted to do?
Yeah, it's interesting you should say that because when I was eleven and leaving primary school my teacher said to my parents that I should try and get in to this really academic school and at the time I thought "oooh, I don't know about that..." but I went for it anyway and of course I got in didn't I, which really made me want to go - so I did! Basically I was being groomed to be a lawyer... I lasted two terms and then I was like no I can't do this any more it's horrible - I can't do any more maths my brain's going to explode! My two older sisters Scarlett and Summer had gone to Arts Educational in Chiswick and I managed to get a grant from the borough to go there so my parents took me out of my academic scholarship which I'm sure they hated doing! My dad always wanted me to do something normal because he knows how hard this business is and he said "go and make lots of money and do something normal...!" but none of us have! 

So with your older sisters being so successful do you feel a pressure now to live up to the family name and expectation?
I'd be lying if I said I didn't! My sisters and my family have never ever put any pressure on me or each other but I do feel that there's an expectation before I walk in a room. If I was having an off day or just a bit ill, to those people on the panel I'd probably seem particularly bad! When you hear the name Strallen you have a particularly high expectation straight away so if I didn't give it my absolute best or I was a bit iffy that day they'd most probably assume I'm the rubbish one out of us all! But hopefully I live up to the name!"

So what would be some sound Strallen advice that you would give to aspiring musical theatre performers out there?
Don't do it..! Haha, no I'm joking... I would say just keep working. There is nobody that succeeds in this business who hasn't worked their socks off to get there. You have to keep going to singing lessons and train your voice - even when you're professional you can always get better, you can always learn and there are always things to improve. So if you haven't been to a singing lesson in a while - go! Go to your dance classes every day or as often as possible. Keep working on improving yourself and strive to always be the best you can be and then you're improving your chances of a career doing what you love and what you dream of - go for it!

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