Monday 19 February 2018

The high notes reign for Annalene

Annalene Beechey loves being on the stage but, as the singer tells Julia Molony, auditions can be tough

Andrea Byrne

Even without hearing her sing, it's not hard to imagine that Annalene Beechey was born to be in musical theatre. Her thick brown hair, which falls in luxurious waves, and her blue eyes, full of expression, look as if they've sprung from the imagination of Walt Disney. She's got a warm, lilting voice. She's too nice to have adopted the grand manners of a luvvie, yet she does have a gift for breathing drama into every sentence she speaks.

The first musical she saw was Phantom of the Opera. Watching it, she had a moment of recognition, a sudden awareness of what she wanted to do. By the time she was 19, she was in Phantom herself. Standing in her dressing room, she almost had to pinch herself.

"I think I realised that actually anything was possible. That was what I'd dreamed of, that was what I wanted to do and then I was like, I've done it!"

The daughter of an Irish mother and an English father, Annalene was born in Coventry, but grew up in Wexford after her parents moved there, wanting their children to experience the freedoms of the rural life. In a bid to make friends, Annalene's mother joined a local musical theatre group. Annalene quickly insinuated herself into the company. Her first role was as a child cast member in Annie Get Your Gun, and from then she was hooked. "That was it, I never looked back," she says. "I always knew it was what I wanted to do."

Her first break came after she ran away to visit her sister, who was living in London, and the two of them decided on a whim to attend open auditions for Les Miserables. Annalene impressed the producers, and although at 17 she was deemed too young for the London production, when it toured to Dublin, she got a call. On her 18th birthday, she was told she'd won the role of understudy to Cosette.

"By this time, I had already started college," Annalene remembers now. She'd signed up to a course in Bull Alley, but had to withdraw when the industry came calling.

Even with a two-year-old daughter now and another baby on the way, Annalene hasn't slowed down all that much. Such a stage animal is she that when she was performing at the National Concert Hall in Dublin last year, she brought her then four-month-old baby, Rose, with her on tour.

"It wasn't easy," she says, looking back now with a touch of incredulity at how she got though it. "But I had no option."

The show, as they say, must go on. That said, Annalene has scaled back her work schedule significantly since the arrival of Rose. "I don't think I'd cope very well doing eight shows a week and being a mum. I don't think I'd deal with it very well." It's for this reason that she's on a sabbatical from the big-commitment shows for the time being.

The theatre has defined her life in more than just a professional sense. It's also how she met and fell in love with her husband Simon Grieff. He was playing the Scarecrow to her Dorothy 10 years ago, in a production of The Wizard of Oz in Leicester. Remarkably, two actors in a household didn't result in a clash of egos. "When we were both acting, it was fine, we helped each other out. You just knew when you needed to give support and when you needed to give space. It works well for us.

"You completely understand what the other person is probably going through. You know what they need. But, we're the right combination, I think."

Simon no longer works as a performer, having set up his own record label, and moved into directing and producing. "My husband is very very level headed," says Annalene. It's a quality that helps her deal with the rougher aspects of the job, the rejections and the fluffed auditions.

It was her husband who pushed her into taking on one of the projects of which she is most proud. Last year, she recorded an album, Close Your Eyes. A compilation of new arrangements of classic songs, including the show tunes which have become her staple. "It's me, it's really me,"' she says about what was different about this project. "My husband, bless him, he put the money into it. He was the one who wanted me to do it."

Ultimately, stability in her emotional life is essential to her, both at home and when she takes that buccaneering, indefatigable spirit out to work. "There's a lot of luck involved," she says. "You have to have a really thick skin to be in this business. It's hard. It's difficult. You walk into a room in that audition and you are putting yourself on display, to say, please like me, this is what I can do. Please like me enough to give me a job. And if you are told no three or four times in a row, it's really hard. You've got to learn to just keep going until somebody says yes. I'm quite strong-willed. Eventually, you will always see the reason why. There have been a couple of knock backs that have really broken my heart.

"It's good because he doesn't let me dwell on things. Having that stable relationship -- I don't know if I'd have done so well without it. Generally, I think. It's invaluable."

Singin' in the Rain, August 12-13, 8pm with Paul Robinson, Josh Prince, Annalene Beechey, Kim Criswell and Matthew Ford Vocalists

New Dublin Voices, RTE Concert Orchestra & Big Band. John Wilson conductor.

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