Apollo Arts youth theatre presents Chicago the musical: interview with actor Sarah Rooney

By Conor O’Neill

Tomorrow night, Friday, April 5th, sees Apollo Arts latest release of their take on the classic that is Chicago in Belfast’s Crescent Arts Centre.

Apollo Arts is the brain-child of husband and wife team, Pauline Carville and Robin Elliot. Their manifesto is simple and worthy: to produce quality theatre in Northern Ireland, developing young actors while educating and exploring social, cultural and educational themes.

When approached by Crescent Arts and asked to interview one of the cast, my answer was without doubt or a second thought: ‘Whoever is playing Roxie’. For those unfamiliar with the show, a brief synopsis goes something like this: two murderers, nightclub star and top-dog in Cook County jail, Velma, runs the show; a mere chorus girl, Roxie, turns up, rocks the boat and things go topsy-turvy.

Chicago main flyer.jpg

With brilliant songs and lyrics by composer John kinder and lyricist Fred Ebb, Chicago has stood the test of time. Based on an 1920s play of the same name, the musical has seen a revival since its birth in the 1970s to becoming a staple since regaining its rightful foothold on Broadway and the West End in the mid 1990s.

17-year-old actor, Sarah Rooney chats to CultureCrush NI.

How did you get into musical theatre, do you come from a musical/arts based family?

“My mum always loved the old Hollywood classics. She would always watch musicals and I used to watch them with her, so I’m pretty sure that had an impact on how performing had to do with my future.”

I see on your CV you plan to go further with theatre and performing, would musical theatre be the career of your choice?

“Performing has always been on my mind. I would always want to be on stage in front of the camera, or even work behind the camera possibly directing, but it’s definitely a career I want to keep at.”

Sarah Rooney (Roxy)

I see you been in Mary Poppins, Singing In The Rain and The Farmers’ Bash at the SSE Arena, do you ever consider a straight role, as in not musical theatre but straight acting?

“Well, I’ve always loved doing musicals but I love to be in front of the camera, possibly in a TV show or a movie.”

Tell me about the auditions; did you try for different roles, was Roxie your main goal, did Velma or Mama Morton not really appeal to you?

“When I heard that Apollo Arts were auditioning for Chicago I knew I had to do it, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. When I auditioned I actually intended to go for Velma because of the iconic song Cell Block Tango but I was really happy with Roxie. The story is told through her; it’s just amazing to play. It’s hard work but she’s amazing.”

What has working with Apollo Arts done to increase your experience of musical theatre?

“The past six months have been incredible. I’ve made new friends, I’ve developed skills and abilities I thought I could never reach. They’ve gave me methods to follow, like ‘Think the thought, feel the feeling and say the line’, which has strengthened me, not only as a performer but as a person.”

chicago full cast

Who is your favourite actor or actress?

“As I said I love the old classic movies so Audrey Hepburn would definitely be my favourite actress. My favourite modern actor would probably be Hugh Jackman or Heath Ledger.”

You’ve played the SSE Arena which holds thousands, did you get nerves before those shows, will you get nerves tomorrow night, and if so what do you do to calm down?

“I definitely get nerves. For the SSE Arena I near died because of the size of the audience. I always take a deep breath before I go on stage. If something happens it can always be fixed, so I know not to worry and just keep going on with it.”

What do you plan for after this? You say you ‘just keep going for auditions when you see them appear’, are you connected to an amateur dramatics group or anything?

“I’m planning to join Apollo Arts because this experience has been incredible and I’ve loved it. If Apollo Arts wants me back, I’ll definitely want to join.”

What can the viewer expect during the run? Do you think there’s a difference in youth theatre and say maybe more established, professional companies, some from the west End on tour, do you think Apollo Arts and what you, the cast, director etc. are producing is up there?

“Yes, I would definitely say so. They have such a professional background, they keep everything very professional with us, but they also take into consideration that there are young ones as well because Chicago is quite an adult play. This is the high school edition so it is brought down quite a lot {I assume Sarah means some of the scenes have been held back a little due to their racy content} to make it okay for youths.”

And there you go. If Sarah Rooney is a barometer of what will be on stage from Friday to Sunday, Belfast is in for a roaring weekend of top notch musical theatre.

Chicago runs from and including Friday, April 5th to Sunday, April 7th. There’s a matinee on the Saturday at 3pm. The evening shows start at 8pm. To book your tickets visit http://www.crescentarts.org or phone the box office on 02890 242338

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