Both sides of the story ; MISS NIGHTINGALE Theatre RoyalAmber Topaz has worked in theatre, television and West End musicals including Les Miserables - and in burlesque, where in 2008 she was chosen to represent Britain in Las Vegas' Miss Exotic World Burlesque Hall of Fame. Erik Petersen caught up with her during rehearsals for Miss Nightingale
How did you end up moving from West End musicals to burlesque? It's the classic combination of hard work and being in the right place at the right time! Whilst staring in Les Mis in the West End I started to write my own songs. I had some photographs taken for a CD I'd produced and the guy doing the shoot asked me to do some modelling for him - they were pin-up inspired, mainly 1940s and 50s. The first shots were bought to advertise a Mayfair nightclub. The photos were always very authentic and he suggested I do burlesque.
Not only had I never modelled before, I didn't even know what burlesque was! When I found out, I realised it was right up my street. I loved the fact that burlesque is tongue-in-cheek striptease performance combining dance, song and comedy. I did my first act in Spring 2005 at Hip Hip (a talent night run by Whoopee Club). I came first, was signed up to an agency and have never looked back.
Do you create a character when performing a burlesque routine? It depends on the routine. I always choose songs that I want to sing or that inspire me to dance or because they inspire me to create a particularly costume. Mostly when I'm on stage I'm the all-singing- all-dancing saucy, burlesque bombshell Amber Topaz. But sometimes a song calls for its own character. For example, I have a number I do as an 18th-century lush, a nautical one where I perform as a mermaid, and even a routine in which I'm Jessica Rabbit.
Tell us about Miss Nightingale - the burlesque musical.
It's a gripping story of sex, scandal and show business set in London during the Second World War. I play a nurse called Maggie Brown who dreams of becoming a famous singer. With her songwriter George, a Jewish refugee, she auditions at every night club and cabaret bar in London. But nobody wants their act. Their luck and lives change when they meet the handsome, charming and wealthy Sir Frank. A plan is hatched and the mysterious Miss Nightingale explodes onto the stage. Soon polite society is shocked by her scandalous exploits, outfits and songs.
What about your character.
How does she fit into the narrative? Maggie is a northern lass now working as a nurse in a hospital dealing with soldiers returned from the front and civilians caught in the Blitz. But she wants so much more from life. She is ambitious, determined but led by her heart rather than her head. The show centres around her transformation into Miss Nightingale, her relationship with the two men and her bringing of the two men together.
What's the most challenging aspect of doing a show like this and why? That I'm on stage almost all the time and have two parts to play, Maggie and Maggie as Miss Nightingale. They are the same person but the character of Miss Nightingale gives Maggie permission to act in a way she wouldn't do as herself. Because of this there is, on a basic level, a huge amount to learn and it's a while since I've had to learn a script and a show full of numbers. In burlesque it tends to me on stage alone. Lots of challenges but I'm really looking forward to going back to musicals and taking all my burlesque experience with me . Miss Nightingale is on at the Theatre Royal from Thursday, May 23, to Saturday, May 25. It's on at 7.30pm with a 2:30 Saturday matinee. Tickets are Pounds 14 to Pounds 23 andfrom trch.co.uk, 0115 989 5555 or the Theatre Royal box office.
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