Backstage with Lily Frazer from London's 'IN THE HEIGHTS'

Lily Frazer is currently starring in In The Heights at the King's Cross Theatre as Nina. Surrounded by the cast of the Olivier Award-nominated Best New Musical, this WhatsOnStage Award Best Actress in a Musical nominee has taken on several big roles in the past including Eponine in Les Miz. I recently spoke to Lily about what it's like to be a part of such a fun West End hit and about the ups and downs of working in the business...

SN: With all the love from fans and critics as well as all of the awards the show keeps taking home, are you living in a sort of 'In The Heights' bubble?
LF: It's a lovely bubble to be in. The cast feel like my familia. I LOVE my job - living the dream!

SN: When did you first realise that Nina was a role you wanted to take on; did you know the show well before you came on board?
LF: I'd seen the show in Southwark and fell in love with it like everyone else who came to see it did. So when it was auditioning a year later I was thrilled to be considered! For a long time I didn't realise I was actually up for the role itself. I thought I was up for ensemble/understudy. I was invited to the ensemble dance call initially and I sang "Breathe" [Nina's big song at the top of the show] but so did all the other girls there so I didn't think anything of it. And then I didn't hear back for ages so I presumed I hadn't got the job, but then I was invited to another vocal call but to just sing the Nina material. It was only after my next audition that I realised I was up for the role. Of course I was even more thrilled to be offered the job!
Lily as Nina and Joe Aaron Reid as Benny in In The Heights
SN: Can you remember what it was like when you got the offer to play Nina?
LF: Yes because I was in the shower when I got the phone call from my agent. Most actors will agree that when you're waiting for a potential job offer, you take your phone everywhere - and I mean everywhere - just so you don't miss that all important phone call from your agent. So I was actually getting out of the shower trying to frantically grab a towel when my agent rang. Hilarious! I was of course over the moon and then a few hours later, I began to panic because I knew how much work had to be done.

SN: You get to sing the most beautiful song in the show in my opinion and it's a song that a lot of people know and love, even if they haven't seen the show before. Can you remember your first taste of the song, or even the show in general?
LF: I have to admit that I fell in love with 'In The Heights' quite late. In college, there was a lot of hype about musicals but back then, I didn't always want to listen or learn the songs that every other girl was learning. Then years later, my good friend Melissa James introduced me to the soundtrack when we were working on 'Cats' together and of course I fell in love with it! Kicking myself that I didn't give into it sooner. Of course hearing Mandy Gonzalas on the soundtrack for the first time was enough to become completely obsessed with the entire show! She's one of those singers that makes it look effortless!

SN: The show means a lot to a lot of people and has had a massive fan following since its premiere in New York almost a decade ago. What do you think it is about the show and Nina as a character that grabs the audience's attention so much?
LF: I think there are a lot of teenagers that can relate to Nina. There is a lot of pressure on young people these days to be so many things at once and I know that I felt a lot of pressure whilst I was at college. Family's expectations and also fear of failure at life! But in the show, I think that people of all ages can relate to at least one of the characters in the show. Not only that but I think people come to see the show expecting a hip hop and rap musical - which of course is a big part of the show - but for traditional musical theatre fans, there are also these beautiful heartfelt ballads, romantic duets and intelligent lyrics so I think even people who don't expect to like this show go away loving it. Lin Manuel Miranda's a clever chap!
Lily Frazer (left) as Demeter and Melissa James (right) as Bomba in Cats
SN: Speaking of audiences, the King's Cross Theatre is so unique because of the traverse stage with the audience being either side of you. What's it like playing a show in such a unique London theatre house as opposed to a more "conventional" West End theatre?
LF: Well it has its ups and downs. When we were in rehearsals, you naturally want to play everything to one side because that's just what you're used to so it felt very unnatural at first, but not it feels like second nature. Although, most jobs I've done have had unique settings actually now that I think about it. Revolves [Les Miz at the Queen's Theatre], mechanical stairs [Jesus Christ Superstar arena tour], junk yards [Cats, European tour and London Palladium]... I think this staging is perfect for our production. The King's Cross Theatre is unique as it's built on actual train tracks behind King's Cross Station. The audience enter the auditorium along actual train tracks through our 'subway' and into El Barrio before finding their seats. The cast also use the aisles and sometimes interact with the audience so an audience member can feel totally submerged in the story; it's very cool.

SN: The show itself is obviously a massive marathon to get through (especially with Drew McOnie's Olivier Award-winning choreography!), so do you come offstage buzzing every night? How do you wind down and what is it that gets you through such an intense show?
LF: For me, the show isn't so much physically tiring as it is emotionally and vocally. I try to do a vocal cool down every night. Usually, it takes me quite a long time to chill out in the evening because the show comes down so late. And I'm usually lying awake analysing the last show I just did. An episode of 'Friends' does wonders though...! I'd be lost without my singing teacher Mark Mayland. He's helped me so much throughout this job! My steamer and thank God for my coconut water (I should own shares in Vita Coco). And I rest A LOT! I'm a real granny. Very few late nights out for me I'm afraid!

SN: You all look like such a happy family up there on that stage, so what's it like to work together as a big team of friends? Will it be hard to have people leave and new people join at the upcoming cast change?
LF: Yeah, it's just like a big family. You love each other but like most families, because you're in such close proximity, sometimes you fight but you move on and respect each others' space. We've got two dressing rooms - one for girls and one for boys - so it can get pretty loud and rowdy! Lots of laughing and screaming from both sides. But I wouldn't have it any other way. It has been hard to lose people, especially if they have to leave suddenly like Victoria and Jade, but then again it's love to have new people to welcome into the familia because everyone brings something different and exciting so it keeps the show fresh I suppose.

SN: What're your favourite parts of the show to do each night?
LF: I love singing "When You're Home" with Joe Aaron Reid. Joe makes my job so easy every night; we're a real team.

SN: And have there ever been any mishaps that have stuck in your memory?
LF: People forgetting words and having to make things up on the spot makes me howl! Which is great when I'm listening back stage so I can openly laugh but harder when you're on stage and have to stare at the other person and try to hold it together - these things happen. Sometimes, if you're really tired, you start to get delirious and then everything is funny. "No Me Diga" is a massive culprit for making me giggle! You sometimes hear noises from King's Cross Station: during a silent or more serious part of the show, a comedy train horn went off and of course all of us were gone!

SN: Getting a bit more personal now: what was it that made you want to perform in the first place? Was it a show you saw that made you want to get into the business?
LF: I think I was always going to do something musical. Everyone in my family can either sing or can play an instrument. My late father was a professional singer. But in terns of my love for musical theatre, I have my Nan to thank for that. She was the one who enrolled me into drama clubs and amateur productions. I'm a huge Rodgers & Hammerstein fan because of her influence. I don't think it was any particular musical, I just always knew that I wanted to do this for a living.
Lily with co-star Joe Aaron Reid at the Olivier's
SN: You were nominated for a WhatsOnStage Award this year for Best Actress in a Musical (congrats!) What's it like to have your life-long dreams come true and have even more exciting opportunities ahead of you in the future?
LF: It's alright... Haha! It's wonderful of course!! Sometimes, life moves so fast and you can forget where you started. I was always really under confident when training. In second year, I was debating whether I was even good enough to finish college so to leave college early for a job in the West End was a complete shock and yes, a dream come true. I'm so grateful for all the opportunities I've had during my career. I have a truly magical job! To be nominated for an award alongside such talented and established performers was the most wonderful surprise! This year has been magnificent and I'll never forget it. In our industry, our careers are held on a string and you just have to keep working as hard as you can and hope it lasts so I'm thankful everyday for this wonderful gift I've been given.

SN: You're set to be in the new Beauty and the Beast movie - my favourite Disney film! You've also done lots of other camera work as well. What's it like to experiment with acting both on stage and in front of the lens; which do you prefer and what's the difference between them?
LF: I honestly don't think I could decide. I like the idea of creating a piece and then leaving it, which can be scary because once you've filmed it, that's it. It's out there! But with theatre, your performance is always evolving because you get (sometimes) over a year's worth of performances. One thing I dislike about film is the waiting around, though. The challenge is to keep the momentum of a scene when you've been sat around for hours and maybe have been picked up at 3am etc. I also love to sing so I think I'd feel empty if I couldn't do that for a living again! I couldn't choose between the two!

SN: There's obviously a lot of controversy at the moment in both Hollywood and Theatreland surrounding diversity both from a perspective of race and one of women. How do you think we can go forward in both industries to make sure everyone is represented correctly?
LF: This is something being discussed a lot at the moment. In my opinion, it's very simple: the person who is best for the job should get the role. We often use the phrase "colour blind casting" but, I feel that - in some ways - we've really lost sight of what that actually means. That means equal opportunity. But that doesn't mean that because you need more diversity in the show, you should cast someone because of their ethnicity alone in order to "mix it up". I would hate to be cast in a show just because a casting director thought they needed a mixed race girl to fill the quota. I want to be cast because I'm right for the part, regardless of my skin colour.

SN: Now for a final few silly quick-fire ones! What's your favourite show of all time?
LF: 'Carousel' - Rodgers and Hammerstein!

SN: If you could play any other character in a show - totally boundary-less - who and why?
LF: Judas in 'Jesus Christ Superstar' - epic part!

SN: And finally, if you were stuck on a desert island, which three songs would you take along with you to listen to?
LF: "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" by Whitney Houston, "Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran and "Chandelier" by Sia... I think!? Aaaaaah! That was difficult!

In The Heights is currently running at the King's Cross Theatre, currently booking until October 2016. Visit their website for more information and tickets.

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