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Janie Dee

- Cabarets are very much like life, says Janie Dee. You don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Certainly the British singer and actor’s award-winning career has taken several twists and turns through dance, musical theatre, stage and film and these different threads are woven into her show which she has put together specially for Bergen.

- My cabarets are tailor-made for each place I’m in. As it’s my first time performing here, I want to make people feel that they’re in the company of someone they can relate to. I love meeting people so I like to talk a bit and get to know my audience. For me cabaret is more like a party than a show, it’s an entertainment through which conversations can be had. I’ve even been known to crack open a bottle of champagne and share it.’

Joining forces with pianist Stephen Higgins, Dee’s Bergen cabaret will feature a mixture of her favourite songs along with new material. Dee’s standard repertoire includes Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret, material from Stephen Sondheim musicals she’s appeared in recently – Passion and Follies – and a song she sang 25 years ago to Queen Elizabeth II from what was then Her Majesty’s favourite musical, The Boy Friend. By co-incidence Dee is currently rehearsing this show for a forthcoming London run. Dee has also chosen songs by writers she’s worked closely with over the years and music that has a more personal significance to her like Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Alfie.

‘My son Alfie wasn’t named after the song, but when he was six weeks old I started singing it to him in a restaurant when a man came up to me and said, “That’s from my film.’ It was the director, Lewis Gilbert. And while writers like Harold Pinter and Alan Ayckbourn are not known for their musical content, they did write a lot. Pinter’s Old Times includes three or four songs and Ayckbourn has written a musical most years of his life since the age of 21. So some of my songs will allude to those writers and their influence on my life.’

Dee originally started out as a dancer but quickly realised if she wanted a career she would have to move into musical theatre. She had singing lessons at the age of 15 then three years later when she got a job teaching dance in Rome, she studied with the father of one of her pupils, the Italian singer Guido Guarnera, and later on Michael Aspinall.

‘Before I knew it I was singing with an orchestra in Rome and came back to London with a voice. I sang in various clubs before landing my first West End role in Gillian Lynne’s 1986 revival of Cabaret. The dancer Wayne Sleep saw me and invited me to work with him. I then got the lead in Guys and Dolls in Manchester and before I knew it I was playing Carrie in Carousel.’

For her performance in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Dee won her first Olivier, one of Britain’s most prestigious theatre awards. She won her second Olivier Award and the Evening Standard and Critics Circle Best Actress awards, for her role in Ayckbourn’s Comic Potential with the shows in New York also winning her an Obie and the Theatre World Award for Best Newcomer. More recently, Dee won the 2013 TMA Theatre Award UK for her lead role in Hello Dolly and she stars in the film Official Secrets, alongside Ralph Fiennes and Keira Knightly, which will premiere at the London Film Festival in October.

Dee’s cabaret is part of Bergen National Opera and the Bergen Philharmonic’s week-long Festival of Song and Cantabile (the a cappella group also known as the London Quartet) will join her for a few numbers and the show stopping finale from Jonathan Larson’s rock music Rent along with Bergen’s Edvard Grieg Kor (EGK). For people left wanting more after Dee’s two-hour show, Cantabile and EGK will give a nachspiel in the DNS theatre bar.

Although Dee has only been to Norway once before with her husband to use the cross-country skis they were given as a wedding present, she’s inspired by what she’s heard about Bergen and is planning a few surprises for the local audience.

‘Although I haven’t stepped on the stage of the DNS yet, from the pictures I’ve seen I’ve fallen in love with it, especially the ceiling with the different planets and star signs. I’m now thinking about how I might use it in my show. I’ve also adapted something from the operetta about Edvard Grieg, Song of Norway, but I’m keeping that a secret until the night. I like to be spontaneous and go against the rules. There’s no fourth wall, we’re all in the same room and anything can happen.’

Interview by Susan Nickalls

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