Ask any theatre fan to list modern-day leading ladies, and internationally celebrated West End and Broadway performer Kerry Ellis would undoubtedly come up.
Starting out in My Fair Lady as the understudy to Martine McCutcheon (who played Eliza Doolittle), Kerry was making headlines from the beginning of her career, having to perform the lead role first with only hours’ notice and no rehearsal. It was in this show that Queen guitarist Brian May saw Kerry performing (in her regular ensemble track and not as Eliza Doolittle which is often how the story is reported) and invited her to originate the role of ‘Meat’ in We Will Rock You. The book talks about things that were cut in rehearsals, songs that were taken out, and even how her own storyline changed along the way. She also talks about touring the world with Brian May and working on her albums with him.
Kerry went on to become the first British actress to play Elphaba in Wicked the Musical, understudying the role for the first three months when the show opened with Broadway’s Idina Menzel and then assuming the role full time. This led to her making her Broadway debut and several West End reprisals in the show over the years.
Bumpkin To Broadway is a very honest book and covers many things from her tumultuous relationship with her family to the power struggle behind the scenes in theatre and even touching on sexual assault. Kerry talks candidly about relationships she has had, from Jackass star Steve O when they worked on cruise ships together, to her husband and life now with children.
Kerry talks about actors she worked with, especially understudies and it is clear how much she appreciates that no matter how big her role in a show is, she is still just one cog in a very big wheel. She also mentions some of her fans by name which is touching.
My only disappointment with the book was the way it has been physically produced. As someone said to me ‘it looks like a cook book’ which it does with its laminated cover. Books are such precious things that take a real investment to dedicate to reading it’s always nice to feel like you’re picking up something special, with a lovely dust jacket and sometimes even coloured edges! The contents page only lists two parts to the book and then you’re just left to read chapters 1-45 which feels a little rushed and unthoughtout and there are the odd missing full stops. It is a little bit of a shame as the content of the book is lovely.
Bumpkin To Broadway is an honest, heartfelt story of one of musical theatre’s greatest performers of modern-day. But with young children at home, we may not see her return to a west end stage anytime soon, but she wouldn’t say no to a role in Eastenders!
Bumpkin To Broadway is a lovely, insightful, and page-turning autobiography and so make sure you check it out.
West End Wilma