“When you’re presented with different dilemmas in life, you respond accordingly”: Debbie Kurup on The Cher Show
The Cher Show, which journeys through the life and story of music legend Cher, tours the UK and Ireland from April 2022 till March 2023. The titular character is played by three different actresses, each with a name of their own to epitomise that specific period in time for Cher. The musical incorporates some of the star’s biggest hits into its performance, including If I Could Turn Back Time, I Got You Babe, Strong Enough and Believe. Not only the story of a shy city girl achieving her big-time dreams, The Cher Show also introduces some of the most influential people in the artist’s life, both in music and in fashion.
Debbie Kurup plays Star, the older and wiser of the three personas. With credits including Bonnie and Clyde (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane), The Prince of Egypt (Dominion), Chicago (Cambridge/Adelphi), and Sister Act (London Palladium), Kurup uses her long list of theatre experience and wisdom to navigate through the more seasoned role of Star in The Cher Show. She shares the titular character with Danielle Steers as Lady and Millie O’Connell as Babe. The Upcoming caught up with Kurup to discuss the challenge in sharing Cher with two other actresses, and how the icon inspired her as an artist and actress.
What made you want to be part of The Cher Show and what was the audition process like?
I was intrigued by what it may be like to step into the shoes of a living, breathing icon. They don’t come much bigger than Cher, and, well, I love a challenge. The audition process was so casual. Arlene knew what she was looking for and I was hooked onto the material and the character when I went in; the meeting was a dream! It really didn’t feel like an audition.
There are three actresses playing Cher – have you done anything to distinguish your performance from the others, to truly make Star your own, as opposed to just an extension of the other versions?
Star is the older, wiser version of Cher, who has been through it all and is looking back retrospectively. I, myself, have lived a life, been through a lot and certainly had my struggles along the way. I guess what you’re getting from me is the truth – warts and all! I’m pouring my soul into this character. That, as an artist, gives me a real kick.
How did you navigate presenting Star as an individual, but still have synergy with Danielle and Millie’s portrayals?
When you’re presented with different dilemmas in life, you respond accordingly. All of the experiences Cher went through informed my choices of how to play her at that stage in her life. The three of us all bring something different to the role: Millie’s energy, Danielle’s sass and my wisdom really complement the retelling of Cher’s life story. But we do all lock in with each other before the show so that our energy is synergised, and we are collectively on the same page.
Moving on from the role, did Cher as an artist inspire you prior to auditioning?
Yes. Not only are her songs incredible, but, for me, I was always taken by just how much of an amazing actress she is. She is incredibly charismatic on screen!
For your research, did you watch any Cher films specifically and, if you did, which ones and how did you incorporate her specific mannerisms into your role as Star?
Yes! I rewatched The Witches of Eastwick. She had just turned 40 when she filmed it and it’s so brilliant to see her absolutely smoulder. She was really coming into her own – she’d won her Academy Award for Moonstruck, which helped cement her place as a credible actress. I, of course, delved into that film again. She was absolutely incredible in it; her naturalisms are just gorgeous.
I also watched Burlesque. This movie really helped inform some of the later scenes in the show, where she is a little older and defeated. There is an anthem called You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me from the movie that fits perfectly in the storytelling. There is a particular walk she does in the movie as she makes her exit at the end of the song, and I’ve been trying to perfect it each night.
What have been your favourite roles and performances so far, prior to The Cher Show?
I loved creating the roles of Mrs Neilsen in Girl from the North Country and Nicki Marron in The Bodyguard. I also loved playing Reno Sweeny in Anything Goes and Mimi in Rent.
Which of your previous roles did you learn the most from and have you applied any of those discoveries to this project?
I learned to be disciplined from a young age, being in West Side Story. You need to apply yourself at all times to be able to execute that level of dance, storytelling and singing. It’s a masterpiece. To this day I never, ever miss warm-ups.
Is there a particular scene in The Cher Show you’re excited for the audience to see?
There is a scene in Act Two, when Cher auditions for a Broadway role. Its early 80s and she is venturing into the acting world. It’s exposing for not just the character, but for me, as an actor, as I’m hit by stark white lighting. It’s one of the only times I’m on-stage alone – for a significant period of time. The song I sing is called The Way of Love. I love singing it every night.
And what is your favourite song to perform?
It changes every day. Currently it’s Just Like Jesse James, a duet I sing with Sam Ferriday, who plays Gregg Allman.
Do you have any behind-the-scenes anecdotes you’d like to share?
The three of us who play Cher have a nightly ritual that we do prior to the show. It makes us laugh and gets us psyched up.
The Cher Show is touring the UK and Ireland from 26th April 2022 until 18th March 2023. For further information or to book visit The Cher Show’s website here.