Sharon Sexton tells Fiona O’Brien all about switching roles from Liza Minnelli to a main part in the Bat Out of Hell musical on the West End
Having enjoyed a career on stage for the past 15 years, it is little surprise that Sharon Sexton, one of the leads in the newest show to celebrate the music of Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf, was obsessed with musicals as a child.
“I always did drama and music and dancing classes as a child. But when I went to Phantom of the Opera at The Point Depot I remember being so blown away that a musical could be done on that scale. I was sitting there thinking ‘that is their job, they get paid for it’.
“That never entered my mind before because growing up in Kildare was very far-removed from anything West End,” she says.
“It is a real ‘pinch me’ moment to be actually over here doing it. And you learn that there is nobody in a West End show that hasn’t absolutely worked and put blood, sweat and tears into it to get there. It is a really tough game.”
Bat Out of Hell has just hit the London stage to rave reviews, and the story tells of the young, rebellious leader Strat who falls in love with Raven, the beautiful daughter of the most powerful man in post-apocalyptic Obsidian.
Falco locks his daughter Raven away from the world, and Sharon plays Falco’s long-suffering wife Sloane.
“I didn’t realise how much of a Meat Loaf fan I was, and I think it is the same thing with some people that come to the shows.
He’s one of those artists that you don’t actually realise how many songs that you know.
“There are such classics and ‘ear-worms’ like Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad and Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth and Bat Out of Hell.
“I knew all those songs but I wouldn’t have thought myself a Meat Loaf fan, whereas now I have nothing but respect for him because I don’t know how he did it for so many years.”
The cast got to meet him after the first promo launch, and he gave them advice and told them he wanted them to take ownership of the songs and characters, which Sharon says was an ‘amazing blessing’.
However composer Steinman takes a more hands on approach, viewing every daily performance and rehearsal via Skype.
“If you have a query with the script you can just go to the other side of the room and have a conversation with the laptop! This has been his dream forever. Originally all of the songs were written to be in a musical and if you listen to them they each tell their own story.”
And because of that the cast have been in constant rehearsals as, despite it playing in Manchester earlier this year, the London shows are classed as its introduction to the world.
Having a ball
“It has been in the pipeline for 40 years so there’s an awful lot of pressure on us, they are constantly tweaking it to make it perfect.
“Although we’ve opened already we are bringing it to Toronto in the autumn for four months which will be a bit of a homecoming because that’s where Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman are from.”
Sharon could not believe her luck when she landed the part and was surprised it was one of the smoothest jobs she has ever secured.
“I’m having a ball. It is a role of a lifetime; it’s not very often that you get one at my age that is not your generic ‘mum’ role.
“Usually you go to rounds and rounds of auditions, but I just walked into the room, read my script, sang one song and just clicked with the creative team. They filmed me, sent the video clip to Jim in America and that was it!”
Sharon gets to sing All Coming Back to Me Now, made famous by Celine Dion, and Paradise by the Dashboard Light which she says is a great crowd-pleaser and ‘karaoke cult classic’.
“I have a lovely duet with Rob Fowler (Falco) called What Part of my Body Hurts the Most and we are really privileged because we are the only people in the show to be given something original to sing. It is actually getting released as well which is exciting.
“The audiences are so high-energy. You come off stage buzzing by the end the whole crowd are singing at the top of their lungs.
“The finale is I Would Do Anything For Love and as soon as that opening note comes on the place just goes crazy, it’s electric.”
Fierce and dominant
Because it is a new production Sharon was allowed to really sink her teeth into a role she now feels she ‘owns a little bit’.
“When we started out in the show she was described as Falco’s wife and Raven’s mum. As we were starting from scratch the director was open to my suggestions so I’ve made her into this fierce, dominant powerwoman.
“They’ve let me have a say in her look, so it’s all big shoulder pads, power suits and an 80s quiff. She’s a really strong character, which makes her so much fun to play but she also has a heart of gold.
“I have funny scenes to make people laugh but I have the ballads to make them cry too which is great!”
It is far-flung from Sharon’s last project in which she starred in a onewoman play; Somewhere Under the Rainbow – The Liza Minnelli Story.
“It is lovely to be able to go in and concentrate on one job because with Liza I was doing everything from production to the set and costume, lights and marketing.
“I was wearing six different hats so to focus on being a performer is great.
“The audition came up when I was touring with Liza. I was so busy I didn’t have much time to think about the audition and I think Liza had me ‘match fit’ because I went in and was vocally ready and my brain was sharp from performing every night.
“I don’t think I would have got the job as easily if I hadn’t been doing that.”
Pleasing our souls
Sharon had never planned to be Liza; it was only when she played a role involving a similar wig and outfit that people noticed the uncanny likeness.
“After the show, everyone was telling me how much I looked like her. I’d never thought about it but after people said it to me I couldn’t ‘not’ see it.”
Sharon and Cillian run their own theatre company Biscuits for Breakfast, and they got rave reviews for their production of A Fit Wife for a Revolutionary, which tied in with the 1916 commemorations last year at the London Irish Centre.
And with Sharon tied up with her Bat Out Of Hell contract it means she can focus on a different side of the industry as they focus on making a short film The Parting Glass, which they did as a play at the London Irish Centre last year.
“I am doing the admin side while Cillian is directing it. I can bring my laptop into the theatre and he gets to do the more hands on stuff. We are definitely still trying to do other jobs to please our soul.
“I can’t physically do theatre because of my contract with Bat Out of Hell so we said we’d try film and see how it goes.”
“After that who knows? The reaction from London has been phenomenal. If they can find a home for it here hopefully it will come back, and I think they have their sights set on an American tour and Broadway too. Hopefully it is on for a very long time.
“And that is why there has been so much pressure, but I am loving it.”
• Bat Out of Hell plays the London Coliseum until August 22nd when it must end. Get tickets by visiting www.batoutofhellmusical.com or call 02078459300, or visit the box office in person.