Recently, we got the chance to sit down with the crazy talented Philippa Stefani – who is currently Daniela in In The Heights, at King’s Cross Theatre to ask her a few questions, and we definitely weren’t disappointed!
Thank you to talking to us today! Let’s talk about you first, looking at your biography you’ve been in a number of shows over the past years. When was it that you realised that performing was what you wanted to do as a career? Was it always something you were interested in?
Always, always. I’ve been dancing since I was three and then, went to normal school and did A levels and stuff and then went to college from when I was sixteen until I was twenty-one but yeah, from a very, very early age I knew this is what I wanted to do. I had quite a lot of energy as a kid, my first class was ballet and it just structured me as a person and taught me discipline and it went from there, so it was actually probably more of a ‘how do we control this child, put her into something to concentrate on’.
How different was it for you transitioning from college into the business and what helped you settle into it?
It’s very different, I graduated and I think it was three weeks after that I got my first job, Fame, at the Aldwych Theatre and it was all a bit of a whirlwind really, but it’s very different from college because you’re out in the big wide world, you can call yourself professional when you get that first gig and it’s all very humbling and exciting. It’s the best thing when you get your first gig because it’s what you’ve been working for and training for your entire life really, well it was for me.
Great! So now to talk about In The Heights! First of all, for anyone who maybe hasn’t seen the show yet, why should they?
It’s a show everyone can relate to, it’s a show about family, it’s about love, it’s about characters and dynamics within a family. The show is based in a Spanish favela and the music is Latin and you’re just going to come out smiling and having a really lovely time, that’s why people should come see a show, because everyone is just very close and the energy we bring to the show. The show lends itself to just love really, and the music will just get you dancing anyway so if you just wanna come and escape and have a lovely time, come and see the show!
And how is it, from the response of the fans, with people coming back to see it more than once, and tweeting the cast and you personally, when they tweet that they’ve come to see you in particular, what does that feel like?
It’s very surprising to me! Because you don’t expect that, at all. And it’s very humbling and it’s really, really lovely. I do respond every time with just amazement really. It’s blessings and a really lovely thing for people to appreciate what you’re doing and to be able to make them feel good about themselves or good about what they’re doing or sometimes it gives people the confidence to carry on in what they’re doing – training or performing or whatever, it’s very humbling and it’s just a lovely thing.
And, obviously you took over the role of Daniela from Victoria Hamilton-Barritt late last year, what was your first show after taking over like?
It was a bit surreal at first, because I was doing one show a week when Vix was here, but one show a week you can’t really get into a character, you can’t really get a flow of it because you’ve got six shows where you’re not in the character so it took me awhile to settle and because I was employed to take over I was so focused so once it was time I just kinda threw my everything into it, but it did take awhile for me to find my Daniela but yeah, that first show was surreal to be honest with you, because I had been waiting for it to come and it was here like ‘Oh God, okay, let’s crack on with it’.
And was there anything back then or even now, that helps you get into the character for the show?
For me personally, for this character, no, because I can relate to her so much. A lot of people say it’s just a heightened version of myself with an accent so I don’t have to stretch too far from myself to relate to this character so I don’t have to do too much prep-work, to be honest, with this one.
The music in In The Heights, as it’s so lively, can also be contrasted with some of the more ballad-style songs with other shows you have in, Ghost the Musical, for example. Is there a certain type of style of song you prefer to sing?
I do like the more contemporary stuff…I haven’t really done too much legit in my career, I did High Society last year at The Old Vic and that was probably the most legit thing I’ve ever done. This music though, in In The Heights, is one of the best scores I’ve ever sung but I loved Ghost. You know, Molly is just such a fragile, there’s so many layers and depths to her – I mean, she was going through heartache and it’s a very different character so I couldn’t really compare the two but the music in this show, does light me on fire.
If you could play another character, from In The Heights, who would it be?
When I was covering for Vix [Victoria Hamilton-Barritt], I also was first-cover for Vanessa because I can relate to that character very well also, so I probably would play Vanessa.
Okay! So moving on to Rent now, you were first-cover Mimi in Rent Remixed at the Duke of York Theatre before, so how is it being back with Rent now, and how are the two productions any different?
Well, Rent Remixed was very different, they did a twist on a lot of it so this version of Rent coming up is going be stripped back and just all about the story and to be able to take Mimi back to bare bones of her and her character to then rebuild it is something I’m very excited about so again, I can’t really compare the two because they are going to be very different but, good different.
Rent, for a lot of people, would be their first musical they very strongly liked, or related to, is there a musical that you feel that is your favourite musical or one that means something to you?
I don’t know if I have a favourite musical but one that kind of, I always used to aspire to in college was Les Miserables actually, and Eponine. That music just- I can’t explain what that music does to me but, Les Mis was the one thing for me that really drove home to me at college especially. I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite musical but there’s something about it that I connect with.
If you could only pick three musical theatre songs to listen to forever, what would they be?
Oh gosh, I’ll have to think about this one. ‘Raise Your Voice’ from Sister Act, ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Mis and, probably, actually ‘Aquarius’ from Hair – that’s quite random, right? Yeah, that’s what I’d go for I think!
Do you have any advice or anything for young people trying to get into the business, or anything they should stick by?
To be honest, the hardest thing, even now, is to stay positive because you do get an awful lot of rejection, an awful lot and it’s one of the worst feelings in this business actually, to get a no. Sometimes you don’t get too much feedback on things and you come out of an audition thinking, I’ve aced that, and for one reason or another, you won’t get it and that’s when you have to stay strong, you have to stay focused and you have to remember what you bring to the table, what you are as a personality, what you are as a talent and trust that because you can get lost, thinking ‘Am I not skinny enough? Do I not look right enough? Do I have the right colour hair? Do I have the right skin tone?’ – you start to question yourself a lot and the main advice I would give is just to stay positive and true and just to trust what you have and your talent because something will always be right for you, completely right for you and that’s what you’ve got to hold on to.
Same kind of question again, but do you have a motto or something that helps you stay focused and carry on in the business?
I do, it’s a couple of things really. One of them is – it might sound a bit strange but, one of them is, always be mindful of the needs of others, because no matter what is going on in your life, there’s always something going on with other people so regardless of the situation, regardless of the show or audition, you just always have to be mindful of the needs of others. And balance, whatever balance may mean to anyone else, balance for me is that you have to try and keep the balance of yourself, your talent, your show, your friends, your partners and always trying to keep a level head and your feet on the ground and you’ll fly.
** Make sure to catch Philippa doing a fantastic job of Daniela in In The Heights, which is on at King’s Cross Theatre until October, and also catch her starring in the UK Tour of Rent as Mimi, which is stopping at Aberdeen, Malvern, Wycombe and then the St James Theatre in London at the end of this year and more places to be announced for 2017.