The former X Factor star who has made the lead role in Blood Brothers her own had never even seen a musical, Ian Soutar reports...
FOR the past two years former X Factor star Niki Evans has made the coveted role of Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers her own, first in the West End and now on its UK tour. But it was very much a case of being thrown in at the deep end at the start.
Willy Russell’s moving story of twin boys separated at birth, only to be reunited by a twist of fate, and of a mother’s sacrifice, has been a favourite for more than 20 years but it had passed by the one-time professional singer and 2007 X Factor semi-finalist .
“I had never even seen a musical,” the singer recalls.
“I know it sounds awful but I never thought it was my scene but Bill (Kenwright) said have a go. He must have seen something in me. Within two weeks I am on stage in the West End and continued for six months.”
The challenge for Evans was not being able to deliver the emotionally charged showstopper, Tell Me It’s Not True, but the moments in the show when she is not singing, for she had no experience of acting.
“I hadn’t got a clue what I was supposed to do but they said, ‘Just be her’, and that’s what I did and continue to do.
“I am apparently the strongest Mrs Johnstone there’s been, I stand up for myself,” she says.
“I come from that background, you see. I know it’s set in the 1950s but I am a mother trying to do her best. I have two boys, so my Eddie and Mickey are Morgan and Jonah.
“I bring my personal experience and I have worked in factories and cleaned floors. I am feeling it, especially when I have to leave the kids.”
Perversely she worries that she will start acting and then won’t be true to the role. “People come and see me 20 times and say how do you manage to keep crying every night?
“That’s the reason I keep going, the day I stop crying is the time to get out.”
Then there was the little matter of playing it all in a Liverpool accent.
“When I was auditioning Bill said, ‘Can you read that again but in a Scouse accent’. So I did and he said how did you do that? I said I watched Brookside – and I think it helps that Brum and Scouse are quite similar.”
Evans continues to live near Tamworth, Staffordshire, with her husband and sons, now aged 16 and 14, and has now had a number of stints in Blood Brothers and is in talks about a new musical.
“I have signed up this time for seven months which takes me to July because we are going to Dublin and I want to be the first English Mrs Johnstone that they have seen,” she says.
“It’s such a great show. When we were in Birmingham all my family and friends came including some men who live in our road who came to it kicking and screaming. Afterwards they said it was something they would never forget.
“My husband has seen it many times but he always gets up and walks out before Tell Me It’s Not True because it’s just too emotional. My kids put coats over their heads at that point.”
The whole family’s life has been transformed by a certain reality TV show. “Without the X Factor Bill Kenwright wouldn’t have heard me and offered me the part,” agrees Evans.
“But I can’t stand going to see people who are just celebrities. People have said, ‘She just got that part because she was in X-Factor’ which is true. But I said to Bill, if I’m crap, tell me because I won’t do it.”
Blood Brothers opens on Monday and runs for two weeks at the Lyceum Theatre.