Club Tropicana, touring to the Sheffield Lyceum next week, is a jukebox musical with songs from the Eighties and a storyline based around a hotel.
“It’s all a bit mad,” says Kate Robbins. “I play a Spanish maid who’s a cross really between Mrs Overall from Acorn Antiques and Manuel from Fawlty Towers.”
The performer made her name in the 1980s as a singer, reaching No 2 in the UK chart with More Than In Love, while also starring in TV soap Crossroads. She is perhaps best known as an impressionist and for nine years throughout the Eighties voiced some of the puppets on TV satire show Splitting Image.
It’s thus difficult to categorise Kate Robbins. “I have done everything really, apart from Morris Dancing,” she agrees. “I am just an entertainer really, I’m from the old school of variety I do a bit of everything and it’s lovely to be in a show like this where I get to show off my skills a little bit and it’s fun.”
And so we get a Spanish maid who does impressions. After she was cast the writer added this to the character, apparently.
“I was lucky Michael Gyngell asked me for a list of impressions I do and then we pared them down to which were around in the 1980s and just threw some of them in,” she explains. “It goes down so well when you break out into Margaret Thatcher occasionally or Tina Turner or Dolly Parton. People do love a good impression, don’t they? I don’t think they expect it from a Spanish maid, though. I also sing Brown Eyes Blue with a Spanish accent.”
Perhaps surprisingly this her first stage musical. “When I was last asked to go on a musical tour, I think it was Chicago years ago when the kids were really little, and I didn’t want to go away and leave them and so I said no I will stay and do voiceovers instead.
“As I have got older I have said I really do love singing and dancing and messing around on stage. I toured with Jenny Éclair for three years doing Grumpy Old Women which was very successful. It was limited though. “We did it for three years and it was great, I got to sing in that actually. It made me think I really do miss live performing.
“Audiences seem to be having a great time, that’s all you want. Audiences up on their feet dancing. They do sing along to certain song and it’s great, you come off stage feeling really energised. You feel happy, I mean I don’t know how people feel when they are touring in Les Mis,” she quips.
And the Eighties music is Kate’s era. “People in their middle to late fifties – well I am 60 – but it’s my demographic. The people who spend the money in the theatre are those in their fifties, I would say and they are the ones who remember these songs from thirty or forty years ago. It was their youth and they remember Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love, Cyndi Lauper Girls Who Want to Have Fun. Whether it’s Blondie or Frankie Goes to Hollywood, there’s such a mix of music
“I get to sing, I Could Be So Good For You, the old Minder theme tune, we’ve weaved a story around the lyrics of the songs. Joe McElderry who’s an amazing singer gets most of the songs. Also he’s incredibly funny, .
The other principals are former Sugarbabe Amelle Berrabah, along with Neil McDermott and Emily Tierney who have much experience of musical theatre.
“Four of us get to sing Buck’s Fizz’s Making Your Mind Up when I am up to the nines in fancy dress. It’s just so funny, it’s very camp.” .
Kate Robbins comes from a showbiz family, born at the seaside when her dad was doing a summer season. She is a cousin of Paul McCartney, her younger sister Amy is a TV actress and brother Ted a comedian and radio presenter. It doesn’t end there. Kate’s oldest daughter Emily Attack is known from The Inbetweeners and was runner-up in I’m a Celebrity last year
For good measure, second daughter Martha is her sister’s agent and son George is a musician and TV researcher. “None of them has got a proper job,” says the proud mother.
Being an all-rounder I went through a phase a few years ago when I had just got divorced and I thought I will be a serious jazz singer and wrote my own songs, I did an album and played at Ronnie Scott’s which proved I could do it but I ended up doing more jokes on stage than the music. I remember thinking, hang on, there’s something wrong here. I realised, I know what it is, it’s because I am not doing comedy. I missed the comedy. I realised comedy is my first home and singing and music is something in my bones. Being a jazz singer in Ronnie Scott’s and being all moody wasn’t really me.
One strange thing about Club Tropicana is we don’t get the Wham title song. “: I think it’s because he’s got a biopic being made about him and they wanted the song for that. You can use the title but you can’t have the song and I think they decided to go with that because it’s a catchy title. It’s a shame we don’t get to sing it, but hey we get to sing everything else.”
Club Tropicana is at the Sheffield Lyceum from Monday to Saturday, March 4-9.