Former Corrie actress Faye Brookes stars in Belfast-bound musical Chicago
Former soap star Faye Brookes is set to dazzle Belfast audiences playing Roxie Hart in the touring production of iconic musical Chicago. She tells Jenny Lee how the role has changed her as a person and reveals how she would like to return to Coronation Street
CORONATION Street and Dancing on Ice star Faye Brookes will be dancing her way onto the Belfast stage next month, playing the leading role of Roxie Hart in the legendary musical Chicago.
Having last taken to the stage of the Grand Opera House eight years ago, as Princess Fiona in Shrek The Musical, Brookes admits she has "done a lot of growing up", especially since stepping into Roxie's shoes.
"I put so much stress on my younger self when I was playing those roles in Shrek and Legally Blonde. I was always worried and not really enjoying it," says the 34-year-old Mancunian, whose other theatre credits include Grease and The Sound of Music.
"Now I'm older and wiser and just really taking it all in and thoroughly enjoying Roxie Hart for whom she is."
Chicago is the longest running American musical in Broadway and West End history, winning six Tony Awards, two Olivier Awards and a Grammy.
Set amidst the razzle-dazzled decadence of the 1920s at a time of prohibition, glamour, gangsters, speakeasies, loose morals, Chicago tells the story of Roxie Hart, a housewife and nightclub dancer who murders her lover after he threatens to walk out on her.
Desperate to avoid conviction, she dupes the public, the media and her rival cellmate, Velma Kelly, by hiring Chicago's slickest criminal lawyer to transform her malicious crime into a barrage of sensational headlines.
With staged press conferences and cries for attention, the musical is more relevant than ever in today's world of influencers, social media stars, publicity stunts and fake news.
It's a role that has been played on screen and stage by the likes of Ginger Rogers, Liza Minnelli, Melanie Griffith and Renée Zellweger, but Faye has relished her opportunity to "put her own stamp on it".
"Every time I play Roxie it's like doing a marathon. I go on this huge journey from the moment I put on that dress and get on stage and never stop until the final curtain," enthuses Faye.
Although they share the trait of "being too honest" for their own good, Faye has enjoyed "peeling back the layers of Roxie" and eight months into the role is "still discovering new things" about the character.
"On one hand she is sweet and innocent, but on the other she is so ballsy and confident. She also has insecurities and is not afraid to call someone out, which takes a lot of guts. I would play Roxie forever if I could; I'm really going to miss her."
It's a role that has inspired Faye personally and filled her with confidence for her future.
"What Roxie's got in bucketfuls that I don't is confidence. I've always been a bit of a 'yes ma'am', so I will definitely take a leaf out of her book and fire back a bit more."
Faye feels her role in Chicago is an important demonstration of female empowerment and hopes it will also instil self-belief in young women.
"Working in the public limelight and having a large following on social media, you enjoy the positives, like being able to shine a light on issues that are important. However, there is also vulnerability as people can say what they want about you," adds Faye, who herself underwent much scrutiny following her 2019 split from fiancé Gareth Gates.
"Roxie is a really empowering female role – she doesn't care what the newspapers say about her. Going forward, I'm going to remember that whatever is said about me in the press will be tomorrow's fish and chip paper.
"I'm lucky to have a fanbase of young women who have followed me throughout my career and I hope the next generation of young girls who come to see the show and who follow me, realise they shouldn't be comparing themselves to others on social media and be content with who they are."
Chicago is of course filled with iconic songs such as Razzle Dazzle, Cell Block Tango and All That Jazz, but her favourite to perform is Roxie.
"That is such a pinnacle moment of her journey, when she does a complete 360 and goes from thinking she could be a star to coming alive and believing she is one," enthuses Faye, who is looking forward to returning to Ireland, and working with new cast member Lee Meade, who plays lawyer Billy Flynn.
So how is she going to follow this role?
"The world is my oyster," she laughs, practising her pledge to be confident. "Doing a film is on my bucket list, but I will also just keep grafting and considering whatever opportunities come my way.
"You don't stop learning in this world and you just never take it for granted - the pandemic proved that," adds Faye, who was runner-up in last year's Dancing on Ice competition.
And a return to the cobblestones of Weatherfield is not off the cards for Faye, who won a National Television Award for her role as Kate Connor in Coronation Street.
"If I get to go back that would be great - there's always something going on in that street. I've still got quite a lot of friends still in it and love catching up with the programme on a Sunday," says Faye, who regularly chats with her former colleagues via a WhatsApp group.
If she could write a script for Kate's return, what could we look forward to?
"It would have to be that she finally finds out what happened with that factory roof collapse that killed Rana. It was a stone unturned for Kate and I would be eager to come back and seek revenge.
"And after playing a murderer on stage I think I could carry off a scary Kate. I'm up for it and it would make good tv," she laughs.
:: Chicago The Musical runs at Belfast's Grand Opera House from June 6-11. Goh.co.uk.