By Geoffrey Rowlands
While her role in the film musical, The Greatest Showman, may not have been the most flattering, it gave 42-year-old Keala the opportunity to sing This Is Me. The track has become a big hit single throughout much of the world, been nominated for the Best Song Oscar and won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song - Motion Picture.
“It was a privilege for me to sing what has become the film’s anthem,” smiled Keala. “But it’s actually really hard for me to sing the song because I relate to it every day. I wake up each morning, look in the mirror and think, “Is this really all I got?
“I’m sure we all feel that way. It doesn’t matter if you’re a catwalk model, someone’s 90-year-old grandma, a little kid who’s getting bullied or you’re that kid’s bully. Everybody feels like there’s something going on which is better than what we have. We all have to reach out to one another with that fear and might be surprised to hear Me too.”
As much success as This Is Me and The Greatest Showman have given her, the period spent making the film was a dreadfully unhappy time for Keala. It coincided with the death of her beloved mother, Susanne.
“I was so grief-stricken. I didn’t even know if I wanted to continue singing and acting. My mother was the singer in our family. She was from New Zealand and had a career there as an R&B singer. I’m the eldest of five children and she passed on her love of music and singing to all of us.
“When she was gone, I had to reach deep down and figure out why I was going to continue with my career. Everyone in the film but particularly Hugh Jackman, who plays P.T. Barnum, got me through. I remember saying to Hugh, who is the nicest person you could ever meet, ‘My mom is gone and I have no idea how to navigate this anymore.’ He said to me, ‘It’s all right babe. We got you.’ And he wasn’t lying. Everyone helped me so much.”
Keala was a relative latecomer to stage and film musicals.
“My early career was spent following in my mother’s footsteps as an R&B singer. I really didn’t have the ambition to become a star. I actually wanted to do studio work and be a backing singer. One of my best times was singing backup for Gladys Knight in Las Vegas.”
Her life changed when she read about an open audition for the US touring production of the stage musical, Hairspray.
“I hoped to get a part in the chorus. Eight auditions later, I came out as the understudy for the starring role of Tracy Turnblad. “I figured it was a joke and they’d fire me all the way up to the first day of rehearsals. Tracy was the last character I wanted to play. I didn’t want to be the star. In the first six months, I performed quite frequently when the girl I was standby for had some problem. She then got transferred to the New York production and I played Tracy for the rest of the tour.”
Despite having established herself on the stage musical scene, Keala felt the need to spend two years away from the spotlight.
“I didn’t handle being the star of the show very well. I felt like I needed to leave the stage to get myself together. But I didn’t want to leave the business completely. I’d spent so much time with stagehands during the Hairspray tour. I got into their side of the business and was perfectly happy until I saw there were auditions for a new production of South Pacific. I thought I’d give it a try to see if I still had anything.”
Her performances in South Pacific as Bloody Mary drew rave reviews and led to her 2011 Broadway debut in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. But it was her role as Norma Valverde in Hands on a Hardbody which attracted particular acclaim.
Originated at the La Jolla Playhouse, California, in 2012, the show switched to Broadway in 2013. Despite positive reviews, Hands on a Hardbody was not a commercial success. However, it was showered with a raft of Broadway theatre award nominations. Keala was nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Drama Desk Award and the Tony Award before winning the Theatre World Award.
“I was thrilled to have my work recognised by the critics but so disappointed that the show had such a short run. All the cast really believed in Hands on a Hardbody. It was really a play with music rather than a musical. Perhaps the New York theatregoers who enjoy musicals didn’t appreciate this difference.”
Broadway and touring roles in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Violet, Les Miserables and Waitress further enhanced her reputation. But it is her role in The Greatest Showman and recording of This Is Me which has brought Keala international renown. As her song has been shortlisted for the Best Song Oscar, she has the prospect of performing it for a world-wide television audience.
“I didn’t even want to sing This Is Me when we were doing the initial presentation. I thought it was such a wonderful song. I was happy to sing backing vocals but didn’t think I should take the lead. I had to be persuaded to sing the song. I’m so thankful, so proud and so lucky to be able to perform This Is Me.”
Mary J Blige
Mary J Blige has made Oscars history. The 47-year-old singer, songwriter and actress has become the first person to be nominated for a performance and original song in the same year for the same film.
She already has nine Grammy Awards but now has the opportunity to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as impoverished farmer’s wife Florence Jackson in Mudbound. Her Best Original Song nomination is for Mighty River, a rallying cry against racial division which Mary co-wrote with Raphael Saadiq.
Oscar-nominated actors have previously performed songs nominated in the Best Original Song category. Jennifer Hudson was the most recent of these for her work on Dreamgirls in which she sang Love You I Do. But the performer does not receive the Best Original Song Oscar. The award is only given to the songwriters.
Mary had not written Mighty River before she finished filming Mudbound.
“It was only after I watched the premiere at last year’s Sundance Film Festival that I realised I had to write a theme song,” Mary stated. “I couldn’t do it while I was filming but the film’s message is so powerful that I had to add my own plea for understanding and reconciliation. This is something which holds true today as much as it did at the time when Mudbound is set back in the 1940s.”
The Cranberries/ Dolores O’Riordan
The untimely death at just 46 of Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan triggered what has by now become the standard practice of a massive surge of interest in the deceased person’s music.
In Britain, sales and streams of the band’s albums increased by nearly 1,000 per cent over the previous week. This led to their greatest hits album, Stars - The Best of 1992-2002, reaching a new peak of number 16. The album had originally reached number 20 when it was released in 2002.
Interest in Cranberries singles rose by more than 1,100 per cent. However, their impact on the singles chart was rather less dramatic.
Dreams, Linger and Zombie all found a place in the top 66 with the latter proving most popular at number 45.
Dolores was found dead in her hotel room at the London Hilton on Park Lane. She was in the city for a recording session.
The police are not treating her passing as suspicious but no cause of death has been made public. The coroner’s office said the results of its inquiry would not be released until April at the earliest.
Stars - The Best of 1992-2002 can be heard in full at www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmfFNf9Kk_E
Some 14 years after their genesis, psychedelic supergroup MIEN have finally announced April 6 as the release date for their self-titled debut album.
The band is made up of Elephant Stone’s Rishi Dhir, The Earlies’ John Mark Lapham, Alex Maas from The Black Angels and The Horrors’ Tom Cowan, who is also known as Tom Furse.
File sharing played almost as big a part in MIEN’s music as personal contact. But the end result is an album of songs which John Mark explains as Imagine The Black Angels as Nico in her 1980s industrial phase mixed with George Harrison and Conny Plank.
The first fruits of their labour can be heard on MIEN’s debut single, “Black Habit.” The accompanying video is posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqZ1V9RiDt4.
RAVE REVIEWS: Keala Settle’s track has been nominated for the Best Song Oscar and won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song - Motion
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