Starring Strictly Come Dancing stars Aljaz Skorjanec and Janette Manrara, Remembering Fred is an exciting new show, appearing all around the region at the end of this month. The show will feature song and dance and will celebrate the legacy of one of Hollywood’s true screen legends and entertainers: Fred Astaire.
Aljaz and Janette will be performing the golden age of Hollywood’s most celebrated dance routines and audiences will also hear famous “Fred fans”, such as Darcey Bussell, Ava Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, Irving Berlin, Twiggy, Don Black and Bruce Oldfield, amongst others, as they talk about how the screen icon touched their lives and what made him so special. Remembering Fred is a magical evening of top hat, white tie and wonderful tales!
Backed by a full supporting cast of dancers, live band and singers, Aljaz and Janette will perform classics from the American Songbook, written by the likes of George & Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter. Remembering Fred will feature songs such as They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Night & Day, S’Wonderful, Cheek to Cheek, Puttin’ on the Ritz, Let’s Face The Music And Dance, The Way You Look Tonight, Top Hat, White Tie & Tails and many others.
Last week, while she was in Swindon preparing for two more sold out performances, I was lucky enough to speak to Janette about Strictly Come Dancing, her own dance career and the phenomenal success of Remembering Fred.
Janette, your show has really turned into a runaway success, hasn’t it?
Yes, and we’re really happy about that but, at the same time, we are very sorry for all of the people who want to get tickets but can’t. But it’s ok because we will be coming round again in 2018. We’ll be back and the guests can come and see us then.
What is it, do you think, that had inspired such a huge audience?
I think it’s just that we have the perfect combination. Fred Astaire is just such a legend and completely timeless. He is someone that Aljaz and I are really in awe of and we still look back, even today, at his work to get inspiration for what we do.
So, when you get the combination of Fred Astaire and Strictly Come Dancing, which is the show that Aljaz and I are a part of, it’s just a great recipe for a great show because you’re going to get great dancing, you’re going to hear some incredible music and you’ll have a lovely evening of entertainment.
We have a seven-piece live band, all of the dancers sing and we have a lot of Tap dancing, so it’s not all Ballroom and Latin. There’s Tap and there’s Jazz in there too, so it’s really an all-round evening of incredible entertainment.
Does all of the music come from the Great American Songbook?
Yes, and I think that is another thing that makes this show so attractive to an audience. The show is full of songs that everyone knows and everyone comes along to just enjoy and appreciate them. They get to hear the songs played live, together with the added entertainment value of the singing, and the dancing that comes with it.
What is it about Ballroom dancing that generates such a huge following?
I think the beauty of Ballroom dancing is that, really, you can do it no matter what age you are, or where you are in the world. Dancing is an international form of art. You don’t need to speak a certain language to do it, you don’t need to be in a specific part of the world to do it. Also, specifically for Ballroom dancing, you don’t need to be 18 or 20 years old to do it well. You can be much later in the years of your life and still be able to Ballroom dance with someone. That’s what makes it so lovely for anyone who enjoys dancing. It’s something that anyone can do, at any point in their life.
Talking of age, I notice that, as a dancer, you actually started quite late didn’t you?
I did, yes. I started learning musical theatre when I was 12 but that was mostly singing and acting. We only did dance for about an hour a week and it wasn’t until I was about 18 or 19 that I decided that I wanted to dance, seriously. So I started to take dance lessons, every day, to try and catch up with the people who had been dancing since they were four or five years old.
So, I was a very late bloomer, but I was very blessed to have incredible teachers and I was also very determined to work hard and push through and do whatever I could to fulfill my dreams and aspirations to become a dancer. Luckily, I was given the great opportunity to come and join Strictly Come Dancing and that was the biggest blessing for me, and for Aljaz as well.
We see, on the rehearsal videos for Strictly, how hard you work with the celebrities, particularly those who may be “strangers to the dance floor”.
Yes but, do you know what, it’s the most rewarding job in the dance world. We get to choreograph, we get to teach and we get to dance with some really incredible people from all walks of life. For us as dancers and performers, really, we get the best of everything and there is something so beautiful when you see them finally get the steps right. It’s so rewarding when you can see it their eyes that feeling of, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got it, I can do it”. That is really the best feeling, for us as professionals, to have that moment happen in the rehearsal room.
We love it, and it really doesn’t matter if they have danced before or not, it’s still such an incredible job for us. It’s so good to see people who maybe don’t think of themselves as dancers actually doing it. When we have someone who says, “I don’t think I will ever be able to do this.” or “I don’t think I’m going to get far in the competition.” and then, all of a sudden, they start finding their “dance legs” and really moving and getting better and better every week. That, for us, is such a lovely journey to be on.
You have quite a few celebrities involved with Remembering Fred as well, haven’t you?
Yes we do. The whole idea behind the performance is that it is based around a radio show, hosted by Michael Ball. He talks to celebrities like Darcey Bussell, Don Black and Twiggy and we also have clips of Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse talking about exactly what Fred Astaire meant to them and what their favourite aspects of him are, as a performer. It’s through Michael and the other contributors that we, kind of, narrate the show for the audience.
I’m sure that having those clips helps to take some of the pressure off of the cast.
It does. We’re not a big cast. We have a seven piece band, two singers and six dancers so we are eight performers plus the band. So it’s really upbeat and fast-paced for us and, for our audiences, very entertaining. We are really happy with everyone’s reaction to the show. All the people we have met have been so nice to Aljaz and me. They tell us that they have really enjoyed the show and, what’s amazing is, people are telling us that they can’t wait to come back in 2018. That makes us really happy because we are all here to celebrate someone really very special, and that’s Mr Fred Astaire. We are so happy to be a part of that.
Remembering Fred appears at the Pavilion Theatre, Worthing on Saturday May 27th (Sold Out), the Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells on Tuesday 30th May (A few, very good, seats have been released for this performance) and at the White Rock Theatre, Hastings on Wednesday May 31st. (Very limited availability) Please contact the venue box offices through the usual channels for the remaining tickets, or to check for returns.