Star succumbs to lure of the stage

By david whetstone

By david whetstone

A potentially lush theatre production means a return to the North-East for pop star-turned-actress Victoria Wilson-James - but to a much smaller venue.

The charismatic American singer, who in the 1990s sang lead vocals with groups Soul II Soul and The Shamen, last appeared here before an audience of thousands at Whitley Bay Ice Rink - the last date on a European tour.

But yesterday she said she was delighted to be rehearsing for new musical Lush Life at the little Live Theatre on Newcastle Quayside.

Victoria, who now lives in London, plays The Cop in the show which follows the fortunes of Lotte, a struggling Newcastle club singer who has spent her life performing Ella Fitzgerald numbers.

Resplendent in her stage police uniform, Victoria reflected on her pop career and how she was first brought to this country by Elton John's manager "for research and development work".

It resulted in her joining Soul II Soul, led by songwriter Jazzie B, in 1989 and then The Shamen from 1993-99. In between she brought out two solo albums featuring big hits Through and Reach 4 The Melody.

Victoria said: "I'm going to release a `Best of...' album this year with 31 tracks on a double CD set but I've spent recent years writing and producing dance music for the clubs because it's a way of circumventing the record companies." Having studied theatre arts in Los Angeles, she felt she was returning to her roots in 1999 when she joined her first UK musical, Oh! What A Night, starring alongside Kid Creole in a role created for her.

It was while appearing in another musical last year that she heard about the new Live Theatre play, written by Paul Sirett and directed by Max Roberts, Live's artistic director.

Victoria said: "I heard that Live Theatre has connections with the RSC and the National Theatre and I was excited because I'm trying to develop my legitimate acting career.

"I really liked Max's vibe and it helped that he was called Max. Sunset Boulevard, which stars Max von Stroheim, is my favourite film."

She said she had been impressed with Newcastle and Gateshead.

"Newcastle feels like a city that's in renaissance to me. I've been looking at all these fabulous buildings and thinking that I'm really over London because it's so aggressive. I'm really looking to relocate some place.

"I went to The Sage over in Gateshead to see Courtney Pine the other night and that was amazing. He did the double A side on Soul II Soul's number A Dream's A Dream."

Five other actresses, Vicky Elliott, Libby Davison, Jane Holman, Zita Frith and Helen French, share the role of Lotte with accompaniment from jazz pianist Naadia Sheriff, from Leeds.

Lush Life follows on the heels of Cooking With Elvis, a musical which took off after its premiere at Live Theatre and ended up in London's West End.

The show opens at Live Theatre, Broad Chare, on Tuesday and runs until April 23. For tickets, tel. (0191) 232-1232.

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