Former Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger reinvents herself as a musical actress


Roslyn Sulcas

Nicole Scherzinger was exhausted. It had been a week since Jamie Lloyd’s new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” had begun, and she was playing the lead role of Norma Desmond — the forgotten silent film star whose comeback attempt doesn’t end well .

In Lloyd’s lean, psychologically focused production at London’s Savoy Theatre, Norma’s crumbling psyche is the heart of a story that is less about the loss of fame than the emotional consequences of being left aside while possessing all of one’s talents. . At the end of the show the night before, Scherzinger was left alone on stage, covered in blood and dazed, seeming to barely notice the enthusiastic applause from the audience.

“It’s exhausting,” she said last week, as she huddled in a chair in the depths of the Savoy. “But for many years I’ve been saying that I’m only using a fraction of my potential, and now I feel like I’ve really connected with that.”

The glamorous Scherzinger, 45, may initially seem like an odd choice for the role of Norma, immortalized by Gloria Swanson in the 1950 Billy Wilder film (released in Brazil as “Twilight of the Gods”), on which the musical is based. Scherzinger rose to fame as the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, an all-girl group formed in the early 2000s. And although she played Grizabella in a new West End production of Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” in 2014, her post-Dolls career has included two albums. solo and long periods as a judge on The X Factor and The Masked Singer.

Scherzinger herself was surprised when Lloyd, an acclaimed experimental director, asked to meet and suggested the role about 18 months ago. “There are a lot of roles I want to play in musical theater, but this isn’t one of them!” she said over the course of an hour-long interview. “I wasn’t sure if the idea was flattering or insulting. But Jamie told me not to watch the movie; read the lines, listen to the music. And I fell madly in love.”

In a phone conversation, Lloyd said he first thought about directing a new production of “Sunset Boulevard” during the pandemic and “immediately thought Nicole should be in it.”

Norma Desmond, Lloyd added, came to be seen as a role for an older actress. But he wanted a woman “who is in her prime, really brilliant, but has been written off, just like we’ve talked up until now about women over 40 not getting the opportunities they should have,” he said. “I felt there was a connection to Nicole, who had extraordinary international fame but then didn’t have the opportunity to reach her potential.”

Speaking about her career, Scherzinger said that although she was a shy and awkward child, she always had “a hunger and a determination”. Born in Honolulu to a Filipino father and a Hawaiian-Ukrainian mother, she was raised in a religious and sheltered environment in Louisville, Kentucky, by her mother and a German-American stepfather, whose surname she adopted.

Although her parents were lower-class workers with little money to attend concerts or the theater, she grew up singing and loving music (her mother’s family had a musical group called the Sons and Daughters of Hawaii). She attended a performing arts high school, acted professionally in Louisville, and studied theater (“Stanislavski and Shakespeare and all that”) and voice in college.

After leaving college early to join an acoustic rock band, Scherzinger auditioned for “Popstars,” a reality television series that offered winners a spot in a music group and a recording contract. Her winning group, Eden’s Crush, had modest success, and “it got me out of Louisville,” she said of her move to Los Angeles.

In 2003, she auditioned for the Pussycat Dolls, a former burlesque act reimagined as a group of sexy girls who sing and dance. Scherzinger became their lead singer and a household name, with the Dolls selling millions of records with hits like “Don’t Cha” and “Buttons.”

She was famous, but for a woman who “grew up singing in church,” she struggled with the group’s revealing clothing and sexualized image, and spent more than a decade exercising obsessively and battling bulimia. “I wish I could go back and enjoy it, realize this isn’t going to last forever,” she said. “Maybe that’s what Norma feels: It was her youth, she worked hard, and she can’t get that back.”

The Pussycat Dolls disbanded in 2010, and Scherzinger pursued a solo career with modest success. It was during this period that she sang “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” (from the Lloyd Webber musical “Evita”) as part of a TV special honoring Lloyd Webber, who, along with director Trevor Nunn, asked for she joined the cast of the new West End production of “Cats” in 2014. Scherzinger described the experience as transformative (every night, “I was able to shed my old self and be reborn again”), even if she didn’t continue in production when the show went to Broadway. She decided to join The X Factor instead, and Lloyd Webber was open about her irritation.

In a phone interview, the composer said he was disappointed because he believed in her talent and “would have loved to have seen her show what she could do on Broadway.” But they remained friends, he added, and he was delighted when Lloyd suggested Scherzinger play Norma. “I believe she is one of the most talented singer-actresses I have ever seen perform my work,” he said. “It’s a difficult role, but Nicole is fearless musically and dramatically. I’m a total fan.”

Scherzinger said The X Factor gave her the time and financial stability to pursue her own music, which she did while also taking on other projects, such as voicing the character Sina in “Moana” and starring in a television version of “Dirty Dancing.” But she always believed, she said, that she would return to musical theater, especially after performing in the television special “Annie Live!” in 2021.

Now that she’s back on stage, how does she feel? She said that preparing to play Norma was cathartic: “I felt like I knew exactly that feeling of abandonment, the constant thread of loneliness, the insatiable need for affirmation, validation. Now, there’s this epic, iconic soundtrack to play it all off and create art from places of torment.”

Lloyd said Scherzinger is “constantly searching, questioning, finding details, deepening his understanding of the character’s inner world.” Her work ethic (asking questions, taking notes and working during breaks), he added, has been an inspiration to the entire cast. “You would never know through this whole process that she had no background in acting.”

Asked about future plans, Scherzinger said her dream was to write her own musical, loosely based on her life.

“After all these years, I finally have the courage to not worry about what other people think, to know that I have something to say,” she said. “As Jamie always says, ‘You’re brave, be braver.'”

Source: Folha

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