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Steve Burbridge In Conversation With . . . Sarah Jane Buckley

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 22nd Jan 2012 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge


Her posthumous success astonished the feverishly competitive world of pop music. Indeed, Eva Cassidy’s story is so extraordinary that it now forms the basis of a compelling musical play, starring Hollyoaks actress Sarah Jane Buckley as the talented song stylist. She tells UK THEATRE NETWORK all about it.

Eva Cassidy’s success is more than she could ever have dreamed of – and, sadly, it’s a success she never lived to see. The wonderfully talented and spiritual song stylist died of skin cancer when she was in the prime of her life, at just 33 years old.

By the time of her death, in 1996, she was unknown outside her native Washington DC but, within four years, Terry Wogan had discovered and promoted her haunting interpretation of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ to the British public. A camcorder recording of Eva performing the song at the Blues Alley jazz club was shown on the BBC’s ‘Top of The Pops 2’ and, subsequently, sales of her album ‘Songbird’ outstripped top stars including Madonna, Craig David and Robbie Williams.

‘To play Eva Cassidy is quite simply the role of a lifetime,’ says Sarah Jane Buckley, who is starring in the award-winning ‘Over The Rainbow – The Eva Cassidy Story’. Since its first performance, in 2004, the show has wowed audiences all over Europe and received standing ovations from sell-out audiences throughout the UK and Ireland. In taking on the role of Eva, Sarah Jane follows in the footsteps of some other high profile performers including Carmen Cusack, Nicole Faraday, Zoe Tyler and Faye Tozer.

‘It’s now become one of the most fabulous female roles in musical theatre,’ states Sarah Jane. ‘To sing 24 songs a night, in a lead role, is phenomenally rare and I don’t think it happens in many other shows. I’m on stage constantly and the acting element is as important as the singing. It’s incredibly challenging.’

When she discovered she’d won the role of Eva, Sarah Jane spent months studying Eva’s performance and techniques to ensure that she would bring authenticity to the part.

‘When she sang, Eva breathed in a different place from a normal singer so when she took a breath it kind of coincided with where she took a chord. That’s why her songs are so different, with that breathiness and very individual style of singing, which was amazing to have to copy. She had an incredible gift.’

Many will associate Sarah Jane with her role as crazy Kathy Barnes in ‘Hollyoaks’, but she actually began her career as a singer.

‘Singing has been my bread and butter for a long time,’ she says.

Indeed, she made her first television appearance, at the age of 17, singing on an ITV talent show, ‘Scramble’, hosted by Richard and Judy. She went on to train at The Guildford School of Acting and, upon graduating, entered the world of musical theatre to play roles in ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ and ‘Elvis The Musical’.

Sarah Jane went on to form a cabaret duo called The Polka Dots, alongside fellow actress Jo Michaels, and for six years they travelled the world with comedians and artistes including The Chuckle Brothers and Joe Pasquale.

‘In the past, I’ve always sang as myself,’ says Sarah Jane. ‘This is the first time I’ve had to perform as someone as vocally iconic as Eva Cassidy, The thing is, because there’s very little footage of her on the internet, you don’t really see her visually.’

This sad, but uplifting musical play journeys her life – from her idyllic childhood growing up in a musical family, to her studio work with boyfriend and mentor Chris Biondo, to the exuberant live recordings of Blues Alley and, finally, to her tragically premature death.

‘Stephen Leatherland, the producer and director, has done a lot of research into her life and he went over to America to meet some of her family members. He has been very instrumental in directing me in how to behave like Eva. She was incredibly shy and actually preferred recording to performing in front of an audience.’

Sarah Jane admits that she was already a fan of Eva Cassidy’s music before she was even offered the role in ‘Over The Rainbow – The Eva Cassidy Story’, and she explains that accepting the role was not a difficult choice at all.

‘There was no contest, really. To be offered the chance to play her was amazing and I was absolutely thrilled. It’s such a tough role and I finish each show absolutely exhausted because it’s such a heartbreaking story. It takes you on a very emotional journey, but there’s also lots of happiness to the show. I guess it’s a celebration of her music as well as a tribute to her life.’


·         Eva is the only female artist to have 3 consecutive posthumous number one albums

·         As a performer, she probably did no more than 80-100 gigs – many of which had audiences of around only 30 people

·         She had an all-consuming love of nature, valuing all forms of life – be it animal or plant – as sacrosanct

·         Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK with over 70,000 new cases registered every year

·         In 2002, after the release of a television documentary, she had 5 albums in the Norwegian charts and at the same time enjoyed similar success in neighbouring Sweden. Her popularity continues to spread across Europe, Australia, Iceland and Canada.


·       Tour Details


·        January 2012

·         26th                        Camberley Theatre

·         27th&28th           Birmingham New Alexandra Theatre

·         30th                        Milton Keynes Theatre

·         31st                          Swansea Grand Theatre

·        February 2012

·         1st&2nd                   Worcester Swan Theatre

·         3rd&4th                   Darlington Civic Theatre

·         6th-8th                    Motherwell Theatre

·         10th                        Derby Assembly Rooms

·         11th                        Wellingborough, The Castle Theatre

·         12th                        Richmond Theatre

·         13th                        Leamington Spa Centre

·         14th                        York Grand Opera House

·         17th                        Worthing Pavilion Theatre

·         18th                        Crawley Hawth Theatre

·         22nd&23rd           Winchester Theatre Royal

·         24th                        Exmouth Pavilion Theatre

·         25th                        Chatham Central Theatre

·         28th                        Edmonton Millfield Theatre

·         29th                        Bradford St George’s Hall

·        March 2012

·         1st                          Yeovil Octagon Theatre

·         2nd&3rd                   Mansfield Palace Theatre

·         4th                         Glasgow Theatre Royal

·         5th-7th                    Shrewsbury Theatre Severn

·         8th                         Rotherham Civic Theatre

·         11th                        Manchester Opera House

·         13th                        Chesham Elgiva Theatre

·         14th-16th                 Colchester Mercury Theatre

·         17th                        Lowestoft Marina Theatre

·         18th                        Scarborough Spa Theatre




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