LLet’s make one thing clear: although Amy Lennox sings and is Scottish, she is not related to Annie Lennox. She is, however, used to people making the assumption. She laughs, remembering a 2016 breakfast radio appearance on which the host kept referring to Annie, thinking it was her mother.
“I was half asleep,” she said. “Then the penny fell and – on the live radio – I said, ‘Oh my God! You think my mother is Annie Lennox. And the producers behind the glass are gone – she puts a hand over her mouth and open your eyes wide. “Everyone was pounding. I thought, ‘I’m going to let you sit on this. You deserve it.’ Amy’s journey – from singing Christina Aguilera and Whitney Houston songs in her bedroom to the West End – had nothing to do with nepotism.
There is, however, a legacy she must uphold: she follows Jessie Buckley’s victorious turn as cabaret showgirl Sally Bowles in Rebecca Frecknall’s dynamic staging of the classic 1960s musical Buckley and Her Master ceremonial, played by Eddie Redmayne, stepped down in March for Lennox and Northern Ireland-born Fra Fee. Lennox wouldn’t normally step into a starring role for another actor. “I don’t want to be put in a suffocating position where I’m told, ‘Stay there, do it’ – rather than creating a musical. That’s not how I work. He doesn’t get the best from anyone. I have always been adamant about this. A breath. “And then I thought, ‘Well, that sounds different. “”
Lennox is outspoken, talkative, likes to laugh and share an opinion. We’re sitting in the bowels of London’s Playhouse theatre, talking about how Frecknall (“Frecks” for Lennox) managed to persuade the star to do a revamp and thrust her further into the spotlight. Lennox might not be a big name yet. But for the past 14 years, she’s performed in musicals, plays and on TV (she left Holby City earlier this year). His cheeky, lascivious Bowles is like an electric jolt and no doubt a sign of great things to come. How daunting was it to take over from Buckley? “You know what? I didn’t really have time to think about it.” Her casting was confirmed, she says, and then “we started the following week. It was so quick.
Lennox and Fee previously shared a stage in Belfast for 2015’s The Last Five Years, a two-handed musical about the breakdown of a relationship. Cabaret was a completely different experience, given that Bowles and the emcee barely interact. “We barely saw each other during rehearsal time,” she says. “It was very, very strange. I was passing Fra – and we were like ships passing by. Meeting him in Pret, I was like, ‘How was your week?’ “
They’re both leads, though. It’s just that each speaks to a particular aspect of history’s descent into anti-Semitism and authoritarianism. Fra’s emcee lulls you into a false sense of security, before slapping you – look, Nazis! — and unravel the freewheeling, booze-soaked world you’ve come to understand. Lennox’s Bowles, meanwhile, is blowing like a hurricane. She struts and coos for a while, dressed in frilly pink taffeta for Don’t Tell Mama, then roars through the title track the next day, disheveled and looking overwhelmed in a man’s suit.
Offstage, I can see clues to Bowles’ frenetic training at Lennox: the way she cracks up, gushes at her co-workers, and describes her role running out of steam. At the end of each performance, she says, “I just get spat on. It’s like erasing the channels. Just” – she makes the sound of something coming out of a tube – “out! You have finished. I don’t have to ward it off because the show itself takes me there. It’s relentless.
Lennox has built her stamina over the years, having fallen in love with musicals when she was 11 years old. She remembers watching a television documentary. “Real scenic London kids,” she says. Maybe they were auditioning for Annie (she makes a gag noise). “And I thought, ‘Oh, what is this? “However, she was not a child with pushy stage parents. Her mother was a lawyer, her father an IT and communications manager for an oil company. She had rebelled against ballet (mom’s idea) and singing (dad’s idea) before heading to musicals.
“You don’t have that local opportunity that kids in the South East of England take for granted – because they’re so close to this hub that we’re in now.” She points to the West End above our heads. “I had none of that.” In Aberdeen, everything seemed “so far away that there are not really any connections”. Envy propelled her, however. After seeing these kids on TV and then failing an audition for the school musical, she joined a local am-dram band and quickly perfected her acting and singing.
“I auditioned for the National Youth Music Theater many times. I got called back. I never got in. My poor dad used to walk me all the way to London. And I never got in. It was always because I would come to a song and freak out Over time she learned to take charge of her voice, landing Liesl in The Sound of Music at the London Palladium right out of drama school from Guildford.She has since received an Olive Award nomination for her Lauren in Kinky Boots in 2015, as well as stage credits in 9 to 5 The Musical, Lazarus, Legally Blonde and others.
In her early days, Lennox was often told that she didn’t play “big enough” roles, as if only an over-the-top performance would resonate. But in one of his quieter moments in Cabaret, his Bowles expresses an apathy about his situation — sleepwalking into horror — that strikes a stark chord today. “Politics,” asks her Sally, “what does that have to do with me?” “It’s crazy. I don’t think [Cabaret’s writers John Kander and Fred Ebb] never intended for it to feel so worthwhile now. We like to think that as human beings in this society we are constantly moving forward, striving for excellence and this and that. But we are not! On the contrary, we are heading for absolute disaster and we all know it,” says Lennox.
She hints at everything from deceived strongmen to the war in Ukraine, from women’s reproductive rights to the general acceptance of a future that’s bleaker than the recent past. “It’s like Groundhog Day — and there are quite a few moments in the show that do that,” she says. “There was a sideline newspaper we were using and it said, ‘Russian invasion imminent.’ And you go, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God. What’s going on? We’ve got another Hitler over there A man who is,” she pauses. “I’d be interested to know how much extra edge this show has because of what’s going on in Ukraine and Russia. It’s just scary. Absolutely scary.
Beyond the show’s portrayal of the creeping rise of fascism, we discuss theater’s return after the lockdown in the light. Shortly before speaking, some cast members of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s big-budget Cinderella found out their jobs were going to be cut short, some via social media. “I think it’s deplorable,” Lennox says. “We’ve all been pushed to our limits [by the pandemic]. I don’t know the ins and outs of what happened. But hasn’t anyone thought for a moment about the repercussions of the way they were treated? (The Really Helpful Group said it did “everything possible” to make sure cast members were notified of the shutdown.)
She takes a breath, emerging sunnier. “It’s a crazy, thankless old existence for so many people. I am grateful. I feel like I have the best job in the West End. Maybe even the world. She laughs again. Bowles has come back to life in the past two months – so much so that on some days Lennox has to refrain from speaking to preserve his voice, resulting in silent journeys to Ramsgate from London with her actor husband Tom Andrew Hargreaves.
There is now a sign on the door of her dressing room, made by her colleagues after she was very tired at the start of her race. “You know the line when I have my gin and I say, ‘I’m just not talking today. “” She laughs. “I have a ‘I’m not speaking today’ sign on my door. I’ve only done it once. I’ve only spoken once. She laughs again.” is very difficult. I’m not very good at that.