Strictly Come Dancing favourites, and real life couple, Janette Manrara and Alijaz Skojanec are coming to the Assembly Hall on Tuesday May 30 with their new show Remembering Fred, an all singing, all dancing tribute to the late great Fred Astaire. Eileen Leahy spoke to Janette before they quickstep their way into Tunbridge Wells with their golden age of Hollywood show
So Janette, please can you tell us a little bit about your new show Remembering Fred?
It’s celebrating the life and works of Fred Astaire – but the way we do it is like a live radio show. When our guests come into the theatre the idea is they are listening to a live radio show hosted by Michael Ball. He is the narrator and in between our dances he will ‘take calls’ from various stars including Twiggy, Don Black and Darcey Bussell who will talk about why they love Fred Astaire and what he means to them.
It sounds like so much more than a dance show then?
Yes, it’s very interactive and the audience will very much feel like they are part of a live radio broadcast. We also have a band with seven musicians and there are also singers and additional dancers who will perform alongside Alijaz and I.
Where did this clever idea come from?
Well, in Fred Astaire’s time the radio was very important so we thought the best way to celebrate his life was to keep very close to his era and make it feel very genuine. It’s also a great way to tell a story and share and celebrate someone’s life without having someone play Fred Astaire.
How are you finding the touring aspect of the show?
Both Alijaz and I have always wanted to see more of the UK and do our own tour but we’d never found the right idea or approach for it. So when the producers of the show approached us with this concept we said ‘yes’ in a heartbeat as it was exactly the kind of thing we were looking for. It’s something that is truly special and different.
How long is the tour running?
We started it back in April and our last show is June 3 but we’ve already booked more dates for 2018 because we’ve had such a great reaction. Everyone who has come to watch the show has really loved it and said they have learnt so much about Fred Astaire as well. Usually you just see him in his films but with our show you find out what he was actually like thanks to the conversations we broadcast through the radio show concept courtesy of people like the late Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse because they actually had worked with him. Then you get Darcey Bussell – a prima ballerina and of course a Strictly judge who is just an incredible artist – and her take on what Fred Astaire meant to her.
What do you love most about performing in the show?
The entire cast! The music that the band play is just incredible, they play classic tunes like Puttin’ On The Ritz and Night and Day every night so well and give all of Fred Astaire’s songs such a twist. But we love all the people we perform with – the singers and dancers are just phenomenal – and to share the stage with that calibre of performers makes Alijaz and I very happy. For him and I to share this together is really wonderful but to also share it with the wonderful cast is really special. And the other great thing is that every night feels different. There’s lots of quick changes and choreography going on back stage but we’re loving all of it.
What do you like most about touring?
The fact that Alijaz and I are getting to see so much of the UK. We’ve done the Strictly tours before but they are a lot shorter. With Remembering Fred we arrive in a new town or city every day and we’re getting to see so many beautiful parts of the country that we would not normally get to see.
Finally, what are your thoughts on the new Strictly judge Shirley Ballas who will be replacing Len Goodman?
I think she is amazing and will be an incredible addition to the judging panel. She has plenty of great credentials but it goes to say that no one can replace Len. He would always come in and give a huge energy to the show but we’re very excited to be working with Shirley.