Sally Ann Triplett: Garland for a West End star
If you’ve been to see a show in the West End over the past 30 years, you’ll almost certainly have seen Sally Ann Triplett playing one of the leading roles. She’s been in everything from Cats to Chicago, with musicals such as Mamma Mia and Anything Goes thrown in.
Now she’s starring at Nottingham Playhouse for the first time in a new play called My Judy Garland Life.
“I play Judy Garland and I also play Liza Minelli,” says Sally. “I’m not doing an impersonation of Judy Garland because it’s got a different take on it. Hopefully it’s the essence of Judy Garland. You see all different aspects of her throughout her whole life, from when she was at MGM with Mickey Rooney, later doing A Star is Born and having kids.
“It goes through until she reaches London where she did I Could Go On Singing (her final film) and performing at the Palladium, until she reaches her final resting place. It’s very interesting and quite daunting because she was one of the greatest entertainers ever.
“When I was growing up I would watch all the MGM films and she was someone I aspired to and someone who taught me what it was I loved to do, which was to perform.”
Sally Ann Triplett was born in London in 1962. She wanted to be a ballet dancer and started tap when she was five.
She trained at the Arts Education School in Chiswick, an establishment where Catherine Zeta Jones, Bonny Langford and Martin Clunes among others found a springboard to start their careers.
Eurovision Song Contest
It was there that Sally realised her dancing ambitions would not come to fruition – but she was encouraged to develop her singing voice and her career took off quite spectacularly.
As a member of the group Prima Donna, Sally represented the United Kingdom in the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest. Their ballad Love Enough For Two came third.
Two years later she was part of the double act Bardo whose song One Step Further came seventh at Eurovision. It reached number two in the UK charts. Sally is the only singer to have won the UK Eurovision heat at both attempts.
So how does she look back on those days?
“They were brilliant. There was a part of my life where I didn’t mention it to anyone. It felt like I needed to move away from being in a pop band because I was going up for theatre jobs.
“But it was amazing. Only the other day I got an email from someone saying One Step Further was one of the best Eurovision songs ever. People have to respect that.
“It was very exciting and we were on Top of the Pops all the time. I’ve got a silver disc at home and it was great fun.”
From 1984 her musical theatre career started to blossom. She appeared in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane before taking roles in Chess, Grease and Cats in the West End. She played Nancy in Oliver at Leicester’s Haymarket Theatre before returning to London in productions including Chicago, Guys and Dolls, Mamma Mia and the Spice Girls musical Viva Forever.
When asked about the best production she has appeared in, Sally actually cites My Judy Garland Life as a “wonderful experience” while Cole Porter’s Anything Goes at the National Theatre gets her vote as best musical.
“I remember thinking on stage that it wouldn’t get any better than this. It was just phenomenal. It was (former artistic director) Trevor Nunn’s last musical at the National and then we had a whole year at Drury Lane where I was with the crazy John Barrowman.
“Everything about it, the set, the musical direction, the choreography, the costumes was like being in an old MGM film.”
Nine years ago I saw Sally in the West End in Acorn Antiques: The Musical in which she played Miss Berta – the part originally taken in the television series by the show’s author Victoria Wood.
Sally admits she had never watched Acorn Antiques so she didn’t feel nervous auditioning for Victoria Wood. She remembers the show well.
“I looked around me at one point and saw Duncan Preston, Celia Imrie and Julie Walters and I thought ‘this is bonkers, how did I end up among these incredible people?’ Those people are still my friends. I learned so much from them.”
London seems to be full these days of what are known as jukebox musicals – shows based around the songs of a particular artist or group. Does Sally think there are too many of them?
“I suppose there are. I’ve been in two. Viva Forever didn’t work but Mamma Mia is a tonic. If it’s done right it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you stand up at the end and dance and you come out having had a brilliant evening. Those musicals have definitely got their place.
“But the ones that people love are still there, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Mamma Mia, Billy Elliot. And you’ve got great plays – War Horse was one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life, so there’s a place for everything.”
Sally’s talents as a singer and dancer as well as actor mean she has an advantage over others who might be auditioning for the same job.
“I’ve been lucky,” she says, “and I’ve worked hard. I’ve had two kids and I’ve not really stopped working.
“Sometimes I’ve stayed in shows longer than I would have just because if you’re in a long run you’ve got steady work and as an actor that’s hard to find.
“But now I’ve got to the point where I can have a bit more fun and choose things I want to do rather than do things I have to do.”
That was one of the reasons why she wanted to be in My Judy Garland Life, written by Nottingham playwright Amanda Whittington.
“I think she’s unbelievable – an incredible writer,” says Sally. “She’s a lovely lady and totally inspiring to have around. She will never say ‘no it has to be done like this’, she’s so up for talking about a scene and a line. Nine times out of ten what she’s written is what you end up saying. I just think she’s going to be a huge writer.”
Sally was given the role in My Judy Garland Life after only one audition: “I didn’t have to sing or dance. The next morning Kath Rogers the director offered me the job. I just love the fact that she led with her gut. It’s turning out to be at times a spine-tingling job for me.”
The Nottingham Playhouse production means Sally has had to leave her family behind in London for the rehearsal period and the play’s two-week run.
She is married to actor Gary Milner and has two children, singer Max who is 23 and appeared on the BBC TV talent show The Voice, and twelve-year-old Grace.
After Sally has fulfilled her commitment to My Judy Garland Life, the whole family will be moving to the United States because Sally has landed what could turn out to be the job of a lifetime: a part in a new musical called The Last Ship which has been written by Sting. It opens in Chicago before moving to Broadway in October.
“It’s a huge upheaval and an adventure. We may end up staying in America – we may hate it, we may want to come home, we’ll suck it and see. But we’re really excited.”
This article appeared in the February 2014 issue of Country Images magazine