‘YOU will leave the theatre singing,’ promises West End star Brenda Edwards, 50, one of the stars of the musical White Christmas at London’s Dominion Theatre. She plays meddling but big-hearted housekeeper Martha, who looks after retired General Waverly, played by Michael Brandon.
Based on the classic 1954 film staring Bing Crosby, and with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, the production also features Strictly finalist Danny Mac and Over The Rainbow talent show winner Danielle Hope.
‘Martha was a Broadway singer and now she’s a housekeeper,’ says Brenda. ‘She’s full of personality and comedy. There’s something in the show for everyone. The song White Christmas is in there, of course — it’s a magical musical moment spreading joy for the festive season.’
Brenda grew up singing in a Pentecostal church with her grandmother and later became a choir mistress. After spending years singing at weddings, she entered the second series of The X Factor, where she finished fourth. From there, she went into musicals — but she didn’t find it an easy transition.
‘It was a massive challenge,’ she admits. ‘I’m a singer, I’ve never had acting lessons, and I had five auditions for Chicago before I was offered the role. I had to work for it. It was daunting to go from X Factor to the West End but I’ve had a lot of support from friends I’ve made on the musical theatre circuit — it’s a wonderful community to be part of.’
Since debuting as Mama Morton in Chicago, Brenda has played Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray and appeared in Carmen Jones. While playing Killer Queen in We Will Rock You, she learned about the highs and lows of showbusiness. ‘The stage was wet and I slipped and fell. The costume made it difficult to get back up — I was on the floor singing Another One Bites The Dust. I kept singing — the show must go on. It’s embarrassing but you have to get on with it. I had a bit of a limp but these things happen.’
Brenda is excited about her upcoming role in the revival of Sister Act: The Musical, where she will be sharing the lead role of Dolores Van Cartier with Whoopi Goldberg.
She has also become a regular fixture on daytime TV, joining the Loose Women panel earlier this year. She’s proved a popular addition to the line-up, becoming embroiled in a tomato-growing showdown with Janet Street-Porter.
‘I’ve been told it seems like I settled in straight away but I was very nervous when I first joined the panel,’ says Brenda. ‘It’s so funny — I wasn’t sure I’d know what to say and I’d be stuttering but the ladies have made me so welcome. It’s nice we can talk about serious issues but also laugh about everyday mundane things as well.
‘It’s good to be able to share my personal experience, in case it might help someone. I went through cancer in 2016 and it’s nice to be able to share my story and help someone watching at home who is going through that. Hopefully, they might not be so worried. If I can do my bit and give someone else strength, that’s important to me.’
With Sister Act coming up next year Brenda will be as busy as ever — and couldn’t be happier about it. ‘There are so many roles out there I’d like to do. You won’t see me playing Little Mermaid — that would be a lovely role but it wouldn’t quite work,’ she laughs. ‘But there are lots of roles I’d like to play.
‘I was in the “overs” category in X Factor and unless you’re Cher or Tina Turner your career in the music industry can have a certain lifespan. I’m glad I’m in theatre, where there isn’t really an age limit. I’ve found my niche. And in theatre if you have a big voice it doesn’t hurt in projecting to the back.’
■ White Christmas is at London’s Dominion Theatre until January 4, 2020. whitechristmasthemusical.co.uk