If there’s one French performer to watch this year, it might just be Prisca Demarez. Her exciting and unusual story begins on Reunion Island where Demarez moved on a whim, tired of her humdrum career in physiotherapy. On Reunion she worked as a singer in jazz clubs, took part in her first musical and rediscovered her love of performance arts. Her family had always warned her against entering the competitive and precarious theatre industry, but with the encouragement of her first director, she launched herself with guns blazing into life as an actor-singer.
Demarez fought tooth and nail to find work on her return to France, and dedicated herself to acting classes. In an interview with Krinein arts magazine she explained that this acting training taught her the most useful lesson as a singer: to ‘express depth in a sung text’. ‘A song is a monologue’, she said. Prioritising her development as an actor, she took on several roles in straight plays – she once even played Lady Macbeth – but it soon became clear that musical theatre was her calling. Her musical theatre career, still in its early days (her big break came in 2012 when she was cast as Kate Monster in Avenue Q) has been remarkably fruitful.
It was in 2015 that Demarez secured her most impressive role to date, in the French premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats at the Théâtre Mogador. During her first audition she reduced the panel to tears with a rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” and, at the end of a rigorous selection process, she was cast as Grizabella. She would be the first French actor to interpret Grizabella and her iconic swansong “Memory”, following in the footsteps of Broadway idols, Barbra Streisand, Elaine Paige and Lea Salonga. In an interview with 20 Minutes Demarez said that the casting decision came as a shock to her: ‘I thought they wanted a star [to play Grizabella] and, you know, I’m not well-known by anyone except my baker! I burst into tears before I could explain to anyone that I’d got the news!’
Playing Grizabella was a formative experience for Demarez, not least because she had the opportunity to work with Trevor Nunn and Gillian Lynn, Cats’ original director and choreographer. Demarez was moved by and invested in Grizabella’s anguish, but also pushed to her limits by the role’s physical challenges – “Memory” requires an astonishingly wide vocal range. However, the hard work paid off as critics showered her with praise. Margaux Lidon writes for Opérette: ‘Everything about [Demarez’s] performance, right up to her body language, is flawless, provoking emotion every time she steps on stage. As for her voice, with its warm timbre...it comes into its own in the final verse of Memory.’
Now, Demarez is bringing another strong character to life: Nancy in Oliver Twist, The Musical at the Salle Gaveau. She has been lucky, she says, to secure two leading roles in succession and, more than that, to play two characters that she admires. Nancy, who protects Oliver through self-sacrifice, is for Demarez ‘a great heroine’; and the show itself is simply ‘magic’.
Oliver Twist, The Musical is being performed with English surtitles at the Salle Gaveau in Paris’s 8th arrondissement.
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