Exclusive interview with international musical star Carien Keizer

  • November 30, 2018
  • Theatre in Paris exclusives
  • Rupert Comer

A Q&A session with Carien Keizer, star of musical theatre throughout Europe

Chicago, The Musical is currently playing in Paris at Theatre Mogador in the 9th arrondissement. Performed in French, the show is conveniently accompanied with subtitles in English. Theatre in Paris recently had the chance to sit down with Carien Keizer, star of the show, at the Mogador. Collaborating with the production company Stage Entertainment for a number of years, Keizer has performed all over Europe (playing the same role, Roxie, in Germany) and has even dabbled with cabaret at the Paris Lido, on the Champs-Élysées. In addition to starring as Roxie Hart in Chicago, Carien has also performed in numerous Broadway-style productions throughout Europe, including 42nd Street, Hair, Cats, and AIDA. We talked about her experience here in Paris, the difficulties of performing in different languages, and her plans for the future…

Theatre in Paris: So what made you decide to become a dancer and actress?

Carien Keizer: Well my parents died when I was quite young, but I remember asking my mum once why I started with ballet, apparently when I was three I was really desperate to take it up. I was too young then but I took it up later and ended up doing all the Royal Academy of Dance exams throughout my childhood. Then my mum showed me the West Side Story and I loved it. But it was always like a hobby to me, I never imagined I was going to do something like that professionally. After high school I asked myself: “Ok, what should I do? Should I go to university and study? or should I carry on with theatre and dance?”. I auditioned for a theatre school in Amsterdam and got in, but it took me the whole summer to really decide what I wanted do. I kept thinking, What would my mum say? What would my father say? He would say go to university, be smart, and do something good with your life. But I think my mum would have said follow your heart, and that’s what I did, thank God. So I studied theatre for four years in Amsterdam to get my Bachelors degree, and then auditioned for a Joop van den Ende musical in Germany.

TIP: What made Germany your first career step, coming from Amsterdam?

CK: That was just because it was my first audition, it was for 42nd street. With me it’s always been oh wow I have a job now! I never thought “Oh I must have such and such a role”, I just did what I loved and it happened how it happened. I just remember as a kid, doing shows with the amature ballet society, we did about three shows a year. After each show I would always have this pain in my stomach, but I never knew what it was. Then I realised that it was a sort of homesickness for the stage, because I loved it so much, even as a child.

TIP: How would you describe the musical Chicago to someone who hasn’t seen it before?

CK: I would say it’s not at all like a typical musical as we know them today; it’s not superficial with a huge focus on big sets and costumes. [Chicago] is more minimalistic and much closer to the roots of theatre, I think it’s so smart. It’s all about the dancing, acting and singing, just like the old-fashioned shows, and the lyrics and text are so crucial. The most important thing in the show is the actors, you’re really naked on stage.

TIP: You can’t hide behind the set?

CK: Yeah exactly, you can’t hide behind the set, or costumes or anything.

TIP: You play Roxie Hart in the show, could you tell us a bit about your character? What was your approach going into this role?

CK: To be honest I didn’t really prepare in any certain way. But that’s how they cast, they really try to pick someone whose personality suits the role, so you don’t have to adopt a completely new persona. So of course there are some things that are just natural to me. For the audition in Germany they invited me for the role of Velma, because type-wise I suit her better, being tall. But then in the first audition round during the dancing I was swearing a lot in Dutch, and the director started thinking I was more of a Roxie, because I just say what I think and I’m energetic. Roxie is really just like that, she never thinks before she speaks. I don’t think she’s mean, she’s just a child at heart, she always has new ideas, and when she’s down on the floor she’ll get up again and fight.

TIP: What’s it been like working with members of the original Broadway production? For instance, your choreographer Ann Reinking has played Roxie Hart in the past.

CK: It’s been really great. Ann wasn’t there in Germany but we had Greg Butler and Rob Bowman, who had a bit of a different approach. Greg’s way of working was really clean and structured. With Ann she was really looking for more personal stuff and she has a lot of background information and anecdotes, which was really nice. She also let me dance more. For example in the monologue I added a dance and was able to develop it myself.

TIP: How about the rest of the cast?

CK: It’s great because some of the others from the German production are here, and we always got along so it’s a nice little group. The French cast are also really great of course. But I don’t have a lot of contact with the ensemble because I’m on the other side of the building in my own dressing room. On stage as well I’m always alone, I’ll maybe have a quick dance with the boys. Off-stage, I’ll have a quick change or maybe a few seconds to run to the restroom and the others will be sitting down or running around. We really don’t have a lot of contact backstage!

TIP: What attracted you to the musical?

CK: Well I think every dancer wants to do Chicago, Cats or West Side Story, you know? I never auditioned for West Side Story, but I’ve done Cats, and then Chicago came up. [...] And it’s a great show, you do so much, especially Roxie. It’s for me the dream part. I didn’t know that before, but I realised it later when I started the show.  

TIP: You’ve already played Roxie in a German production of Chicago, how does the French version feel different?

CK: It feels freer, for some reason I feel freer. I don’t know why that is because it’s still not my own language. German wasn’t my language but I’m fluent in German. [...]

TIP: It sounds like you have more freedom in the choreography?

CK: Yeah although it’s all set now, but I still feel more at ease in my part. I’m not sure if that’s maybe got something to do with the French version or because I’ve been doing it for a while now. Although, to be honest, I was dying before we started rehearsals, it felt like Mount Everest because of the French. I thought everyone was going to kill me as of course I’ll never completely lose my accent, that’s how it is. I thought they were going to slice me to bits because in Germany they were very critical of some of the accents; the Velma was American. [...] I thought it was going to be the same in Paris for me, but now I have the feeling that they’re not so negative about my accent.

TIP: So is it a big challenge performing roles that aren’t in your native language?

CK: Yeah it definitely is. It’s also because of the melody. The melody of the German version was so stuck in my mind and now the French one is so different. There are parts where we have much more words in French than in German, or English especially. But it all has to fit within that musical section, so you have to blurt it all out in time, and that’s hard. Plus you want to be clear as well.

TIP: You spent several years at the Lido in Paris, how does cabaret compare to performing in musicals?

CK: That was totally different because at the cabaret I was leading lady so I had to sing a lot, with a bit of dancing. There was no acting though, I didn’t have any scenes it was just number, number, number… I did miss the scenes and also acting with other people...It’s nice to do musicals again because you can act and you have the interaction, you can develop stuff.

TIP: What has been your favourite production to play in so far?

CK: This one. I’ve liked every production I’ve performed in actually, I wouldn’t audition for something I didn't like. I’m not the sort of person to run to every audition like a lot of people in the business. I never did that many auditions because I really told myself, “Ok, this show is great but there’s nothing in there for me”, or, “There’s something in there for me typewise but I can’t sing it”. [...] So then I don’t go and I don’t get disappointed, you’ve got to be honest with yourself.

TIP: Do you have any future projects lined up?

CK: Oh God I have no idea. I’ve thought about this so many times already because after Chicago in Germany I thought I’d start thinking about doing something else. You need a plan B. I don’t want to be standing in an audition and for them to say “no she’s getting old now”, you want to have it in your own hands when you stop, not in the hands of somebody else. So I tried other stuff, I did Cats again, a different version; I did some choreography and I set up a show elsewhere. Then Chicago came again, and I thought to myself, "Maybe after this I’ll stop." So I’m always pushing it forward a bit. I’ll have to see next year what I’m going to do, especially because for me this is the part of my life, so what comes after that? Is there an afterwards? I don’t know…

TIP: So how do you feel about subtitles in theatre?

CK: I’m so for it. Nowadays everybody is travelling all over the world, unlike twenty five years ago. So now we have so many foreigners in Paris, Amsterdam and everywhere. So why not get subtitles? I’m totally for that, because then you can also do original productions and nothing gets lost in translation.


Chicago, The Musical is playing at the Theatre Mogador in Paris with English subtitles until 30 June 2019. Care to see Carien Keizer for yourself?Get tickets here