Ahead of the Manchester premiere of the acclaimed new musical Kathy & Stella Solve a Murder!, I had the chance to sit down with Bronté Barbé. Bronté is best known for playing Carole King in the original UK tour of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and Catherine Plumber in the international premiere of Newsies in London.
So, let’s get right to it – who are Kathy and Stella?!
“Kathy and Stella met in primary school where they bonded over their love for all things true crime and have been inseparable ever since. Our show begins in their late twenties in Kathy’s mum’s garage recording an episode of their passion project – Hull’s least successful murder podcast.”
Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder! premiered last year. Is this the same production or have changes been made?
“No, there have been many, many versions of the show already! We opened at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2022 with a show that was just over an hour, with almost no set and just a keyboard for accompaniment. Then at this year’s Fringe, it was an hour and a half, and now it is finally a full-length musical with interval, full set and band!”
You’ve starred in the original casts of Ride, What’s New Pussycat?, Kathy and Stella, and the reimagined Newsies. Do you prefer originating roles? Do you enjoy the collaborative creative approach?
“It was always my dream to originate roles, especially in new British musicals. I’d always loved workshopping new musicals and seeing the process of them being made. I couldn’t believe my luck when Kathy and Stella came along – an incredibly relatable female-led story set up North?! YES PLEASE! It’s been amazing to see a show come together in this way and to be allowed to play and create Kathy. I feel extremely lucky to have worked on so many new productions; it’s certainly my favourite way to perform.”
There have been a few recent works satirising true crime, namely Only Murders in the Building. What is Kathy and Stella comparable to? What sets it apart?
“I don’t think there are any other musicals like it. We’re carving out our own kind of musical. I’ve heard people liken elements of it to Little Shop of Horrors, and lovers of the series Only Murders in the Building have absolutely drawn comparisons! We’ve recently described the tone of the show as “Tongue in cheek, heart on sleeve”. It’s so current but certainly isn’t just for lovers of true crime; it’s extremely unique in that at points it is completely over-the-top heightened comedy and, in the next breath, extremely truthful and real. I think this is its charm; it will surprise you.”
What’s it like working with the incredible Rebekah Hinds?
“I’ve been friends and working with Bex on other projects since 2019. When the first draft of Kathy and Stella was presented to me, Bex and I had just finished the show What’s New Pussycat? As soon as I read the script for K&S, I got on the phone to Bex as I could literally hear her voice as I read Stella, and as luck would have it, she had been offered the part.
“There’s nothing quite like working with someone you know so well. I had a similar set-up when I did Beautiful the Musical – my husband was played by one of [Carole King’s] best friends, the brilliant Kane Parry [who played Gerry Goffin].
“I wouldn’t say I only ever want to work with friends but you do get a lot for free. Bex and I know each other so well now that we can tell exactly what each other needs when onstage, which is helpful as in this show, we quite simply never leave the stage.
“Bex is a comedy genius, a brilliant singer and actor. I love watching her work.”
You’ve had quite a varied career. From Carole King to Katherine Plumber to “Kathy”. They’re all very different characters, albeit all having a “K” in their name! Is there a type of character you’d love to play next – perhaps a villain?
“I’ve been super lucky with the parts I’ve played, especially this year. Katherine and Kathy were massively different but each a joy to play. I haven’t ever played a villain; I don’t know if that’s my bag! I enjoy comedy too much. Kathy is so special because no one else has ever played her; being part of the show from the very beginning has meant I’ve been able to evolve her over two years which has been super special and satisfying – all the Ss!”
What’s your dream role in an established musical?
“This is a tough one. I’ve never really had one dream part. The ones I grew up singing and idolising would now be a completely wrong fit for me. However, I would love to do a Sondheim show; his female parts are incredible, lyrically and vocally. Also, it’s not quite a musical, but LV in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice has always been my dream role in a play – getting to do the impressions would be dreamy!”
Bronté Barbé is like the best name ever! Is it your birth name, a chosen name or a stage name? If chosen/stage, how did the name come about?
“Thank you. It’s my actual, real birth name! My parents named me after a character in the 90’s rom-com film Green Card [ Brontë, played by Andie Macdowell], not the Yorkshire literary family (which is usually people’s guess). I’m very fond of it, which is good really as I’ve got it for life!”