Finding her inner rock chick has helped Cordelia Farnworth show the entertainment industry who’s boss, writes Andrew Youngson
Like her character in the musical Rock of Ages, Cordelia Farnworth has had to toughen up in the process of following her dreams.
After years in the chorus, the 24-year-old actress now owns the stage in the lead role of Sherrie Christian – the fresh-faced girl who steps off the bus from Tulsa to pursue a career as a famous singer in Tinseltown’s cut-throat entertainment industry.
While exact comparisons to her own life don’t necessarily stretch that far, Cordelia can empathise with the rough ride to stardom that Sherrie endures through the course of the high-octane musical.
“You have to face more rejection than the times when you win,” said Cordelia, minutes before leaving her dressing room for a two-performance evening, halfway through the show’s UK tour.
“You have to find that unique quality to be able to pick yourself up and say ‘right, on to the next thing’. When you get to the finals after seven rounds of auditions and you’re just ‘not quite right’, that is heartbreaking. Especially when you’ve put so much into it. That happened to me many times over before I got this job.”
After proving herself in the musical’s west-end run, Cordelia has finally been handed her moment in the spotlight, and she doesn’t plan to give it up any time soon.
“This for me has been a breakthrough opportunity, to finally play a part. I’ve always been a cover, although I’ve never not enjoyed being one. But I feel truly honoured to have a part and for it to be mine, as it were,” she glowed.
Cordelia’s is a great story of personal triumph that dovetails nicely with the themes of the show. First staged in 2005 in Los Angeles, Rock of Ages follows the lives of aspiring rock stars, budding romance, burned-out promoters and a legendary music venue in danger of closing.
The electrifying performances of 1980s rock hits are a big draw for audiences of the stage show and its Tom Cruise-fronted 2012 movie adaptation. Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again, Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot, and Journey’s seminal track Don’t Stop Believin’ are just a few of the showstoppers on offer.
Cordelia’s personal favourite is Waiting For a Girl Like You – the 1981 Foreigner hit which has been adapted as a duet for Cordelia and her love interest in the show, Drew – played by Hear’Say singer Noel Sullivan.
The song acts as a joy-filled launchpad to their characters’ love affair. But before too long, they hit troubled waters.
Cordelia assured me that “all comes right in the end”, but Sherrie has some toughening up to do in the process.
“There’s realism to the character, so yes there’s that naivety, but she also has guts and is really driven,” she explained.
“At the beginning, she’s very headstrong and has no real idea about the world. But by the end, she’s matured along the road. So in that way she has one of the biggest journeys in the show, which is great for me.”
Like Sherrie, Cordelia has made her way in the entertainment industry through a combination of self-reliance and learning to accept the support of others. Acting runs in the family for the English performer, with her brother, Oliver, a regular face on the small screen – most notable in the role of Will Hackett in Hollyoaks.
The success she and Oliver share, Cordelia believes, is due in no small part to the encouragement they received from their family as kids.
“Our parents were the kind of people who said: ‘If you want to try it, just try it.’ There was never a ‘no’. The professional world of acting is not an easy place to be, but I feel that the support I had when I was younger is what’s made it.”
And on tour, her fellow-cast members – who include stage and screen actor Ben Richards – have become something of a support network for each other, too.
“We have such a great team. We’ve all worked so hard on this production, and we appreciate each other and have been a family for the last 20 weeks. It’s so nice to have gelled as a team. If anything goes wrong, the people on stage really have your back. You feel fully supported at all times,” said Cordelia.
And with the gruelling tour well on the way, all the performers in Rock of Ages have learned to rely on any bit of support and self reliance they can lay their hands on.
“It’s so vocally demanding,” she said of the musical.
“These songs were written for rock stars who were probably doing three or four gigs tops a week. We do them eight times a week. We don’t stop really. So you have to look after yourself. Of course we have our fun, but you have to put the show first. You can’t go crazy after the show every night and party wild. We’re probably the least rock’n’roll people actually. That’s the irony.”
Rock of Ages will run at HM Theatre, Aberdeen, next week from Monday, November 3, to Saturday, November 8. Performance times are 7.30pm, Monday to Thursday; 5pm and 8.30pm on Friday, and 2.30pm and 7.30pm on Saturday. Tickets are available from www.aberdeenperformingarts.com or by calling 01224 641122.