Hollyoaks star plays Eva Cassidy in journey of the songbird’s life

Sarah Jane Buckley.
Sarah Jane Buckley.

At the time of her death, she was unknown outside Washington, but within four years she was posthumously topping the charts with her version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

The Eva Cassidy story is a remarkable one – a story that will be told in Over The Rainbow at Worthing’s Pavilion Theatre on Friday, February 17.

The musical play journeys through Eva’s short life, from her idyllic childhood growing up in a musical family, to her studio work with boyfriend and mentor Chris Biondo; to the exuberant live recording of Blues Alley and finally to her premature death at the age of 33.

Her album Imagine came straight in at number one ahead of international singing stars Robbie Williams and Beyonce, and her interpretations have received accolades from Roberta Flack, Mick Fleetwood and Sting, making her the only female artist ever to receive three posthumous number one albums.

The play features more than 25 of her best-loved songs recreated by a cast of West End performers led by Hollyoaks’ Sarah Jane Buckley as Eva.

Sarah Jane’s approach was to immerse herself in Eva completely, picking up all the things that made Eva, Eva – such as the way she breathed when singing, different because she played the guitar at the same time.

“I have tried to be as faithful as possible,” says Sarah Jane who sees the key as picking up on Eva’s extraordinary range: “It’s a very clean sound, but she can also be very husky. She can sound very gravelly, very earthy and then very clean. She had so many different styles within her voice.”

At times she could sound very screechy; at others, she would be very soft, very captivating, as on Autumn Leaves.

“I just didn’t really realise that range until I studied her.”

But the show isn’t just about conveying the voice; it’s also about conveying the personality.

“I read quite a lot about her, and I asked our producer/director (who consulted the family for the show). She was incredibly shy. As a musical performer, I am not terribly shy! One of my starting points was to try to find a way to play that shyness. She also had a massive love for nature, as do I. The things that give me a great buzz are sunrises and trees and animals. They are the things that give me the biggest kick, and it was the same with her. It was just the shyness that I didn’t understand.”

Inevitably, with a show such as this (given Eva’s tragically-premature death), Sarah Jane recognises that sentimentality is a pitfall to be avoided: “It’s tough. I try to play her as a character just as you would approach any acting role. I try to approach her as a person and then I put my own concept on that.”