New challenge for ex-Sugarbabes star

FORMER Sugababe Amelle Berrabah might be used to performing in front of thousands of fans in arenas around the country but right now the 34-year-old is facing a brand new challenge.

Now a mum, Amelle is currently performing on her first musical theatre tour, making her acting debut in the feel-good celebration of the 1980s that is Club Tropicana The Musical.

“I’m so excited because it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, it was just never the right moment,” she says.

Amelle Berrabah, left, with fellow cast members Joe McElderry, Neil McDermott,  Emily Tierney and Kate Robbins. Picture by Darren Bell

The show takes audiences on a trip back to the electric ’80s, when hair was big, shoulders were padded, and mobiles weighed a tonne.

Set to a soundtrack of the chart-topping hits of the era, the story unfolds in the Club Tropicana Hotel. When a budding bride and groom get cold feet, they both decide to jet off to sunnier climes. Little do they realise they’ve checked into the same hotel… a hotel about to get a visit from the hotel inspectors. Can owners Robert and Serena rally their staff to save the day?

Amelle plays Serena and is joined by X Factor winner Joe McElderry, singer and actress Kate Robbins and ex-EastEndersbad boy Neil McDermott, who plays Robert.

“I love Serena because she is someone that everybody likes and she loves that everybody likes her,” she says. “She’s a very good person who would do anything for anyone and who has worked so hard to get the hotel to where it is.

“Basically, she has the best positive outlook ever; you never get to see her crack, even if she does nip away to the toilets to cry in a cubicle on her own occasionally. But then she’ll dust herself off and be there for whoever needs her, even if there never seems to be anyone there for her.”

Amelle is excited but nervous – after all, not everyone who has attempted the leap from pop star to actor has been successful.

“This is like a different chapter for me,” she says. “I almost shy away from saying it out loud to people because its only in the past couple of years that I’ve had the confidence to say ‘I want to do musical theatre’.

“I’ve got quite a big personality so I was told regularly ‘You’d be very good at theatre you know’. So when the opportunity came up I was thrilled.”

She also recalls: “I was obsessed with Whitney Houston when I was younger but my voice was very different to hers. It wasn’t that I had a husky voice, it was high pitched but quite breathy. When I was 11 I was embarrassed to sing because I sounded so much older. In fact, even before that, Husky was my nickname.

“So at school I did quite a lot of dance stuff instead of singing until one day I just thought ‘go for it’, and I did. Suddenly I started getting all these parts in school plays. I suppose at the back of mind I always knew I’d get to do something I loved doing one day. But it was never about the fame, I just wanted to perform. It makes me feel happy. I enjoy seeing people having a good time when I’m entertaining.”

Over the years, Amelle has certainly done that. She replaced Sugababes founding member Mutya Buena in 2005 and went on to become the only member of the group to have a non-Sugarbabes No 1, with Never Leave You, in collaboration with Tinchy Stryder in 2009.

She reflects: “Because everyone sees me as Sugababe Amelle, I’m kind of put in a box, a box that I’m very proud of, but this is a new start for me.”

Although just a child herself in the ’80s, Club Tropicanahas brought vivid memories of the decade flooding back.

“Big hair, great music, Walkmans,” she reflects. “I used to walk around like the Queen when I had my Walkman, and roller-skates as well for some reason. Also, lots and lots of eye shadow. The 80s were big and bold.”

Club Tropicana The Musical will be at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, from Monday 1 April until Saturday 6 April.

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