Cheryl Willis channels her Liverpudlian roots for 'Shirley Valentine'

Categories: Theater

shirley valentine.jpg
Photo by Donna Kelly.
At first, Jungle Theater's Bain Boehlke didn't think he'd like the one-woman play Shirley Valentine. That was until local actor--and Liverpool native--Cheryl Willis convinced him to give it a listen.

"The title seemed saccharine and I was not interested in the play. Cheryl brought it in to read one day. That's really the only way I can assess whether or not I want to do a show. I was so surprised by what an eloquent and human piece it is," Boehlke says.


Willis earlier produced and starred in the show at Acadia Repertory Theatre, a summer company she runs in Maine. That production was rehearsed and readied in two weeks. This time, Willis has been able to delve deeper into the character.

"I've been able to figure out the emotional depths (of the character), the setting, and the environment," she says. "I'm from Liverpool and this has given us time to delve into that whole world more. It's an interesting piece. It can be done quickly and lightly, but there are so many deeper levels to it. Bain is just freaking fantastic in character breakdowns and interpretations."

Shirley Valentine follows the titular character from her Liverpool kitchen to a two-week vacation in Greece. "She is someone who was squelched quite young. She gave up a bit, got married, had her kids. It's not like she's poor or unhealthy or downtrodden, but she's built this golden box, a gold cage, for herself,"she states.

The settings are also important to the play, and Merseyside is obviously close to Willis' heart. "I come from a different style, a different humor. My whole background is different. Any actor would like to think they can do it, but the musicality of the speech or the understanding of the weather and rain--that's something that I carry inside me."

"The Liverpool accent is like the Minnesota accent," adds Boehlke, a homegrown Minnesotan who showcased his native tongue in Fargo. "If you aren't from there, it is difficult to do one. The Liverpool accent has idiosyncratic melodies and immense charm. The play is written for that and it can't be done without it. If it is, a part of the authenticity of the music of the play is missing. The audience may not realize it, but when you do have it, that's special."

While the actor and director have worked hard over the past weeks to bring the show to life, one essential piece of the puzzle wasn't added until this week. Wednesday evening, Willis performed with an audience for the first time.

"It will be very much a learning experience," she says. "There is so much humor in it and emotional content and I'll be able to utilize the audience. In the show, I get to talk to the audience, so it's not like I'm in a world of my own."

Shirley Valentine opens this Friday and runs through March 20


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