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As the niece of Bonnie Langford, an original cast member of the hit musical Cats, Zizi Strallen was born to star in the show that’s coming to Canterbury this week. Jo Roberts reports.
Zizi Strallen’s choice of career was only ever going to be showbiz, darling.
To say it’s in the blood is an understatement. Her aunt is Bonnie Langford, her mum and dad are the stage and musical actors Sandy Strallen and Cherida Langford, and older sister is the former Hollyoaks and Sound of Music star, Summer Strallen.
What’s more, all of them have previously appeared in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. It’s become something of a tradition and now Zizi, 23, is fulfilling her part by taking the role of Demeter.
So, no pressure on Zizi’s other two sisters in the acting clan, Scarlett and Saskia, then.
“Saskia could be in Cats one day but Scarlett’s a soprano and an established performer – she’s played Mary Poppins on Broadway – so there’s not really a role of her calibre suited to her voice,” says Zizi, who entered into the family trade aged 17.
The phrase ‘acting dynasty’ is one that’s often applied to the family – how does that feel?
“I’m very proud of it, but it’s also quite funny. Aunty Bonnie was in the original cast of Cats. She created Rumpleteazer. It opened about 35 years ago, so about 10 years before I was born.
“Then my mum played white cat and my dad played a couple of the male roles. And my older sister, Summer, was in it about 10 years ago as Cassandra.”
When the current tour, which reaches Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre this week, opened in Wimbledon, near to Zizi’s family home, the family were in attendance to cheer her on.
“I had Aunty Bonnie and the whole crowd, so it was nerve-racking but they only had good things to say.”
Despite the overwhelming weight of tradition behind her move into acting, Zizi says it was actually a deliberate decision. From primary school she won a scholarship into a very academic secondary school. If anything, the encouragement from her father was to consider a more stable job, since the school was preparing its students for life as doctors or lawyers.
“But it just wasn’t for me,” says Zizi. “I had the brain for it but not the love.”
Instead she moved to a school where she could train in the performing arts, and as a polished all-rounder Zizi’s career so far has included a ballet tour with Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella, musicals including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and TV work including Bramwell.
But it was in her most recent role as the comic character Penny Pingleton in Hairspray that Zizi found her vocation.
She says: “My personal favourite work is comedy. Penny was one of my favourite parts ever.
“I also like the idea of voicing animations such as Disney. But I’m a big believer that anything that comes your way is meant for you – take opportunities and just go for it.”
Cats is at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre from Monday, June 16, to Saturday, June 28. Tickets from £16. Call 01227 787787.
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