FOR Wendi Peters, a leading role in the ultimate Christmas musical is probably the best present she could have hoped for.
Although the spectacular production which opens on Thursday at the Lowry in Salford Quays means Wendi will be on stage every night for its five week run, it means that the Blackburn actress will get the chance to be with her family on Christmas Day.
“We only get one day off but that’s enough,” said Wendi, who lived in Wilpshire until she was 16.
“It means I’ll get the chance to celebrate Christmas with my parents and my husband and daughter. Living in the south like I do now and with work, we sometimes find it difficult to get back to where I consider home for Christmas so this is a real bonus.”
Wendi, who became one of the nation’s favourite actresses after playing Cilla in Coronation Street, will be starring alongside former Brookside star Claire Sweeney and Ken Kercheval, best known for being Cliff Barnes in Dallas, in a revival of Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas.’ “It’s such a thrill to be involved in such a spectacular production,” said Wendi. “It’s an old fashioned show in many respects with an 18-piece orchestra, dancers and wonderful costumes.”
The musical, immortalised by the 1954 movie starring Bing Crosby, features songs such as Blues SKies, Sisters and of course, White Christmas.
“It’s a real feel-good show,” said Wendi, “and it’s perfect for Christmas.”
Having spent weeks in rehearsals, Wendi who attended Clitheroe Royal Grammar School, could be forgive for suffering festive fatigue.
“I really love the two weeks surrounding Christmas when the kids are off school, that’s brilliant,” she said. “I do get a bit grumpy when the whole Christmas thing starts to build up in the shops so early though early.
“But rehearsals have been great as I’ve been able to immerse myself in the whole Fifties thing which I love, the glamour and the fashion. It’s like being in a Hollywood musical.”
Although she left the cast of Coronation Street in 2007 having played Les Battersby’s long-suffering wife for four years, many fans still associate Wendi with Britain’s longest running soap.
“I think some people will be surprised to see me in a big musical production like White Christmas,” said Wendi, “but before I ever went on Coronation Street this is what I was involved in. The theatre and musicals in particular are where I came from. I used to go to dancing classes every single night of the week at the Carlotta School of Ballet in Blackburn when I was growing up. I’m very much at home with musicals.”
An added bonus for Wendi has been getting together with the cast for the show.
“I’ve known some of them for years so it has been like catching up with old friends,” she said.
Wendi will be making the most of her time ‘back home’ to help one of her favourite charities.
She is a patron of Child Action North West - her family home in Wilpshire was close the former Blackburn Orphanage which is now the charity’s base.
On Wednesday, December 5, Wendi will be at Oswaldtwistle Mills between 10.30am and 11.30am, to officially open the charity’s new gift shop in the complex.
Then on Saturday, December 22, shoppers may recognise a familar face helpling volunteers with a charity bag pack at Sainsbury’s in Darwen.
“Child Action North West is a charity close to my heart,” said Wendi. “It does such a fantastic job and I like to help as much as possible.”
Since leaving the Street, Wendi has had starring roles in touring productions of The Vagina Monolgues and Grumpy Old Women. This year she was in London’s West End in a new musical comedy The Mystery of Edwin Drood based on Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel for which she earned rave reviews.
She has also become renowned for her culinary exploits following some triumphant dishes on Celebrity Masterchef.
“I’ve already made my Christmas cake, I’m regularly feeding it with brandy,” she said. “I think I’m expected to be the unofficial baker for the cast so I can’t let them down. But I don’t mind, I love it.”
As well as opening in White Christmas, Wendi will also be heard on a new TV series which starts on Monday at 4pm.
“I’ve just finished doing the voiceover for Britain’s Best Bakery on ITV,” said Wendi. “Sadly I just had to sit in the studio to do my bit so I didn’t get the chance to sample anything. It made me really hungry though.”
When White Christmas ends on Saturday, January 5, Wendi won’t have time to take a break.
“I’ve got the Sunday off then on the Monday I’m going straight into rehearsals with Northern Broadsides for a new production of Rutherford and Son which is being directed by Jonathan Miller,” she said. “That show will be touring until May so we’ll see what happens after that.”
- White Christmas, the Lowry, Salford Quays, Thursday, November 28 to Saturday, January 5. Details from the box office on 0843 208 6000.