There was no doubt in Driving Miss Daisy cast member Cory English’s mind that he wanted to dance. “That’s all I really wanted to do – move to New York, be a dancer and do shows,” he recalls. He achieved that ambition with roles in five Broadway musicals, including Hello Dolly with Carol Channing and Gypsy with Tyne Daly.
Then came the day that this American who grew up in rural upstate New York decided to follow Broadway greats like Nathan Lane whom he’d seen play what he describes as “fat character men” roles. “All those stage veterans just walk on stage, say a funny line and walk off. I thought, ‘that’s gonna be me’”.
“I decided to break away from being stereotyped as a dancer. Dancing got me through the door but I needed to break out of that mould. I thought I needed to train as an actor and study classics – and where do you go to study classics? London,” he says.
He enrolled in the Drama Studio London where working with his stage partner, Sara Alexander, changed his life. They fell in love although, having completed his studies, Cory returned to New York and commuted back and forth across the Atlantic to see Sara.
“I went back to New York saying no more musicals. I did plays and films so project wise it was fine but money, no. Then September 11 happened. September 13, I bought the diamond; October I proposed; and January 2002 moved here. I was ready to dance again. If I had to go back in chorus I would have done. I was ready to start over again.”
The turning point was taking over the leading role of Max Bialystock from Nathan Lane in the Mel Brooks musical The Producers at Drury Lane Theatre Royal and then on tour. The Brooks connection continued when he played Igor on Broadway and again in London’s West End in the Young Frankenstein musical.
An 18-month tour of Young Frankenstein in the US set Sara, who was touring with their three-year-old son Sammy, on the road to being a writer. She took a creative writing course and began writing. Her third novel is published in August. Sammy is named after one of Cory’s heroes Sammy Davis Jr.
Their other son Cosmo takes his name from Donald O’Connor’s character in Singing In The Rain.
In Driving Miss Daisy Cory plays Daisy’s son Boolie, who hires African American Hoke as her chauffeur against the background of the American Civil Rights movement.
The theme of discrimination resonates with him. “Why can’t we all just get along. I’ve always had a ‘we all put on our pants the same way’ attitude. To see two people who you think would clash get along is such a beautiful story”.
Cory came to rehearsals from filming a screen version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats, being released at Christmas.
“Working on the Cats film was an absolute joy! The choreographer happened to be an old friend of mine from my early dance classes in NYC. He hasn’t seen me dance for almost 20 years. One day I did have to say to him ‘I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I’m not as limber as I used to be!’”
“It was good to move and dance like that again but the highlight for me was acting with York-born and York Theatre Royal Patron, Dame Judi Dench. What a remarkable woman! But I don’t have to tell anyone from around here that.”
Driving Miss Daisy opens at York Theatre Royal on Friday 7th June and runs until Saturday 29th June.