Last weekend, the casts of the West End’s two longest-running musicals, Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera, faced-off against one another in a charity football match. Held at Bromley FC, the two shows were fundraising for the benefit of Great Ormond Street Hospital. They managed to raise a whopping £18,635.10 and the Les Mis team had the added bonus of walking away as champions; following the 1:1 draw, they emerged the victors after winning the penalty shoot-out. Many theatre-goers turned out to support their efforts, and those with a keen eye may have spotted Les Mis cast member – and this week’s featured ensemble member for In Profile – Jenny O’Leary doing a spot of face painting with Rob Houchen, who recently joined the show in the role of Marius.
Aside from her face painting skills, O’Leary is a bright young talent on the West End stage. She attended the prestigious Arts Educational School, London and graduated from the Musical Theatre course in 2012, utilising the experience gained from her time at the school to springboard her into what is looking to be a promising professional career on the stage. During her training, she performed in many different (mainly musical) productions in a variety of roles, such as playing captain’s daughter Josephine in the comic Sullivan and Gilbert opera, HMS Pinafore. She also played the role of Mrs Taylor in Laurence O’Keefe’s Bat Boy, an American musical about a half-boy, half-bat discovered in a cave in the fictional town of Hope Falls. Other roles include maid Petra in Sondheim’s 1970 award-winning musical, A Little Night Music, and needy girlfriend Amber in the fast-paced comedy by Christopher Williams Hill, Heartbreak Beautiful. She has also been involved in less prominent roles, performing in the ensemble of La Belle Epoque, being a featured soloist in the Kate Golledge directed That’s A Beginning, and doubling-up as an ensemble member/soloist in Bonnie and Clyde and ensemble member/voice captain in The Producers, the latter of which was directed by Russell Labey. In addition, she performed in the choir at the 2011 Olivier Awards, was in the ensemble of Paul Spicer’s Christmas in New York show series for Speckulation Entertainment, and was a soloist singer in a production for Tori Allen-Martin’s Interval Productions.
Since graduating from ArtsEd last year though, she has continued to build on that experience through further projects, which have taken her to a number of venues across the UK. In the summer of 2012, O’Leary took on the lead role of Tracy Turnblad in feel-good musical Hairspray at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre in Wales. Produced by the Centre, in association with the Wales Theatre Company, it garnered great reviews and O’Leary was praised by Victor Hallett for The Stage, who described the newly graduated performer as “outstanding.” He went on to say that: “When dancing her toes really seem to twinkle. She oozes innocence and charm without it ever becoming cloying. She sings very well, she’s a dab hand with the comedy and we totally believe in Tracy’s sincerity.”
She followed that initial success into her next challenge, playing Winifred in the Union Theatre’s production of Once Upon A Mattress, directed by Kirk Jameson. The classic musical comedy, billed as ‘the untold story of The Princess and the Pea, features music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Marshall Barer and a book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer. O’Leary followed in the footsteps of such actresses as Sarah Jessica Parker by playing the Princess Winifred, appearing between 29th November 2012 and 5th January 2013 with a top-notch cast which included Paddy Glynn, Denis Quilligan and Mark Anderson. The production received great acclaim and O’Leary was once again noticed for her performance.
Earlier this year, she appeared in the show Sex, Love and Dumping at the Kingston Musical Theatre. O’Leary was part of the ten-strong cast performing an ‘eclectic’ mix of songs from a wide range of new musicals. Musical numbers from such shows as The Book of Mormon, Soho Cinders, Wonderland, Next Thing You Know and Ordinary Days were featured in the productions, which played between 14th and 16th February 2013. The cast also showcased original compositions from up-and-coming musical theatre composers from both the UK and the US, including Kooman and Dimond, Dougal Irvine, Laura Tisdall and Bobby Cronin.
Her next achievement was landing her current role in the company of Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre, which marks her West End debut. She plays the ensemble roles of Crone/Old Woman and can be seen as ‘Fantine’s Friend’ in the Factory scene in Act I of the show. In addition to her ensemble duties, she is also 2nd cover to the leading role of Madame Thernadier. She took over the Les Miserables twitter account for this past week and has been answering fans’ questions about the show, as well as those put to her directly. Regular followers may now know that her favoured characters to play in the show would be Madame Thernadier and Fantine, for example, and that the cast have been hard at work this week rehearsing the covers and the new kid’s team.
Jenny O’Leary has worked as a private carer in her time ‘between shows’ and, although I’m sure she is very good in this job, theatre-goers should have their fingers crossed that she not return to it as it would be a huge loss not to see her performing on a stage somewhere. This young talent is already well on her way to making a name for herself, and if she continues in this same vein, that name will be associated with numerous star roles in the future.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
You can follow Jenny on twitter: (@Jennyoleary90)
Saturday 17th August 2013