Following the article published here on Tuesday entitled ‘Ten of the most talented London West End men’, many theatre-goers have sent in responses to the ten actors which made the ‘Top Ten’ list. Most have concerned performers who weren’t featured in the article. When you look at the wealth of talent on the West End stage right now, narrowing that down to just ten names is an almost impossible task, which is why I drew on personal experience and focused just on those who I had seen . The likes of Michael Xavier, Jon Robyns, Ricardo Afonso, Lee Mead, and more, are undoubtedly highly talented performers who are all deserving of recognition, but having never seen them on stage myself, it didn’t seem right to include them in my article over others who I had seen and been impressed by.
People say you can have too much of a good thing, but I don’t think that is applicable when looking at West End talent. It’s got to be a case of the more the better. As I said, the West End is overflowing with talented actors, which is nothing but beneficial for the audience members who come to see them perform. The talent pool is not only limited to the West End’s male stars though as behind every great man stands a great woman.
If the West End is fortunate to have such a high standard of male performers on its stages, it hit the jackpot when its female performers are also taken into account. This is no longer a man’s world and the West End is the central hub of the UK theatre industry thanks in large part to the assortment of beautiful and highly skilled women who stand upon its stage. This is why, after ‘Ten of the most talented London West End men’ now comes the follow-up article ‘Ten of the most talented London West End women’.
As with my male-orientated ‘Top Ten’ list, this will be a personal selection of names based on my own experiences of the women of the West End. Well established names such as Hannah Waddingham, Sierra Boggess, Louise Dearman, and all the Strallen sisters, have once again been omitted in an effort to avoid the obvious choices, while others deserving of inclusion, such as Siobhan Dillon, Emma Williams, Dianne Pilkington and Cynthia Erivo, might not feature depending on whether or not I have seen them perform. The ten West End women I have featured have been chosen due to their superb contributions to the art of live theatre, all having made an impact on me through their performances. It takes a truly special actress to be able to make that vital connection to their audience and each of the following names are indispensable assets to the West End and the world of musical theatre.
Ten of the most talented London West End women (In alphabetical order)
I first experienced the wonderful talent of Sabrina through an association with musical theatre composer, Alexander S. Bermange, due to her appearing as a guest vocalist of an album of his work, entitled Act One: Songs From The Musicals of Alexander S. Bermange, and on which she sang alongside Ricardo Afonso and Cassandra Compton on the number ‘Trial of the Heart’. An exceptionally strong vocalist, I’ve since enjoyed hearing her on further recordings, such as singer/songwriter Tim Prottey-Jones’ original album More With Every Line, and a cast recording of the concept musical The Inbetween. In the West End, she has played the roles of both the Young Cosette and Eponine in long-running musical Les Miserables, but it was in We Will Rock You that I first saw her perform live on stage. Visiting with members of the MADTrust organisation, it was she and Ricardo Afonso who led me through what was my first experience of the Queen musical, and did an exceptionally fine job of it as well. Since then, she has also taken on such other roles as Maureen in Rent.
Sabrina was recently seen playing the role of Jenna in Sleeping Arrangements at the Landor Theatre and has been a guest artist at various musical theatre concerts/cabarets. She is set to reprise her role in Rent for a special limited engagement in 2014.
I was unfortunate to miss Sam in the role of Eponine when she was in the West End production of Les Miserables at the Queens Theatre, but I, along with countless others, did see her brilliant performance in the same role for the 25th Anniversary concert at the O2 Arena. It was her appearance on the BBC1 TV talent search I’d Do Anything, in which the contestants competed for the leading role of Nancy in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s upcoming production of Oliver!, that led to a career in the West End, landing her the starring role Sally Bowles in the UK Tour of Cabaret before joining Les Miserables. I’ve seen her perform live in various musical theatre concerts and cabarets, first in Direct from the West End and also in Stars of the West End sing the Songs of Steven Luke Walker, the 2011 Classical Brit Awards and SimG Productions’ Summer with…the composers. She also provided guests vocals for Dougal Irvine’s debut album of original work, duetting with the composer on the song ‘Tir Na N’og’. She was cast in Steven Spielberg’s film adaption of Les Miserables in 2012, making her big screen debut with an acclaimed performance as Eponine.
Sam was most recently seen in the UK reprising her role as Nancy in the tour production of Oliver! and has made further concert appearances. She also played Velma Kelly for a limited run of Chicago in the US and continues to juggle her stage work with a blossoming film career.
This talented stage actress is probably one of the best soprano voices of the West End in recent years. I first saw her vocal prowess displayed in the touring concert Direct from the West End when the company performed at the Theatre Royal Windsor. Her duet with Jeff Nicholson, singing the title song from The Phantom of the Opera, was a sit-up-and-take-notice moment, and her voice has continued to wow me ever since then. I’ve watched her appearances in subsequent concerts and cabarets, most notably the Steven Luke Walker concert where she delivered a stunning rendition of a song inspired by the film The Young Victoria (entitled ‘Ruler of My Own’), and the UK concert debut of composers Anderson & Petty in which she drew tears from the audience with a beautifully emotive performance of the song ‘Forever Child’. She has since recorded the song for Anderson & Petty’s debut album, You Are Home. The actress, who has a background in opera, remains a popular Christine with fans of Phantom of the Opera, having starred in the role at Her Majesty’s Theatre. I regrettably never had the opportunity to see her and leading co-stars Ramin Karimloo (The Phantom) and Simon Bailey (Raoul) during her time there, although I did see her perform the title song with Karimloo at Andre Lloyd Webber’s 60th Birthday celebrations at Hyde Park. I also saw her in The Belle’s Stratagem at the Southwark Playhouse and in Wicked at the Apollo Victoria, giving an acclaimed performance as Glinda in the latter.
Gina’s current role has taken her across the sea for her US debut as she reprised her role as Glinda in the national tour of Wicked.
It was the duo of Ramin Karimloo and Hadley Fraser that first introduced me to Rosalie, who has made guest appearances singing vocals at a few performances of their band Sheytoons. She is a talented actress with a wide range of experience in the world of theatre, having performed extensively in both the West End and in regional productions. Some of her most notable roles include Arwen in the Lord of the Rings musical (Theatre Royal Drury Lane), Giulietta in Aspects of Love (Menier Chocolate Factory), Helen in London Road (National Theatre) and Mother in Ragtime (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre).
Rosalie returned to the National Theatre recently to take on her current role as Princess Althea in the Tori Amos musical The Light Princess. The production is already receiving many positive reviews, as is she, who was given the Evening Standard ‘Best Musical Performance’ Award in November 2013.
Another highly praised West End soprano, Katie was chosen to appear as Cosette in the 25th Anniversary concert of Les Miserables at the O2 Arena alongside a star cast (which included fellow talented West End woman Samantha Barks), and gave a performance which has kept her name in the forefront of my mind since. That was the only occasion I saw her in the role though. She had already played Cosette in the West End production at the Queens Theatre, and following the 25th Anniversary concert, went on to reprise her role in the subsequent tour production of the musical. She had previously auditioned for the BBC1 TV talent search I’d Do Anything, but failed to make it to the live rounds – her stage career has however bloomed since then. She had a memorable turn when she appeared as the alternate Christine in the West End production of The Phantom of the Opera, and after the 25th Anniversary production of the musical at the Royal Albert Hall (of which she was involved in), she was cast in the starring role for the 25th Anniversary Tour. I have also seen her as a guest vocalist in several musical theatre events, including the UK debut concert of American composer Jonathan Reid Gealt.
Katie was most recently seen playing the principal role of Maria in the UK Tour of The Sound of Music.
It was when the company of Les Miserables staged a cabaret at the Delfont Room with West End charity MADTrust that I first discovered Chloe Hart, who was then appearing in the show’s ensemble. Her big voice made her memorable then, and having seen her perform on numerous other occasions since, I have since thought of her as a stand-out talent. She certainly has leading lady potential as she has already played a starring role, leading the cast of Hairspray as Tracy Turnblad in the 2009/10 production at the Shaftesbury Theatre. I’ve also enjoyed listening to her on albums she has contributed to as a guest vocalist, such as The Inbetween and composer Chris Passey’s Self Taught, Still Learning album. She had a continued association with Passey, who penned a song with wife Amy Passey exclusively for Chloe to perform at her first solo cabaret. ‘Stagey and Proud’ has since become a huge hit with fans.
Chloe was appearing in the West End production of Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre until recently. She has since been paying visits to the recording studio and also teaching singing lessons.
Jodie is a wonderfully entertaining character, both on and off the stage. I first met her as a guest vocalist on the second album from musical theatre composer Tim Prottey-Jones. She featured on there with the number ‘Colour Me’, which she also performed live at the Dress Circle album launch. She has a lot of experience appearing in tour productions, such as playing Rusty in Footloose, Holly in the original cast of The Wedding Singer and Grizabella in an arena tour of Cats. In the West End, she has played Serena in Fame (Aldwych Theatre) and appeared on stage as Eva Peron in Evita (Adelphi Theatre), Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors (Duke of York’s and Ambassadors Theatre, and Scaramouche/Meat in We Will Rock You (Dominion Theatre). I’ve also seen her as a guest star in several concert events, including the Jonathan Reid Gealt concert at St Andrews Holburn in 2011. I didn’t see her performance at the Scott Alan concert which took place at the IndigO2 in London, but I have heard she was amazing as always.
Jodie was most recently seen performing in the West End, playing the ensemble roles of Regina/Candi in the West End production of Rock of Ages at the Shaftesbury and Garrick Theatre, which closed in November 2013.
A voice that can rival the strongest singers around, Alexia is an experienced West End actress who has appeared in many of the West End’s biggest musicals. It was only when she joined the cast of Les Miserables that I caught on to what others before me already knew; that she is a very special talent. She was playing the role of Eponine during one of my visits to the Queens Theatre and gave a powerful rendition of ‘On My Own’ that had me thinking that is one person who has what it takes to be a leading lady of the West End. Other occasions I saw her perform only confirmed that fact more firmly for me, such as when she appeared as a soloist at the annual seasonal concert A West End Christmas, staged by MADTrust at The Actors Church. I remember her singing a Beyoncé number and completely blowing the audience away with her vocal ability. Before I encountered her though, she had appeared in a number of high profile roles, such as Nala in The Lion King (Lyceum Theatre) and Candy in Whistle Down the Wind (UK Tour), but most notably playing the starring role of Elphaba in the West End production of Wicked (Apollo Victoria). She also has numerous TV credits, including the lead character in children’s programme The Queen’s Nose, which incidentally, I used to watch coming home from school.
Alexia is currently appearing in one of the biggest hit musicals of 2013, The Book of Mormon. She can be seen in the principal role of Nabunlungi as part of the original West End cast.
When Andrew Lloyd Webber turned unknown performer Danielle Hope into a star by staging a revival of The Wizard of Oz and casting her as Dorothy, through the BBC1 talent competition Over The Rainbow, he also created a platform for another star to shine. I first saw Emily in the all new musical production at the London Palladium, where she was playing the role of Glinda. Her voice was as beautiful as she looked, and it came as no surprise that she received nothing but praise in reviews, including mine. When I went along to the UK debut concert of American composer Jonathan Reid Gealt in 2012, it was a pleasure to see her perform again there as a guest artist. She sang with John Addison for a duet of ‘Lessons Learned’ and also gave a wonderful solo performance of ‘Alex You’re Fine’. She has appeared in other musicals in the West End, such as in All The Fun of the Fair at the Garrick Theatre, which starred David Essex.
Having previously appeared in the West End production of Wicked at the Apollo Victoria, Emily is now leading the UK and Ireland tour of the musical as Glinda. It’s role she should be familiar with, although this version is perhaps a little different to the Glinda she portrayed in The Wizard of Oz, and Emily is showing that she can rise to the challenge of being a leading lady of the stage.
In the Broadway production of Wicked, most people instantly think of Idina Menzel in connection with Elphaba as she was the one who originated the role. In the West End however, I think Rachel may hold the trophy in that regard. She played the starring role in the West End production longer than any other actress, including Alexia Khadime who she actually took over the role from. It was during her run there that I paid a visit to the Apollo Victoria. She delivered a mind-blowing rendition of ‘Defying Gravity’ and I left there with the certainty that this was a girl with one hell of a lot of talent and a natural West End star. It was her appearance on I’d Do Anything that really launched her career. She was eliminated in the ninth weeks of the live shows but went on to prove herself with a string of professional appearances, most notably with a West End role in We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre. She was cast as Meat in the Queen musical, but also understudied Sabrina Aloueche as Scaramouche and performed the leading role on stage many times.
Since leaving Wicked, Rachel has starred in the stage play Farragut North at the Southwark Playhouse and also released her debut solo album. Entitled The Reason, the album featured her covering an assortment of contemporary pop and musical theatre songs which, of course, included ‘Defying Gravity’.
When looking at all the talented performers the West End is lucky to have on its stage, it was a difficult task to select just ten for this article. Alice Fearn, Sarah Lark, Dianne Pilkington, Katy Treharne, Niamh Perry and Julie Atherton, are just a few of the other names which I floated by for consideration, and while each and every one was also worthy of being featured here, I could only choose ten at the end of the day. As with my previous article, you may agree with the names I eventually went with, or you may not. Going by my own personal experience though, these were the amazing talents which I thought most deserving of being named as the ten most talented London West End women. It is always a treat to see any one of them perform and you can guarantee a very special theatre experience when they do.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Thursday 9th January 2014