I first encountered Ceili O’Connor in December 2010 when she was one of Hadley Fraser’s guests in Christmas With…Hadley Fraser and Friends, part of the SimG Productions Winter Cabaret season at the Waterloo East Theatre. She was one of a fantastic line-up, which included Rosalie Craig, Stuart Matthew Price, Sophie Smith, Warwick Lobban and Ramin Karimloo. In fact, I actually met her nan first in the queue outside! She was very proud of ‘my granddaughter who is going to be in The Wizard of Oz‘ – and rightly so. O’Connor gave a wonderful performance that night and has continued to do so in every stage appearance since, more than earning herself a place with the other featured ensemble members to make the cut for In Profile.
She trained at Arts Educational Schools, London (ArtsEd), which has also produced such successful stage stars as Samantha Barks, Nigel Harman, Scarlett Strallen, Oliver Tompsett and Bonnie Langford. While there, she was involved in a number of theatre productions, including performing in the ensemble of Jerry Springer The Opera which was directed by Gary Sefton. She also played the role of Demeter in the Christine Cartwright/Gillian Lynne production of Cats, and in addition to that, has also been part of workshops for Peter Addis’ The Nightingale and Perfect Pitch’s Super Alice Smith in 2009 – not to mention singing in the choir of Paul Spicer and David Randall’s Christmas in New York.
She gained her first professional stage role in the same year she graduated from ArtsEd, simultaneously making her West End début. She was part of the revival of the Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt musical, The Fantasticks, which opened at the Duchess Theatre in 2010 but ran for less than a month after failing to match the long-running success of its original stint on Broadway. The production starred Clive Rowe, David Burt and Hadley Fraser, which is where he and O’Connor first met as she was performing in the ensemble and also 1st Cover to the role of Luisa.
The West End wasn’t quite ready to let her go however. She was subsequently cast in another West End musical, this time in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s revival of The Wizard of Oz. The show came to the London Palladium following the televised search (Over The Rainbow) for an unknown star to play Dorothy; the lead role eventually went to Danielle Hope, who starred alongside such names as Emily Tierney (Glinda), Hannah Waddingham (Wicked Witch) and Michael Crawford (The Wizard). O’Connor joined the original London company as a Swing, covering and playing a variety of the female roles in the show during her time there. She was also 2nd Cover Dorothy.
She spent a year in The Wizard of Oz before moving on to pastures new. Her next project took her out of the West End but still in the London area, as she took on the lead role of Polly in a production of the musical Crazy For You. The musical was staged at Upstairs at the Gatehouse and gained favourable reviews in its fringe theatre première, with O’Connor playing opposite Jay Rincon as Bobby Childs. She then journeyed to Slovenia to play Marty in Grease at the Ljubljana Festival in 2013 before returning to London to play The Fox in a workshop of The Little Prince. She then hit the road again, travelling around the UK this time in Bill Kenwright’s tour of Evita. The critically-acclaimed revival of the popular Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical starred Marti Pellow and Madalena Alberto, with O’Connor appearing in an ensemble capacity, while also understudying the lead role of Eva Peron.
In addition to her on-stage work, she’s branched out into the world of producing as part of the company ILIADebuts. Founded under the name of Conrow Productions with Aisling O’Connor and Matthew Barrow, the first event took place in November 2011 with an exclusive London concert of New York-based composer Jonathan Reid Gealt’s music. I was there at St Andrew’s, Holburn for the concert and was blown away, not only by the music, but the performers. Along with the man himself, some of the very best of the West End came along to sing, including Emily Tierney, John Addison, Jodie Jacobs, Katie Hall, Matthew Barrow, Stuart Matthew Price, Danielle Hope, Caissie Levy, Jonathan Williams and Kelly-Anne Gower. She also took to the mike to perform. ILIADebuts specialises in staging the UK débuts of US songwriters and performers, and since that first outing, has been behind the première performances of composer and lyricist David Are, song-writing duo Kooman and Dimond, the award-winning Bobby Cronin, the trans-atlantic team of Anderson & Petty, and composer Steven Luke Walker. Most recently, they teamed up with Chloe Hart to produce the UK solo concert début of Broadway actress Natalie Weiss, which took place at the St James Theatre on Sunday 2nd November 2014.
Her most recent stage role took her to Plymouth, where the Broadway hit Elf The Musical made its European première. The show opened at the Theatre Royal Plymouth on 6th December 2014 and played there until 13th December 2014, before moving on to Bord Gais Energy in Dublin where it ran between 16th December 2014 and 10th January 2015. Ben Forster, winner of ITV’s Superstar show and star of Jesus Christ Superstar, The Rocky Horror Show and Evita, played Buddy in the Christmas production, leading a cast which also featured Joe McGann as Walter Hobbs, Aoibhinn McGinnity as Jovie and Jessica Martin as Emily Hobbs. O’Connor appeared as part of the show’s ensemble team and also understudied the role of Jovie.
Talented in so many ways, the wonderful Ceili O’Connor was a much appreciated Christmas treat for audiences in Plymouth and Dublin. She has also impressed this year as a special guest vocalist at Danielle Hope’s first US cabaret, staged at New York’s 54 Below on 13th February 2015, and a member of the West End line-up for Sunday in the Arts, performing alongside Mike Colbourne, Chris Barton, Laura Tebbutt, Kris Morse and Tamsin Dowsett at the Arts Theatre on 29th March 2015. She will no doubt be just as appreciated by audiences in her future projects as her impressive voice and stage skills make her the gift that just keeps on giving.
You can follow Ceili on Twitter: @CeiliOConnor
By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25
Saturday 25th April 2015