In Profile has been running for several years now, and in that time, has shone its spotlight on dozens of performers from West End shows whose talent can be somewhat overlooked amongst the ranks of the ensemble team. The article series is a celebration of any and all current ensemble performers, not only those up-and-coming individuals fresh out of drama school and just beginning their careers. It has featured stage actors/actresses whose wealth of experience ranges from making their professional débuts to being familiar faces in the West End. Wendy Somerville is something of a recurring character herself, having first appeared on the scene just over ten years ago and since been part of some of the biggest West End shows around. Currently to be found at the Victoria Palace Theatre performing with the 10th anniversary cast of Billy Elliot, the exceptional skill and impressive CV of this ensemble member has led to the spotlight falling on her for this edition of In Profile.
Wendy Somerville is a bright and beautiful talent who has proven herself a welcome asset to any show. The Scottish actress decided that a career on the stage was the way for her and took her first steps by gaining a BA in Acting at Queen Margaret University College, playing such roles as Witch (Into The Woods), Pernelle (Tartuffe) and Vi (Memory of Water) during her time there. She was then accepted into the Royal Academy of Music (RAM). She studied at the prestigious London drama school, which is renowned for its high level of successful alumni, including such stage stars as Lesley Garrett and Rachel Tucker, and while training there, performed as Gabby in their production of City of Angels and was also a vocalist in the cabaret Dick, Larry & Oscar. She graduated from there with a PG Diploma in Musical Theatre.
Her first professional stage roles included playing Lady Macbeth in Bitesize Theatre Company’s production of Macbeth, and Isobel in Blude Red. She then went on to make her West End début, which introduced her to audiences there in one of the biggest shows in the history of musical theatre: Les Miserables. She became part of the London company in 2003 and spent four years with the show, first at the Palace Theatre, and then moving with it to its current home at the Queen’s Theatre. Her role in the production was in an ensemble capacity, but she also covered and played the principal role of Madame Thernadier.
Following her departure from Les Miserables, she remained in the West End for another first as she became a member of an original London cast. The West End production of Hairspray opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre in October 2007 and starred such names as Leanne Jones, Michael Ball, Mel Smith, Tracie Bennett, Rachel Wooding and Ben James-Ellis. Somerville appeared alongside them in the cast, having originated the role of Female Authority Figure. She also understudied Bennett in the leading role of Velma Von Tussle, the scheming producer of The Corny Collins Show and pushy mother of Amber. The musical proved highly popular with audiences and she spent two years with yet another Olivier Award-winning show – Hairspray won four Olivers in the 2008 ceremony, including Best New Musical.
In 2010, she was one of the former Les Miserable cast members invited to be involved in the musical’s 25th Anniversary concert performance at the O2 Arena. She was part of the momentous occasion which featured an impressive line-up that included Alfie Boe, Norm Lewis, Lea Salonga, Matt Lucas, Samantha Barks, Ramin Karimloo and Katie Hall in leading roles, and also included ‘The Four Valjean’s’ – Colm Wilkinson, John Owen-Jones, Simon Bowman and Alfie Boe – singing ‘Bring Him Home’ and an appearance from the original 1985 company.
Her next job took her out of the West End, but she once again picked a winner of a show as she soon returned to the ‘Hub’ of musical theatre when it subsequently ran in the West End. She was an ensemble member in Chichester Festival Theatre’s revival of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, reuniting with her former Hairspray co-star as Michael Ball starred in the production as the demon barber of Fleet Street. Additionally, she covered Beggar Woman and the female lead role of Mrs Lovett, Sweeney Todd’s partner-in-crime, which was played by the superb Imelda Staunton. The show won rave reviews and was quickly tipped to transfer to the West End, which it did the following year. Sweeney Todd opened at the Adelphi Theatre in March 2012, with not only the two stars reprising their roles, but also Somerville, who was once again in the ensemble and understudy to Beggar Woman and Mrs Lovett.
She then returned to a show already familiar to her, as she took to the road in 2013 for the National Tour of Hairspray. The touring production was launched at Manchester’s Lowry Theatre in February 2013 and starred newcomer Freya Sutton as Tracy Turnblad, alongside the likes of Mark Benton, Lucy Benjamin, Sandra Marvin and Marcus Collins. Somerville played the ensemble roles of Prudy Pingleton/Gym Mistress/Matron in the show and also covered the principal character Velma Von Tussle, as she had previously done in the original West End production.
Her other theatre credits include Carabosse in Sleeping Beauty (Theatre Royal, Newcastle), Witch in Sleeping Beauty (Hull New Theatre and Wolverhampton Grand) and Zenobia in Writer’s Cramp (Saint-Saëns Festival), as well as appearances at the Royal Variety Performance and an involvement in the 21st Birthday Concert of Les Miserables on BBC Radio 2.
Wendy Somerville is currently appearing in the West End musical, Billy Elliot, at the Victoria Palace Theatre. She joined as a member of the ensemble team in the show’s 10th anniversary year, and is also 1st Cover to the principal role of ballet teacher Mrs Wilkinson, with guaranteed shows. This talented actress has earned an impressive list of theatre credits in her career thus far and covered many principal roles in that time. I’m sure that her fans would think it wonderful for her to take on a full-time leading role in the West End in the very-near future.
You can follow Wendy on Twitter: @WenSomerville
By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25
Friday 3rd July 2015