The Book of Mormon was a runaway hit when it premiered on Broadway, gaining overwhelmingly positive reviews from the critics and becoming the proud owner of nine Tony Awards, including one for Best Musical. The West End production has followed in the footsteps of its success since opened here at the Prince of Wales Theatre in February 2013. The show is not your usual run-of-the-mill musical. Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame (in collaboration with Avenue Q composer/lyricist Robert Lopez), their TV animated comedy should provide some clue as to what to expect from The Book of Mormon which is a tongue-in-cheek satire of the Mormon religion; there’s not many people who could get away with songs titled ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ (look it up) and writing such lyrics as ‘I have maggots in my scrotom’. Believe me, they get a lot worse than that! The show’s outrageous reputation is exactly what has had audiences flocking to see it though and there is a lot more to it than just explicit lyrics. After its phenomenal success on Broadway, it was the golden egg of auditions for West End stage performers and those who were successful in making the original West End company of The Book of Mormon appear to be having the time of their life with the show. Among them is Yemie Sonuga, ensemble member and the featured performer for this week’s In Profile.
Yemie Sonuga originally hails from Canada, the land of the maple leaf. Growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, she began her musical theatre journey by taking a 2-year acting course at Grant McEwan College which she completed in 2008. She was involved in several musical productions with the school while training there, including playing Mama Noah in Children of Eden, Marmee in Little Women and Katisha in Hot Mikado. Her next step after that was a particularly big one, as she made the move from Canada to the UK to continue her professional training at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD). She was accepted onto their Post Graduate Musical Theatre course and spent a year in Glasgow at the leading performing arts school, graduating in 2009 with a Masters in Theatre Arts and joining the list of RSAMD alumni which includes such notable stage and screen actors as David Tennant and James McAvoy.
One of her earliest professional performances came at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2009, appearing with the One Academy in two musical theatre productions. She played Mary Gallagher in First Lady Suite, a chamber musical about the four First Ladies of the United States written by Michael John LaChiusa., and was also part of an acclaimed new production which went on to have further success on the stage and screen. She played the role of Steve Wilkos in a concert version of Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee’s musical which was inspired by America’s popular talk show, The Jerry Springer Show. Following its sell-out run at the Ed Fringe (Jerry Springer even came to see a performance), it has since played at the National Theatre, the Cambridge Theatre in London’s West End and embarked on a UK tour.
In 2010, Sonuga embarked on a tour of her own. She joined the Irish touring production of Fame! The Musical, the same tour which cast the leading roles of Nick and Serena through a TV reality show – the part of Nick was won by Ben Morris, who featured in last week’s In Profile. She played the role of overweight singer and dancer Mabel Washington, performing the solo number ‘Mabel’s Prayer’ in the show.
2011 saw Sonuga make her West End debut at the Piccadilly Theatre. She was cast in the original production of Ghost The Musical, which was adapted for the stage from the classic 1990 film starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. She was part of the show’s ensemble team where she was seen in the role of Ortisha and also understudied/played the more prominent roles of Clara and Louise. She also appeared in the principal role of Oda Mae Brown on occasion. Nominated for 5 Oliver Awards, the show ran until October 2012 and launched a UK tour following its West End closure.
The West End wasn’t ready to let Sonuga go yet however, and she joined the original London company of The Book of Mormon. She can currently be found at the Prince of Wales Theatre as an African Woman in her BOM ensemble role.
Yemie Sonuga is a talented stage performer whose career is really only just starting. Her other theatre credits include playing Joanie Lish in a musical production of The Full Monty (The Mayfield Theatre), Rev. Billy Hightower/Daisy in Bat Boy: The Musical (La Cite Francophone), featured soloist/ensemble in A Drop in the Ocean (Oran Mor Theatre) and taking part in a workshop of Like You Like It (RSAMD Opera Studio) in the role of Jackie West. Her nights are spent in a remote village in Uganda right now, but the future holds much more for Yemie Sonuga.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
You can follow Yemie on twitter: (@yemiesonuga)