Since it was released last year, Disney’s Frozen has taken the world by storm. Loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen story The Snow Queen, the animated film has captured the hearts of children everywhere and given Wicked and Rent actress Idina Menzel another iconic role in the form of Queen Elsa, thanks in part to the award-winning hit song ‘Let It Go’. Plans for a Frozen musical are underway and there’s no doubt it would be a huge success there too, but when it comes to Disney musicals on the stage, the one to beat has to be Elton John and Tim Rice’s The Lion King. Following its Broadway debut in 1997, the West End production of the stage musical opened at the Lyceum Theatre in October 1999.
Fifteen years later, and The Lion King is still running at the same theatre and remains one of the West End’s most popular shows. The current West End company has a wealth of talent in its ranks, including Gemma Knight Jones, who also appears as the featured ensemble member in this week’s edition of In Profile.
Essex-born actress Gemma Knight Jones has had a love of performing from a very young age. She started on her path to the West End when she was just five years old after enrolling at the Dawn Wenn Stage School in Ilford, Essex. She spent ten years at the school, during which time she decided that a career in musical theatre was the goal to aim for. She was subsequently accepted at the Identity Drama School, which was founded by actor Femi Oguns in 2003 and has seen former students go on to carve out successful careers in stage, TV and film.
With years of training behind her and a BA (Hons) in Media and Performance to her name, she then took the next step towards her goal as she entered the professional world of theatre. She joined the Forest Musical Theatre Company and made one of her first professional appearances in their production of Ragtime at the Kenneth More Theatre in 2009, where her performance in the role of Sarah won her a ‘Kenny’ Award for Best Female Actor. She remains a Patron of Forest to this day.
Since then, she has accrued numerous other theatre credits in regional and touring productions in her journey to the West End. In 2009, she also played Joanne in a stripped-down production of Rent at the Broadway Theatre, Catford and was a singer in the new musical Been So Long. The soul/funk musical, which featured music and lyrics by Arthur Darvill and a book by Che Walker (who wrote the original 1998 play of the same name), premiered at the Young Vic before transferring to the Traverse Theatre for a run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She can also be heard on the live cast recording which was made.
She has also played the role of Emma in Tangled Lives and Twisted Loves at the Drill Hall Theatre.
The road called to her with the opportunity to travel in a touring production of Hairspray after that. The UK tour starred several big names, including appearances by Laurie Scarth, Michael Ball, Brian Conley, Les Dennis and Nigel Planer (at various times and venues). She featured in the show’s ensemble and also covered and played the principal role of Motormouth Maybelle, host of ‘Negro Day’ on The Corny Collins Show (played by Queen Latifah in the 2007 film adaption).
She continued to tour after Hairspray, this time appearing in the tour of another West End show: Sister Act. A UK and Ireland tour was announced following the show’s closure at the London Palladium in 2010 and it launched at the Manchester Opera House in late 2011. Appearing alongside such names as Cynthia Erivo, Laurie Scarth, Julie Atherton, Michael Starke and Hannah Levane, she played the role of Tina and also understudied the lead role of Deloris Van Cartier, the night club singer who goes into hiding as a nun after witnessing a murder.
Other theatre credits include playing Flo in Hitting Home (UK Tour), Fairy Motown in Jack and the Beanstalk (Towngate Theatre) and Ignite (Arcola Theatre). She is also a member of a three-piece female vocal harmony group named Songbird Session alongside fellow professional singers Kelly Fraser and Alena Herel.
Gemma Knight Jones is currently making her West End debut in The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre. She has an ensemble role in the musical and also plays Sarabi. This talented actress who dreamed of performing on the stage for most of her life made it to the biggest stage of them all: the West End. Now that she’s here, it would be crazy to let her go again.
By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25
You can follow Gemma on Twitter: @GemmaKJones
Page updated 18th October 2014