West End Women: This is a (wo)man’s world

James Brown once sang ‘This is a man’s world’, and he was right – a very long time ago – but he was also right when he went on to say that it wouldn’t be ‘Nothing, without a woman or a girl.’ Today’s world is thankfully one that is far more equal and which recognises the value of their place in modern society…as does the West End. We are blessed to have such a wealth of talent working in the industry, and for every leading man in the West End, is a leading lady standing in the spotlight next to him. The likes of John Owen-Jones, Michael Xavier, Lee Mead, Michael Ball and Hadley Fraser are matched on the stage by such feminine faces as Louise Dearman, Imelda Staunton, Caroline Sheen, Samantha Barks and Sheridan Smith, and our theatre industry wouldn’t be half of what it was without the West End Women.

That’s why so many were excited by the recent news that three of the West End’s most talented leading ladies are coming together to tour a series of concert dates towards the end of this year. West End Women in concert stars Joanna Ampil, Kerry Ellis and Ria Jones, who celebrate their highly successful stage careers with performances of songs from some of the best-loved musicals of the past 40 years. The concert will feature musical numbers from shows they have previously appeared in, such as as Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, Cats, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar and Wicked, as its three leading ladies perform live in front of audiences across the UK and Ireland. The 2-week tour kicks off in Sunderland with a premiere performance at the Empire Theatre on Monday 17th November 2014 before moving on to play at further venues in Dartford, Cambridge, Manchester, Dublin, London, Glasgow and Sunderland, finishing up at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre on Tuesday 2nd December 2014.

Philippine actress Joanna Ampil began her career at the tender age of 17 when she starred as Kim in the West End production of Miss Saigon. She reprised her role for the Australian premiere of the musical in Sydney and has since gone on to become an international musical theatre star, playing leading roles in such shows as Jesus Christ Superstar, Les Miserables, The Sound of Music, Avenue Q, West Side Story and RENT. She is currently appearing in the UK tour of Cats playing the role of Grizabella.

Kerry Ellis is an award-winning actress who is best known for originating the role of Meat in the West End production of Queen’s We Will Rock You and being the first British actress to play Elphaba in the West End production of Wicked. She has also appeared in Oliver!, Miss Saigon, My Fair Lady and Les Miserables, in addition to achieving success as a recording artist with her 2010 debut album Anthems. In recent years she has performed predominantly on tour, starring in Anthems: The Concert and also in Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds arena tour.

Ria Jones originates from Swansea, South Wales and made history when, at just 19 years old, she was cast as Eva Peron in Evita and became the youngest actress to play the role. She starred in the West End playing the roles of Svetlana and Florence in the West End production of Chess, as well as spending two years at the New London Theatre with Cats, in which she played the role of Grizabella.

They will be joined by special guest star Rory Taylor, who was previously seen on ITV’s Superstar. He was runner-up on the show and went on to play Simon in the subsequent Jesus Christ Superstar arena tour, as well as Roger in the UK tour of RENT in concert. Kate England, Joel Harper-Jackson and Beth Humphries will also be present as the ensemble singers while Daniel Wood directs the concert, which also features musical direction from Rosalind Jones (with Andrew Smith as assistant musical director).

These three beautiful talents may be West End leading ladies now, but they were once unknown names trying to make it in this crazy business too. Potential West End stars of the future are out there right now, hiding in plain sight…if you know where to look. The performing arts schools are a pretty good place to start. There are a multitude of renowned drama institutions which will often stage concerts and showcase performances, and so forth. These provide the perfect chance to take a sneak peek at the stars of tomorrow.

The Royal Academy of Music (RAM), for example, is one of the most prestigious performing arts schools in London and has trained numerous names who have gone on to have highly acclaimed careers on the West End stage. It regularly offers opportunities to see its current students display their talent and utilise the lessons they’ve learned there. True to form, there are several events in June which allow an audience to watch them perform, including an amateur production of Little Women: The Broadway Musical towards the end of the month and Till the Clouds Roll By, a musical theatre cabaret presented by a number of RAM students.

West End Women in concert is set to be a major hit; after all, who wouldn’t want to see these talented West End stars perform live? Joanna Ampil, Kerry Ellis and Ria Jones can sell out a venue on their names now, but they didn’t go straight in at the top, they had to work to get to where they are. Perhaps there are students training right now who will one day be selling out venues on their name too. The women of the West End enrich the theatre industry with their presence, and alongside its current leading ladies, there are plenty of promising young talents who are the leading ladies of tomorrow and who will continue to ensure that this world belongs not only to the men, but to them too.

By Julie Robinson @missjulie25

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