Lauren Samuels, the third-place finalist in last year’s search for a Dorothy, is just finishing her run as Sandy in the West End before moving on to tackle Jason Robert Brown’s intimate musical The Last Five Years. She takes some time out of her busy schedule to talk to reporter Catherine Love about her experiences on Over the Rainbow and Grease as well as the challenges of her next project.
You clearly had an interest in performing from a young age. When did you first get bitten by the theatre bug?
My mum first put me into dance lessons when I was about two years old and when I was seven I started attending local drama classes, so it was about then. I started seeing shows at the local theatre and it wasn’t long before I joined the youth theatre there and started to do amateur productions. I was probably about seven or eight when I decided that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The first professional show that I saw was Phantom of the Opera, which my mum took me to see when I was ten, and the second one, funnily enough, was Grease. I remember watching the performers up on stage and deciding that was what I wanted to do for a living. To have got there is amazing.
You are best known for being a finalist on the BBC’s Over the Rainbow last year. What was the highlight of that experience for you?
I would definitely say meeting Andrew Lloyd Webber. He helped me so much with my performing and to be able to sing in front of him live on national television was just a dream come true.
Did you find it all intimidating when you first met him, considering what a legend he is in the musical theatre world?
Absolutely, when we were going to sing privately to Andrew I was so nervous I wanted to cry! It was so nerve-wracking, but once you get over it he’s such a normal man and it was fine.
What did you take away from the experience of doing Over the Rainbow?
I learnt a lot about myself as a person. As well as the singing, you’re putting your personality out there every week and you’re going to get negative feedback as well as positive feedback. I became much stronger as a person and I think you need to be strong in this industry, because you’re going to get a lot of knocks. So it was great for character building. I also made loads of friends who I’m still in touch with and got some great contacts through Andrew and the judges.
Do you have a favourite song that you performed on the show?
I loved singing The Man That Got Away because it’s one of Judy Garland’s songs and she’s just a legend. I was so nervous to have been given it but I really enjoyed getting my teeth into such a difficult song. I also enjoyed singing Sway because I got to dance with all the boys, which was fun. I loved all of them.
Almost immediately after Over the Rainbow you were cast as Sandy in Grease. How have you found the experience of playing the lead in a big West End musical?
It’s been unbelievable. When I was told that I’d been offered that role I remember I was on the way to the hairdressers in the middle of a London street and I was just screaming and jumping up and down on the phone! It was really nerve-wracking going into a big West End cast as my first West End job and having just come out of a TV show, so I was nervous about how they were going to be towards me, but they’ve all been so supportive. The whole cast are like one big family. It’s great to step out there every night on that stage as a West End lead; it really is a dream come true and I give 110% every night.
How did you deal with the challenge of putting your own stamp on such an iconic role?
It is difficult, because everyone loves the film and that’s why they come to see the musical. But Sandy’s a great role, I have a great script and great songs and my costumes and wigs are fantastic. I just enjoy playing a role that is so famous. It was nerve-wracking to step out on that stage to begin with, but now it’s just fun. The audience are always up on their feet and clapping, so it’s great to know that they are having a great time watching it as well.
Your next project is Jason Robert Brown’s musical The Last Five Years at the Tabard Theatre. Moving from a big West End theatre like the Piccadilly to a small fringe venue is a massive change. Which kind of venue do you think presents the bigger challenge to a performer?
It is going to be very different and I’ve never done a fringe production before. The Piccadilly holds about 1300 people whereas the Tabard holds about 80, so it is going to be much more intimate – the audience are going to be literally at my feet. I think it’s going to be very nerve-wracking in a sense, but I’m so looking forward to it. I’ve got a great passion for Jason Robert Brown’s music, and it is going to be really challenging because it’s all sung. I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into something so unbelievably different to Grease, I can’t wait.
As you say, The Last Five Years is a very different musical to Grease. What first attracted you to the show?
I was first introduced to it when I was at drama college and someone gave me the CD. I just thought it was beautiful and listened to it continuously. Then I went to see it when it was on in the West End a couple of years ago and I loved it, so when I got told about it I had to say yes instantly. It’s the kind of musical that is made for a small theatre. I’m really looking forward to doing something so intimate, with the audience so close.
Could you tell us a little bit about the show and your character?
The show follows a man and woman throughout their five year relationship. My character Cathy is, funnily enough, a struggling actress, while her partner Jamie is a successful writer, so she struggles with being in a relationship with a successful working man while she can’t seem to get a job. Cathy’s story is told from the end of their five year relationship and Jamie starts at the beginning. I start in a very sad, low place, having just finished with Jamie, and he starts in a very happy place having just met Cathy. It’s just the two of us, there are no gimmicks or costumes or flash sets, it’s just our ability. I’m really looking forward to taking on the challenge and hopefully I’ll pull it off.
Jason Robert Brown is hailed as a big American musical theatre talent but we are not quite so familiar with his work over here. Are you excited about the prospect of bringing this musical to UK audiences?
He’s a massive composer in America and I was actually lucky enough to meet him when I was at drama school and he came to do a masterclass with some of the students. It was great to be involved in that and to hear him talk about his work. He is a fantastic writer and his music is similar to that of Stephen Sondheim; it’s difficult, it’s meaty, it’s passionate. So I am looking forward to bringing his music to town and I hope that audiences will love it.
Since appearing on Over the Rainbow you must get recognised quite a lot. How have you dealt with the overnight fame that the show produces?
It’s strange, because people tend to just stare and I think I have something on my face but then I realise that they must recognise me from the show. But it’s nice, because people come to the stage door after Grease and they say how much they enjoyed Over the Rainbow and how much they enjoy Grease. The fans are lovely, so it’s great to have that support and recognition.
Apart from Dorothy, do you have any other dream musical theatre roles that you would like to play in the future?
My absolute dream is to play Eponine in Les Miserables. I’ve been to see the musical hundreds of times and one day I would love to play that role. I just hope that I get that opportunity. When I’m older I’d also like to play Elphaba in Wicked, which would be interesting having done the Dorothy show.
You have so far appeared on television, as a lead in a West End musical and on the London fringe all within twelve months. What would you like to do next?
When you list everything I’ve done I can’t believe it, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I’d like to do more musical theatre shows, for the West End and the fringe, and I have a dream to do Broadway one day. Who knows, maybe some television. I would also love to do a play; I saw Romeo and Juliet at the open air theatre in Regents Park and to do something like that would be fantastic. I just love everything to do with performing so hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to do lots of different things in the future.INTERVIEW: 10 minutes with Lauren Samuels,