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Carley Stenson is currently settling into life in West End’s longest running musical, Les Miserables as Fantine. After eight years playing the character Steph Cunningham in Hollyoaks, she joined the cast of Legally Blonde the Musical, and went on to have roles in Shrek the Musical, Spamalot and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Now, she takes on an iconic role in one of the world’s most beloved musicals, so we caught up with her to see how she’s finding it.
Your run in Les Miserables has just got underway, how has it all been for you?
It’s been wonderful. I keep telling people I’ve been pinching myself because this is the show to do, so the fact I'm in it is hard to believe. When you think of musicals, this is the one that comes to mind. It’s just epic, a classic.
Now that you’re on the other side of the curtain, what have you found that makes the story so epic?
I think it’s the story. If you go back to the story’s beginnings, Victor Hugo’s story is just so remarkable: it’s ahead of its time, the characters are remarkable, and the score that has now attached itself to such a wonderful story is so powerful. The two go hand in hand. Everyone can connect to it to some degree. It’s so harrowing to watch a character just keep getting back up.
Was there a lot of pressure taking on the role of Fantine?
Oh gosh, yes. This is the biggie isn’t it? It’s been played by so many people before that you just want to get it right. You don’t want to let anybody down. But what I have learnt is that Les Mis has such a supportive fan base. I’ve never known anything like it. The audience members come in and you know that they love it. So to feel that on stage is overwhelming. I’ve learnt that as long as I go out every single night and give it everything I’ve got, that’s what it’s all about.
As a performer, what is your favourite moment in the musical?
The moment I turn around and am about to sing "I Dreamed a Dream" is really special to me. I have a couple of moment where I get to just sit and look at the audience before I sing anything. That’s true storytelling; I get to sit and tell the audience my story and exactly why I’m here. It’s so wonderful that I can do that. I performed the song at West End Live. I've performed there before, but never with a drama. It was a bit harder performing a drama because with anything else, if it goes wrong, you can be a bit tongue-in-cheek about it. But this time there was nowhere to hide. I had to get into character and try not to notice all the faces.
And what’s it been like with the rest of the new cast? How’s Killian Donnelly settling in?
Killian’s amazing, he’s ridiculous. It can be half past ten in the morning in rehearsals and he’s there belting out Jean Valjean. But it’s wonderful to be with all of them.
You started your career on screen in Hollyoaks, did you ever feel like you had to shake a 'soapstar' reputation?
I started ballet and tap and modern when I was little, so I was always more of a dancer and then the singing lessons came. It’s such a shame that you do a TV show and people think that you can’t do anything else. That’s how I felt coming into musical theatre. But really if you have an interest in theatre and the arts, then you usually enjoy acting, singing and dancing. It was difficult to try and change people’s idea of you, but you face those challenges in life.
What advice would you have for anyone who might be in a similar position?
Just keep going. Keep adding strings to your bow and throw yourself at everything. I don’t think people mean to pigeon-hole you, but it’s so nice and refreshing when you see an actor and think “oh, they’re doing that now, that’s wonderful”. It should be celebrated rather than judged.
Earlier this year, you were set to star in a new musical based on Sleepless in Seattle with your fiancé Danny Mac. It was postponed, but are there any plans to get the show back on track?
We’re not too sure at the moment. It was postponed due to the producer’s personal reasons – and we completely understand. But we were going to stay on hold if we could to see if he could get it back on track. But three amazing jobs have come up for us now, and the producer understands that too, so who knows really. We’ll see what the future brings.
Les Miserables tickets are available now.