New West End stars making major debuts on London stages right now
While the pandemic year was incredibly difficult for everyone who works in the arts, it was particularly tough for those just starting out in their careers. So, as theatre comes back to life, it’s really heartening to see some exciting emerging talent hitting the stage, including numerous West End debuts. Here are some new names to watch out for.
Talk about a fairy tale start. Ivano Turco, who only graduated from London’s Urdang Academy last year, landed the lead role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new West End musical Cinderella – after auditioning to be an ensemble dancer. But, once he’d made it through the first rounds, he performed in front of the composer, and Lloyd Webber knew he’d found his prince. Turco only had a handful of professional credits to his name before this, and had been due to perform in Manchester Royal Exchange’s West Side Story before lockdown intervened. Starring in the biggest show of the year should be consolation enough.
Like Turco, Joyce is fresh out of drama school: he graduated from Mountview just this summer. And he’s also gone straight into a West End leading role, playing Frankie Valli in the Four Seasons’ biographical musical Jersey Boys. Joyce’s poise and dramatic range in the part is particularly impressive given his relative inexperience, but with a voice that can challenge Valli’s own, plus some slick dance moves and instant star quality, it’s clear that he’s a major talent. Joyce has done his first TV series as well – The Power on Amazon Prime – but let’s hope he sticks with theatre for now at least.
Jersey Boys is at the Trafalgar Theatre.
Samuel Edwards and Nicole-Lily Baisden
Tony winner Sutton Foster may be the big talking point of this glorious Cole Porter revival, but the young cast are also impressive – in particular, Samuel Edwards and Nicole-Lily Baisden as the pining lovers, Billy Crocker and Hope Harcourt. It’s hard to stay engaged with their more earnest plot when there’s so much fun happening elsewhere, but this pair are truly swoon-worthy dancing as one in the Fred and Ginger routines. Edwards formerly played Enjolras in the West End Les Misérables, and Baisden appeared in The Book of Mormon UK tour. On the strength of this production, both of these ArtsEd-trained performers are rising stars.
The 2019 revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s beloved Biblical musical featured a star-making turn by Jac Yarrow in the title role. Yarrow had to cut his final year at ArtsEd short in order to go straight into the mammoth show, but it certainly paid off. After his dream start in Joseph, Yarrow was cast in the Palladium’s starry Pantoland at the Palladium – and is returning for the 2021 Christmas season. First, though, he’s back in the multicoloured coat for the current run of Joseph, with an even more confident performance and more powerful vocals.
It was a long wait for Lizzie Bea. She started rehearsals for Hairspray, in which she stars as Tracy Turnblad, back in March 2020 – but then the pandemic hit. The show was postponed until September, then pushed back again until 2021. But Bea did get a chance to perform a medley from the show on Britain’s Got Talent alongside Michael Ball, and this year, she finally made her triumphant West End debut in the Hairspray revival. It’s a real opportunity for Bea, whose previous work includes the UK Tour of Kinky Boots, and who holds her own against not just Ball, but the mighty Marisha Wallace.
Timothy Sheader’s boldly revisionist production of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel has divided opinion, but there’s no disputing its sheer impact, nor the thrilling contribution from choreographer Drew McOnie. The standout scene is the Act II dream ballet, here transformed into a dynamic dance-drama – its theatricality heightened on the night I saw it by a furious downpour. That certainly didn’t deter the fearless Natasha May-Thomas, who makes a sensational professional debut as Billy and Julie’s tormented daughter Louise, giving herself over fully to McOnie’s expressive work.
Playing the role of socially anxious teenager Evan made Ben Platt a household name – and scored him Grammy, Emmy and Tony Awards, with an EGOT-completing Oscar possible with the upcoming film adaptation. That’s a good omen for anyone else taking on the role, and it’s been an exemplary start for Sam Tutty, who originated the part of Evan in the London production right after graduating from Italia Conti, and went on to win an Olivier Award in 2020. Not bad for your West End debut. Tutty will resume playing Evan when the show returns in October.
Oli Higginson and Molly Lynch
Given that its lovers are physically separated, it’s no surprise that Jason Robert Brown’s musical became a lockdown favourite. Jonathan O’Boyle’s 2020 actor-muso production for Southwark Playhouse saw Oli Higginson and Molly Lynch not only inhabit Jamie and Cathy, but play numerous instruments, adding a whole new layer to this deeply felt piece. It’s a magnificent showcase for both performers, graduating from more supporting roles, and who now receive a well-deserved encore run at the Garrick. The brilliant producer Katy Lipson also gets a major platform, supported by Nimax’s Rising Stars Festival, which sees 24 producers presenting their work in the West End for the first time. Bravo!