Lucy O'Byrne and Gray O'Brien talk The Sound of Music, at the Ipswich Regent all week
PUBLISHED: 11:16 23 February 2016 | UPDATED: 11:16 23 February 2016
The Ipswich Regent is alive, with The Sound of Music. Entertainment writer Wayne Savage talks to its stars, Lucy O'Byrne and Gray O'Brien.
Sometimes, things are just meant to be. O’Byrne playing Maria in Bill Kenwright’s production of family musical The Sound of Music for instance. Dublin born and bred, she, her parents and her sister were so musical they were dubbed the Von Trapp family by friends.
“It’s come full circle in a weird way. My parents were in musical theatre; the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein was very much the soundtrack to my childhood so I’ve always known and loved the songs,” says O’Byrne, who came second on last year’s The Voice - the first classical singer in the show’s history to reach the final.
Probably just as well given her very long audition process.
“They really did put me through my paces, even though they did show big interest in me, contacting my agent as soon as The Voice finished; they had to make sure I could do it. I think I learned almost the entire score and script for auditions,” she laughs. “I already knew it.”
Swapping Ireland for London two-and-a-half years ago to pursue a career in musical theatre, things didn’t really work out as she’d hoped at the time. Then The Voice came along.
“I thought nothing ventured, nothing gained and it paid off in the most amazing way. Though I didn’t win I feel like I did because I’ve got a record deal, my album’s coming out on March 25 with Island Records, an amazing label.”
O’Byrne admits she thought her time on the show would be brief. Classical singers typically don’t last long.
“That’s quite a big thing for me and was quite a big thing all the way through the competition... I really thought I’d be gone. Will (i.am, her mentor) championed me from the beginning and kept putting me through. I didn’t face the live vote the first week. I thought as soon as I did I’d be gone.”
Understandable given the Republic of Ireland can’t vote.
“I’m sure a few of them crossed the border to make some phone calls,” she laughs. “I entered The Voice knowing that and never thought I’d get to the live shows so it wouldn’t be a problem... I’ve met people on the Tube afterwards (who said) ‘oh I voted for you every week’, that’s a pretty amazing feeling.
“So not only is my album coming out, but I get to do musical theatre as well and not just any musical theatre - I’m playing the best role ever written for a female. For a singer there are lots of other amazing roles but for who I am I couldn’t have asked for anything better. It’s a dream come true.”
For anybody not familiar with The Sound of Music it began with the Trapp Family Singers and Baroness Maria von Trapp’s 1949 autobiography which inspired Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse to create a Broadway musical in 1959. It was followed by a film, starring Julie Andrews as Maria, in 1965.
It’s the true story of the world-famous singing family, from their romantic beginnings and search for happiness to their escape to freedom as their beloved Austria becomes part of the Third Reich at the start of the Second World War. The score features some of the most memorable songs ever performed on stage and screen including Edelweiss, My Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi, Climb Ev’ry Mountain, So Long, Farewell and, of course, the title song.
“It’s an incredible story. When they first approached me I read the book. It’s been adapted quite a lot for stage and screen but the bones of it are the same. She was an amazing lady. The one thing people ask me a lot is ‘do you not feeling massive pressure stepping into someone like Julie Andrews’ shoes’ and of course I do, huge pressure, terrified. But there’s just as much pressure of stepping into actual Maria Von Trapp’s shoes,” she laughs.
“I’m nervous every night because I want to get it right. There’s a big responsibility to the audience. This show, these characters, mean so much to them. It’s been a part of their lives for 50 years. It’s special.”
O’Byrne says for somebody starting out, she couldn’t have asked for a better company to end up in. It includes singer, stage and TV actress Jan Hartley as Mother Abbess, who also played Christine in Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom Of The Opera.
“They’re unbelievable, Jan Hartley is amazing, she’s had the most fantastic career and she’s so humble, so gracious and has one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard. To get to kneel on the stage in front of her as she sings Climb Ev’ry Mountain to me every night is the highlight of my day every day, sometimes twice a day.
“Gray (O’Brien, playing Captain Von Trapp) is incredible; to get to work with an actor of his calibre this early in my career, I’m so lucky, I’m learning so much from all of them. The children as well, we have 18 children – three teams of six – who travel with us. They’re the hardest working people I’ve ever met, they’re incredible. I’m having the time of my life.”
The tour marks O’Brien’s musical debut. If you see the show you’ll understand why, he adds wryly.
“Lucy is quoted as saying the day I introduced myself at rehearsals I said ‘hi, I’m Gray and I’m petrified’. That really didn’t leave me for several weeks. It’s probably the most daunting job I’ve done,” adds the actor, probably best known as Coronation Street’s Tony Gordon.
“(It’s) quite a different (role). It’s really funny; Tony was really the first villain I played in a 25-year career and yet you’re known as that ‘vicious Scotsman’. I haven’t played in my own accent for years and haven’t played any other villains. I guess when you’re in people’s sitting rooms five times a week that’s what they’re going to remember.”
Acting a straight scene when an underscore starts and a guy out front waves a stick at him manically, he laughs, is completely alien to him.
“I’m surrounded by people who are all very good singers. Lucy is quite incredible. I’ve never heard a voice like it, everyone I know who’s seen it remarks on what an incredible voice she has. Apparently she’s the first woman to yodel since Julie Andrews in the movie. I’m an actor who has to sing a little bit in this role. I think that’s why they always go for an actor for Captain Von Trapp because he’s not supposed to be a singer.”
He’s a character who goes through possibly the biggest change. Grief stricken, he doesn’t know how to deal with his children, then there’s his ill-advised engagement and the pending Nazi occupation. It’s not until this, to use O’Brien’s words, crazy nun woman comes from the abbey that we see him melt.
“It’s a dramatic role, so much emotion. For me it was an opportunity to tick another box. It’s been very exciting to work in a completely different genre, I’m very used to television, to film, straight theatre... It’s been terribly hard work but I’ve enjoyed it enormously.
“It’s an iconic show. We’re on a bit of a winner because it’s very difficult to sit in the audience without your foot tapping so we have them on our side from very early on.”
The Sound of Music opens at the Ipswich Regent tonight, running until February 27. Read my review online tonight.