Evita: How you can choose freedom Running around Trying everything new
Ok, we’ve nicked a line from Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina, but you get the point! West End star Niamh Perry tells Stephanie Bell how young peoplehere can audition this weekend for a role in a production of the hit musical
She has been a leading lady in so many top West End shows that it’s easy to forget that Niamh Perry is still only 23. In the six years since she left Northern Ireland for London to pursue her dreams of performing and singing on stage, the Bangor girl has become a major national star.
As we talk down the line from her home in the capital, though, she comes across as completely grounded and is forthright in expressing her gratitude for her phenomenal success.
She credits her parents, Liam and Zaron, for helping her to keep her feet on the ground, and it says a lot about her character that she doesn’t choose to be part of the celebrity red carpet world of London, but prefers instead the quieter life of unwinding over a glass of wine with friends in her local pub. She has just finished a successful run as the star of the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Beautiful Game in London’s Union Theatre, and will be heading a little farther afield for her next role in hit musical, Mamma Mia, which will see her embark on her first international tour.
Although the bright lights of the West End are now the norm for her, this week she is returning to where it all began for her, joining her good friend, composer Nick Lloyd Webber (son of musical theatre icon Andrew), to hold auditions for Music Theatre 4 Youth (MT4Uth), which is offering 60 talented young people the opportunity of a summer residential for a production of Evita in Belfast this August.
It was with the charity that Niamh got her first taste of performing as a teenager and to be able to come back as a success and help give other young people the same chance means everything to her.
“It’s where I started and I’m very excited about the auditions,” she says. “I just want to be at the centre of giving young people the opportunity I was given when I was younger and this is a wonderful chance for them to audition in front of someone like Nick.”
Niamh burst into the limelight at 17 when she took part in I’d Do Anything, the televised search by Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh to find a Nancy to star in a West End production of Oliver!
While she didn’t make it all the way to the finals, her talent was obvious and she hasn’t stopped working since. Her first role was as Sophie in Mamma Mia and since then she has gone on to star in a number of top productions, including playing Fleck in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Love Never Dies, and the title role in Nicholas Lloyd Webber and James D Reid's first full-scale musical collaboration, The Little Prince, at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre in 2011.
She has also performed at the BBC Proms, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 60th birthday bash at Hyde Park and a requiem at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Niamh grew up in a home where she says “music was always playing” and joined MT4Uth when she was 15. She was also a member of McMasters Stage School in Bangor.
“I joined MT4Uth just when it was formed and we had our first production — Oliver! — in February 2005,” she recalls. “From then I was hooked on pursuing it as a career.
“MT4Uth works with international choreographers and directors and different types of people from the industry in London and having that direction just sold it for me. We are lucky to have such amazing artistic people involved in the charity.
“So much has happened since I took part in I’d Do Anything. It was an incredible stepping stone to getting into the industry.
“My parents were really brilliant too, as they kept me quite grounded and were a real support. They made sure I didn’t get swept away with the craziness of it all.”
Niamh’s parents are both school principals and she has one sister, Ciara (27), who works as a lawyer and lives close to her in London.
Her boyfriend, Matt Weir (26), a drummer and producer from Belfast, also lives in London. The couple met when they were teenagers, and he works with her good friend, Nick Lloyd Webber.
“After six years I’ve also got some close friends here too and it’s great having Matt and Ciara here,” she says. “It’s like I’ve got my own little London family; mum and dad visit when they can and I get home as often as possible.”
She has a very clear idea of what she wants in her career and has been particular about what roles she does accept, even if it has meant the worry of being without work at times.
“You do get that panicky feeling when you don’t know where the next job is coming from,” she says.
“As you get older, the casting bracket changes and I made a conscious decision not to accept every job I was offered, which has meant there were times when I had no work for two to three months.
“I only wanted to make conscious career choices and not play a part for the sake of it. I want to try and keep it as diverse as possible and I’ve been very lucky.
“I never stop thinking about how lucky I have been and I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had. I have such a hard-work ethic, which came from my parents and I know what I am capable of doing.
“It’s not about being arrogant or cocky, but you have to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself then when you walk into an audition room, you can’t expect the people you are auditioning for to believe in you.”
She describes her mentor, the great Andrew Lloyd Webber, as “an amazing genius” and adds: “I’m really privileged to have had the chance to work with him. He is really lovely and very kind and considerate.”
His son Nick (34), who is also a composer, has become a good friend over the years and Niamh is delighted that he agreed last year to become patron of MT4Uth.
As for her own future, she says: “I just want to keep being satisfied with my work and keep trying new things and different roles.
“I love performing at home. The people in Belfast are so lovely. London is so crazy and fast compared to it. I would love to do more work at home in the future.”
Nick Lloyd Webber on why he can’t wait to find a new star in Belfast
Nick Lloyd Webber says he has been looking for an excuse to come back to Belfast since spending three months in the city while his play, The Little Prince, ran at The Lyric Theatre in 2011.
The 34-year-old has written music all of his career, but it is only in the last four years that he has been embracing the family legacy and become a composer for the stage.
He has been friends with Niamh since he was introduced to her by his father when she was 17, and they have worked together on a number of projects ever since.
He didn’t hesitate when recently asked by Niamh to consider becoming a patron for the charity MT4Uth, which launched her on the path to stardom.
Like Niamh, he too says he is excited about the prospect of casting in Northern Ireland for the charity. “I lived in Belfast for three months in 2011 when The Little Prince was at the Lyric,” he says of the production, which he plans to take on a tour of the UK, Ireland and America later this year.
“I loved it and have been looking for an excuse to come back ever since.
“When I was here I saw MT4Uth perform West Side Story, which they put together in just two or three days, and it was unbelievable. I was very impressed with it.
“They are a truly moving and innovative company, with alumni to prove that the training at MT4Uth really is in a league of its own.
“When Niamh asked me a couple of months ago if I would be interested in becoming a patron for MT4Uth, I jumped at the chance.”
Nick, who is currently working on a new production, as well as continuing his work as a record producer, says that he and the rest of the panel have no pre-conceived ideas of what they will be looking for this weekend and will be approaching the auditions with an open mind.
“We are hoping for something new, fresh and bespoke — it’s just talent at this point,” he says.
He describes Niamh as a “superstar” and a joy to work with and says he is looking forward to staying with her parents when he visits. “My dad introduced us after Niamh had done I’d Do Anything, and said he thought we should work together,” he recalls.
“I have worked on some songs with Niamh and then when I was doing The Little Prince, I immediately thought if anyone can play the lead role, it was Niamh. I put it to her and she was cast on the spot.
“When you are writing, it is always a joy to know the voice and the person and that makes it all so much easier.
“Niamh has become a great ally over the years; she is a real trooper and we have become close friends. She has one of the most extraordinary voices.
“She has amazing pitch and a fantastic range and the way she can interpret songs is second to none.”
Ready for next stage of your acting career ...?
Niamh Perry and composer Nick Lloyd Webber will be staging auditions in Belfast this weekend for Music Theatre 4 Youth (MT4Uth) to find 60 talented young people to take part in a summer residential and performance of Evita the musical.
The production, which will be held in August, will be directed by a top team from London including Polly Bennett, movement director of the London 2012 Opening Olympics Ceremony, and Anthoula Papdakis, choreographer of numerous European tours of Evita, as well as Nick and Niamh.
The auditions are being held this Saturday and Sunday at T13 in Belfast, when judges Nick and Niamh will be joined on the panel by actors Henry Gilbert and Wayne Fitzsimmons, who will choose the cast.
The appointed cast will take part in MT4Uth’s Evita summer residential from August 15-23 at Rockport School, Bangor, in preparation for three public performances at T13 on August 22 to 23.
Supported by funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, MT4Uth offers exceptional opportunities in pre-professional musical theatre training for young people aged 13 to 21 years, through workshops, masterclasses and residential courses led by industry professionals who are working on the international stage.
Ciaran Scullion, head of music at the Arts Council, says: “It is vital that we offer our young people opportunities to access and experience the richness of the arts and develop their cultural life to add to their sense of wellbeing. I wish MT4Uth and the outstanding artistic team they have gathered every success with their production of Evita and look forward to seeing our future stars on stage this summer.”
Joy Hadden, chief executive of MT4Uth, added: “This is an exceptional and unrivalled opportunity for young people interested in developing their experience of musical theatre, to learn from the best international talent whose experience and skills are second to none.
“We are honoured and delighted to welcome composer, Nick Lloyd Webber, as our new patron alongside the fantastic artistic team and look forward to working together on Evita this summer as MT4Uth continues to grow and develop our future stars of stage and screen.”
Auditions for Evita cost £15. For full details, email: email@example.com, tel: 028 9002 3110, or visit www.mt4uth.com
Story behind Evita the musical
- Evita the musical opened in London's West End in 1978 – produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production starred Elaine Paige as Eva, David Essex as Che and Joss Ackland as Peron. It became the first British musical to win a Tony Award a year later
- Casting for the motion picture version of Evita began in the early 1990s. Although many actresses, including Liza Minelli and Michelle Pfeiffer, were considered for the role, it eventually went to Madonna (right), who had campaigned long and hard for it. A letter from the star to director, Alan Parker, explaining why she would be perfect for it, ultimately won her the part. Peron was played by Jonathan Pryce and Che by Antonio Banderas
- The film won the Oscar for best original song and was nominated for four others. To date, it has made almost $150m (£89m)
- And the lady who inspired it all? Maria Eva Duarte was born into poverty on May 7, 1919, in rural Argentina, yet went on to become one of the most influential women in South American history. She moved to Buenos Aires to pursue a career as an actress at the age of 15 and met Colonel Juan Peron there 10 years later. Peron was elected President of Argentina a year later
- As first lady of Argentina, Eva Peron ran the ministries of labour and health and created the Eva Peron Foundation. A champion of the poor, she was given the title Spiritual Leader of the Nation in 1952, but died of cervical cancer shortly after at the age of 33. She was given a funeral fit for a head of state