Singer Lucy O'Byrne gets ready to enchant as iconic First Lady Eva Peron

The classically-trained Dubliner is Derry-bound as Andrew Lloyd Webber's award-winning musical makes its way to the Millennium Forum

Things have come a very long way for Dubliner Lucy O'Byrne since her job as a theatre usher in London's West End.

Work off stage transformed into a dream fulfilled on it after O'Byrne staggered the crowd, coaches and TV audience of The Voice UK with a quite dazzling rendition of 'Ebben Ne Andro Lontana' in 2015. 

With the mentoring of will.i.am, she made the final that year, only to lose out to Stevie McCrorie. But high profile stage success was still forthcoming as Maria in The Sound Of Music on tour, and as Fantine in a West End production of Les Misérables

She speaks to Culture NI from Coventry, where she is 'a little bit tired' but 'keeping well' in the midst of her latest big challenge – the role of none other than Eva Peron in a UK and Europe tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita.

'It's definitely tougher on tour than in the West End', O'Byrne, 27, admits. 'There's more travelling, in a tighter schedule. It becomes more of a 24/7 thing than a nine to five thing, because you're in a town that you don't know. And the only place where you've any security, or sense of privacy, is the theatre itself, in the dressing room with who you know. The dressing room kind of becomes your whole life, the only constant you can count on.'

Evita arrives at Derry~Londonderry's Millennium Forum on October 9 (running until October 13) having already called in at Belfast's Grand Opera House at the beginning of the tour, in a run where just about every show was sold out. Even now, Belfast remains a personal highlight for O’Byrne and for the cast as the whole.

'The response we received in Belfast was absolutely amazing. Also, to get to spend two weeks in one place is rare for us, so when we do, we get to know it that little bit better. And Belfast is such a vibrant, open and accepting city, with a really nice atmosphere.'

More than that, it was a great opportunity for O'Byrne to spend time with her family, who are as theatrically-orientated a group of people as you could hope to find. Her father Jimmy is a singer, her mother Carol is a dancer and choreographer turned director, and her sister Rachel is an actress. 

With Lloyd Webber essentially the soundtrack to her childhood, playing Eva is something of a dream role to O'Byrne, whose classically-trained pipes, one would certainly argue, give her a bit of extra edge.

'I started training classically purely for stamina and technique, because I wanted to try and do musical theatre in London', she says. 'Classical singers know how to use their voice without amplification. They can still sing in their eighties, and I wanted that longevity.'

O'Byrne was also lucky enough to end up with the 'most wonderful' teacher, acclaimed Irish soprano Kathryn Smith, who she still takes lessons from whenever she returns home to Ireland. 'I just fell in love with the technique and never looked back. It wasn’t something that I chose to do - but it just came to me organically.'

It would seem that the role of Eva Peron is equally organic for O’Byrne, something I can vouch for having seen and enjoyed the show myself in the Grand Opera House. A visually impressive, intelligently choreographed and well-acted spectacle awaits Millennium Forum audiences, with classic show tunes like 'Another Suitcase In Another Hall', 'You Must Love Me' and the legendary 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina' performed with brio and gusto. 

Lucy O'Byrne (Eva Perón) and the cast of Evita UK Tour - (c) Pamela Raith

Lucy O'Byrne (Eva Perón) and the cast of Evita UK Tour - (c) Pamela Raith

All that, and a meaty, well-written role for its leading lady: a polarising 'real woman' who nonetheless accomplished several remarkable things, changing an entire country and paving the way for women all over the world. Because it really was unheard of, back then, for any country to have a First Lady quite like her: Eva, rather than Juan Peron, was the 'symbol' of Argentina, the one who everyone wanted to meet. 

'Whatever people say about Eva Peron – that she was selfish, that she was a gold-digger – I am playing her in her story, and I have to make you like her', O'Byrne explains. 'And I really don’t think she set out to be power hungry. I genuinely believe that Eva felt, in her heart, that she was doing the right things. She was looked down upon, she was illegitimate, and that stuck with her. Because of their jobs and their homes, the working-class people were treated like second-class citizens, and she wanted them to be seen as equal, to have them accepted by the oligarchy at the time. Like Fantine and Maria, she is a strong woman - and that’s the beauty of the part.'

Onwards and upwards to Derry~Londonderry next week, then - for what O'Byrne admits will be her first visit to the Maiden City.

'It sounds terrible', she chuckles. 'Dublin isn't that far away. I should really have been to Derry at some point in my life. But, there's a first time for everything.'

And Derry Girls? "Oh, I love Derry Girls!'

That makes two of us – and quite possibly most of the Derry-Londonderry's theatre-going populace who are ready to be enchanted by Evita.

Evita runs at Derry-Londonderry's Millennium Forum from October 9 to 13. To book phone 028 7126 4455 or visit https://www.millenniumforum.co.uk/shows/evita.