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.
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.
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.
'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.'
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
'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.'
'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.'
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.