The new voice of Maria coming to Peterborough’s Broadway

Lucy O'Byrne

Lucy O'Byrne

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Ahead of the new Bill Kenwright Ltd winter season at the Broadway Theatre, we caught up with Lucy O’Byrne who will make her debut as Maria when The Sound of Music opens in December.

Lucy, welcome to the show – and welcome to Peterborough! Bet this wasn’t something you expected when you first applied for The Voice!

Thank you, I am very excited to be part of it! And you’re right, I never thought it would get to this level, I didn’t even think I’d get through the first round of The Voice to be honest! And actually, the reason I went for The Voice in the first place was to get a bit more exposure which would hopefully lead to auditions, and then it just kept on going! My background is musical theatre, my dad was a musical theatre performer and is still a singer, my mum was a dancer, choreographer and director and my sister is an actress as well, so I grew up doing musicals so that’s what I came to London to do. I had been classically training for a couple of years before and the reason I did that was for stamina, so that I’d be able to deal with the crazy schedules musical theatre stars have in London.

So tell us how the role of Maria come about for you?

The people from Bill Kenwright contacted my agent and my theatrical agent pretty much as soon as The Voice ended, which was way back in April, and there was a lot to learn and to do. I had three rounds of auditions and I was really put through my paces! They knew I could sing – you come second on The Voice and it’s an obvious assumption (laughs) – but they have to make sure they can trust you to take the pressure because she (Maria) really is the centre of the whole story and she carries a lot of it, so they tested me a lot. But it was good fun and an interesting process and it was really nice to meet the people at Kenwrights and to meet Bill himself who was lovely.

What a thrill then to be finally offered the part?

Oh it was amazing, I’m not going to lie, I did cry a little bit! When I moved in to my current house in London, my housemate had already been living here, and all around the house she has two or three framed pictures of Julie Andrews and one of them was the original Sound of Music poster, so when I got the news we both had a little bit of a moment in the kitchen when I got the phone call. And it was amazing to get to call my family and tell them I’d got it. Something like that was why I came to London.

This marks your professional musical theatre debut, are you feeling nervous, or having it in your blood, will you take it all in your stride?

Performing is in my blood but I am nervous but I am just trying to learn it and focus on rehearsals. It’s big and as a debut it’s huge and big pressure because it’s such an important show to so many people and everyone knows it, and so many people have their own idea of who Maria should be, but I just want to make it my own.

You’re from Dublin, Ireland, Maria von Trapp was Austrian and Julie Andrews is English – are you having elocution lessons to perfect your accent?

Maria will have an English or RP (Received Pronunciation) accent so I’m sure there will be plenty of people around to help me out. And I’ve been in England for the last two years, so my Irish accent is softening so hopefully I won’t find it too hard!

Coronation Street bad boy Gray O’Brien is Captain to your Maria – were you familiar with him?

I haven’t seen Corrie in a few years, but my Nanna watches the soap religiously so I remember watching it with her and seeing him in it. I told my Nanna, she’s very excited and is looking forward to meeting him!

Bill Kenwright has made stars of Danielle Hope (who won BBC’s Over The Rainbow), Lloyd Daniels, Rachel Adedeji (both were on the X Factor) who have all starred in his productions, and Joe McElderry (2009’s X Factor winner) starring as Joseph next year - do you think TV talent shows can be a great career-boosters?

I’m very excited about seeing Joe in Joseph, if I am able to, because it’s one of my favourite musicals. But in answer to your question, oh yes, definitely. So many people have done so well from all of those shows. Look at Jessie Buckley, another Irish girl who was runner-up on I’d Do Anything (the 2008 BBC show searching for an unknown actress to star as Nancy in the West End revival of Oliver). She was in the West End last year starring opposite Jude Law. So many people have come out of those shows and had success. Lee Mead (he won Any Dream Will Do, the nationwide search for an unknown to play Joseph in a West End revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), is another good example, he had great success.

Who do you count among your musical inspirations?

My dad was the one who originally got me to sing and taught me to sing, so he was the start of it all really, and my family for encouraging me and singing with me. People used to actually call us the von Trapps because me and my sister used to sing together on shows. My parents own a stage school that my sister teaches at and I helped out there when I was growing up, so we’re known to our family friends as the von Trapps, which is now rather ironic! But others I count are my singing teacher, who was the one who taught me to sing classically, an incredible woman and an incredible singer who changed my life, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the knowledge she gave me and I’m incredibly grateful for that. There are also the incredible singers that I listen to, Maria Callas, Diana Damrau, Adele and just strong, female 
voices, the likes of Julie Andrews, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey – women who just sang, there were no gimmicks about them, they just had incredible voices and could tell a story perfectly.