West End stage star Anna O'Byrne heading for Belfast
Belfast-bound West End Anna O'Byrne was chosen by Andrew Lloyd Webber to star in Love Never Dies and has just been announced in the cast of hit musical Guys and Dolls. The Australian actress and singer talks to Brian Campbell
MUSICAL theatre star Anna O’Byrne has already taken her native Australia by storm, cracked the West End in London and has New York in her sights – but this weekend she’s got time for a one-off show in Belfast.
Brought up in Melbourne, Anna graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts and progressed to the Victorian Opera and got her big break in 2011 when she was chosen by Andrew Lloyd Webber to take on the role of Christine Daaé in Love Never Dies – the theatre impresario’s sequel to The Phantom of the Opera – in Melbourne and Sydney.
“I look back at that time and still pinch myself,” she says. “We didn’t know it was going to be as big as it was and it was a gorgeous show to work on, so I feel very blessed.”
Love Never Dies went on to be filmed and released in cinemas and the DVD became a bestseller. Anna then made her West End debut as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera and also took on the role of Jenny Lind in Cameron Mackintosh’s Barnum.
”Andrew and Cameron are sort of giants of their industry. Andrew has been very supportive to me in my career, so I’m eternally grateful to him,” says Anna.
A rising star of the stage, her other credits to date include Strangers on a Train and A Little Night Music, while she returned to Melbourne to perform the role of Maria in a sell-out season of West Side Story last year.
This Saturday, she will be in Belfast to join the Belfast School of Performing Arts (BSPA) on stage for the concert 'Songs from Broadway and the West End’.
“I really enjoy coming over to Belfast when I can. I’ve been over to teach once before and [jazz/swing singer] James Huish mentioned this festival and asked if I’d be interested in singing at it and I said, 'Of course’.
“On Saturday I think there’ll be a little bit of Phantom in there, some old and new tunes and maybe a little surprise or two.”
She says she has travelled a lot in Ireland and, with the surname O’Byrne, has Irish roots that go “quite a way back”.
“When I was 16, I was over with my folks and we traced our family to Glendalough in Co Wicklow and I’ve done a lot of travelling north and south. There was a lot of time spent in pubs with our newly found relatives,” she laughs.
Now based in London for almost four years, Anna has just announced that her next role will be playing Sarah Brown in the upcoming UK tour of hit musical Guys and Dolls.
“That’s a show that was a bit of a 'bucket list’ one for me. I love Sweeney Todd too, so I’d love to play Mrs Lovett in that some day. But some of the best experiences I've had were on new shows, like Love Never Dies.”
Despite being so busy, Anna has also managed to record an album – due out later this month.
“My musical director on it was Guy Simpson, who I worked with on Phantom, Love Never Dies and West Side Story. He suggested it to me and I started ruminating on it at the start of last year and thinking about what I’d do.
“It’s all original arrangements of music from film, so it’s a classical crossover style, with arrangements by Jason Carr – a Tony-award winner.
“There’s a wide array of tracks; some music theatre from Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lloyd Weber and then we do a crazy arrangement of Diamonds Are Forever with a neo-baroque string quartet, a couple of classical-influenced pieces, 1940s MGM 'golden age of musicals’ stuff and jazz.”
Despite starting out thinking she would be an opera singer, Anna is happy with how her career has been working out. Last year she was in the West End again with the show Kings of Broadway. So does she have aspirations of cracking Broadway?
“Well I do I love London, but I went to New York for the first time in 2012 and I don’t think I slept the entire time I was there. I had a brilliant time. So if it’s the right project, I think it would be an absolutely brilliant thing to do.”
She says she loved The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music and singers including Julie Andrews, Michael Jackson, Sarah McLachlan and Christina Aguilera when she was growing up.
So did she always know that she would choose music as her career?
“I don’t think there was ever a solid realisation. Music was a huge part of my life growing up – at home and in school and with my friends. I don’t think there was ever a question in my mind that I’d do anything else.”
Anna O’Byrne will join the BSPA for the concert 'Songs from Broadway and the West End’ at the Clayton Hotel in Belfast on Saturday (early show, 5pm), as part of the Belfast Nashville Songwriters festival. Tickets £6. For news on Anna's debut album, see www.anna-obyrne.com