COVENTRY EVENING TELEGRAPH
31 January 2013
West End star Lauren Samuels returns to Warwickshire for a homecoming gig. She talks to Catherine Vonledebur about her career highlights so far.
Over the Rainbow finalist Lauren Samuels counts Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Ben Elton and Queen guitarist Brian May among her friends.
The 25-year-old from Nuneaton may have lost out on playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz to winner Danielle Hope in the BBC 1 reality TV show in 2010 – but has come a long way since. In the last four years she’s won leading roles in two West End musicals, Grease and We Will Rock You, Vampirette at the Manchester Opera House and Last Five Years in London’s Tabard Theatre.
Lauren says: “We did a 10th anniversary arena tour of We Will Rock You, which was one of the most exciting times of my life. Being able to perform Queen songs in a 10,000 seat arena was unbelievable. It’s how Queen songs should be sung. I felt like a rock-god. When I was younger I went to see the show with my mum and remember saying: ‘I want to be Scaramouche’; and to play her on a European arena tour was a dream. A highlight for me was appearing at Nottingham Capital FM Arena stage with Brian May playing Bohemian Rhapsody directed by Ben Elton. It was just incredible to have the opportunity to perform with Brian. He’s such a lovely man. It’s so nice that Brian May and Roger Taylor are still so involved with their show and do come to the auditions. But there is nothing more terrifying than singing songs from We Will Rock you to Brian May and Roger Taylor. It’s been an incredible few years for me and I can count Andrew-Lloyd Webber, Ben Elton and Brian May among my friends.”
She may have hit the big time, but Lauren has never forgotten her home town. On February 22 she is returning to Warwickshire to perform some of her favourite songs in a Homecoming Concert at Bedworth Civic Hall. She will be joined by former Hear’Say band member Noel Fielding and West End actress Victoria Hamilton-Barritt.
“It’s great for me to be doing a concert in a venue close to my home town. During my time on Over the Rainbow everyone was so supportive. I only had to come home and people came up shaking my hand. I wanted to say thank you,” she explains. “Growing up I was taken to see the panto at Bedworth Civic Hall every Christmas and now I am going to do a concert on the same stage. People may know Noel from Hear’Say, but he was my first leading man on the West End in Grease. I was Sandy and he was Danny. Then he became my second leading man in We Will Rock You. We have become really good friends.
“Victoria has done so many musicals on the West End, most recently A Chorus Line at the London Palladium. We are focussing on singing songs that mean things to us – pop songs and songs from musicals. I love pop stars like Katie Perry and Lady Gaga but also older singers like Tina Turner, Ethel Merman and Shirley Bassey. Students from Hinckley Speech and Drama School will also be performing a song with me. We hope it will give people a chance to get to know us.”
Lauren has not forgotten her TV show colleagues either. All 11 “Dorothy’s” still meet up regularly for lunch. She adds: “We still see each other. We have Dorothy reunions – we recently all went out for dinner. We do get a few stares when we all go out. People tend not to recognise me so much now, as my hair has changed. I went to the open call for Over the Rainbow without thinking anything of it and kept going through. It sounds strange but when it’s happening you just get on with it.“All of us Dorothys lived together. When you are eating, sleeping and breathing the competition it’s really stressful – but by the same token it was the best experience of my life. I learnt so much about myself. We were competitors, but we only had each other who knew what we were going though. It was like one big sleepover – and Dorothy Manor got so messy “Everyone is so lovely. People tend to think it’s so bitchy, but it’s not. Everyone has each other’s backs’.”
Lauren, who now lives in Beckenham, south London, says the experience has taught her to “become a bit tougher”. “You get a lot of knock-backs in this industry. If I didn’t love it as much as I do I couldn’t do it. It’s continually hard work but as long as you love it, it feels worth it. Living in London she goes to see a lot of West End shows. “The industry is so small I always have a friend in every show and we are all supportive of each other. It’s important I know what’s going on in my industry. Wicked is a massive favourite. It’s great. My mum and I love that show. I recently went to see From Here to Eternity which was excellent, very different.”
Lauren’s parents divorced when she was seven. She and her older brother Sam, now aged 26, were raised by their mum, Susan Marshall, an NHS director of nursing in Solihull The actress and singer cites her mum as her musical inspiration. Lauren was born partially deaf and wore two hearing aids growing up.
“My mum is a singer and pianist. When I was young she’d put my hand on the piano when she was playing so I could feel the beats. It’s from her love of singing and music. My mum put me into Hinckley Speech and Drama when I was seven and from there I went to singing lessons in Nuneaton at 13. By 15 I knew that is what I wanted to do with my life,” she adds. My mum was always listening to Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand and Tina Turner – all strong female singers. My mum taught me all about music and took me to the theatre from an early age. She is my biggest influence and we did a lot of am dram shows together in my teens. Mum remarried my step-dad Dave who’s a builder, 14 years ago. He great, very supportive. My hearing has progressively got better, it was a gradual thing but the problem could come back at any time. I love coming back and doing things at my old dance school in Hinckley. I recently did a West End workshop and Q & A session. I know I would have liked that when I was younger.”
Lauren’s brother, Sam works as a builder with her step-dad. “They come and see every show I’m in,” she explains. Her brother also came up with her stage name. “It started as a joke. He said: ‘why don’t you call yourself Lauren Sam?’ It didn’t sound quite right so we changed it to Samuels.”
Lauren, who trained at Stratford-upon-Avon College and Guildford School of Acting, made her professional stage debut was as Wendy in Peter Pan at the Curve in Leicester. This spring she returns to Curve to play Ellie in Ed Curtis’ new musical, Water Babies based on Charles Kingsley’s classic novel, The Water Babies from April 24 until May 17. Louise Dearman – the first actress to have played both Glinda and Elphaba in the hit musical Wicked – also stars.
Lauren adds: “It’s exciting to be doing two show so close to my own home town. The thing that attracted me to the role is that it’s a fantastic new show and the script is so good. We can create our roles from scratch for a world-premiere. But I have been told I am going to get very wet. They are using real water. It’s going to be quite spectacular.”