BWW Interview: Lucy O'Byrne On Playing Maria in THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Following her success on The Voice, singer and actress Lucy O'Byrne took on the iconic part of Maria von Trapp in the UK tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein's indelible The Sound of Music; she's since performed the role more than 250 times. Next week, it makes a London stop at New Wimbledon Theatre.
Did you know the show well?
Definitely, it was something I grew up listening to and doing the songs at school. I actually saw the stage version in Ireland before I saw the movie. It's an amazing story that captures your imagination from the very first time you see it - it's something you hold onto. It's kind of always been a part of my life. Plus my family are basically the von Trapps - we all perform together! We actually had a WhatsApp group called 'The von Trapps' before I even got this show.
Did performing always seem like a natural career choice?
People often ask me "When did you know you wanted to perform?", and honestly it's something that was just always there. My dad's a singer and actor, my mum's an actor and a dancer, and my sister's an actress - it's just something we did.
Did you do much formal training?
We did take classes, and when I was six, my parents set up a drama school for us and our friends - that's grown into a huge part of our local community and they've now got their own studio. Later I trained in Dublin as an actor and started classical training for singing, and kept training in London. You never stop learning.
Had you done many musicals before?
Yes, but nothing on this scale. It was terrifying initially, especially as it was my name on the poster as 'Lucy from The Voice' - and then I'm coming into a room of people with professional CVs, all these West End and Broadway credits. As someone who won a reality show, I really had to fight my corner and work to impress people. But it's been an amazingly supportive company.
Was it hard to get away from the Julie Andrews portrayal?
I didn't watch the movie from the moment my agent called to audition. I thought "Don't go near it" - you can pick things up even subconsciously, and it's not about being a copy of Julie Andrews. Her portrayal is so iconic and perfect, but the thing that was important to me was just telling the story truthfully - that's how I approached it. She was a real person: before Julie was Maria, Maria was Maria. I really wanted to tell this story properly to the legions of fans who love it as much as I do.
What's the touring experience been like?
I'm more tired now than I ever thought it was possible to be! Parts of my body hurt that I didn't even know could. But it's been so rewarding. This is my first big gig, and I really had to step up, take the lead and make the most of it. I've done over 250 shows now, and I've never not wanted to do it, or come off stage thinking I didn't enjoy it. Maria is such a positive force - that becomes a part of your own life. Suddenly things don't seem so bad!
Had you worked with kids before?
Never, I'm completely out of my element there, but Maria is too, so that's helpful in a way. It was a real baptism of fire, walking into a room with all 18 of them - as we have three casts - and they were saying, "Oh, we saw you on The Voice." But the kids are complete pros; they're probably the hardest-working people I've ever met. They have a tutor for school in the mornings, while we stay in bed and then rock up for warm-ups. You never hear the kids complaining they're tired, it's always the adults - and we don't have to do homework! It's been a huge growth experience for me, and I've learned a lot from them.
Was it easy developing the central romance?
I've had two brilliant captains. I was opposite Gray O'Brien first, and we were on the same page - he'd never sung before, so we really went on this journey of discovery together. Now I've got the fantastic Andrew Lancel - who, weirdly, was also a Coronation Street baddie, and they both married Carla in the show! He's really great in the part and a lovely guy, very down-to-earth, so we've developed the relationship really quickly. Just as well, as we only had 12 days to rehearse with the new cast. It's not a large company, so we're all very close - which is good on tour, as we're all in each other's pockets.
How have you found performing the score?
It's a huge range, and actually a lot of the keys are changed for the film - it was brought up for Julie Andrews. Mary Martin, the original stage Maria, was most definitely an alto, so lots of it is lower than I thought. But I love a challenge, and I started learning it as soon as I got the audition last April. It did take a lot of singing in - it's deceptive, as everyone knows the songs, but the phrasing is actually quite difficult. It's been really satisfying to study it and try to get it perfect. Rodgers and Hammerstein are my all-time favourites, so this is a dream.
Any problems with the yodelling?
I've actually come to love the yodelling! They gave me that for the audition, because it's really hard. But I kept at it, and someone from the Rodgers and Hammerstein estate came to see the show at the beginning of the run and said "You're one of the best yodellers we've had", so that was rather lovely.
What's your favourite number to perform?
I'm so lucky, because I get to sing nearly all the songs. They even let me do a bit of "Eidelweiss" and "Climb Ev'ry Mountain". My favourites to perform are probably "The Lovely Goatherd" and "Do-Re-Mi" - and "My Favourite Things"! Though actually one of the best moments is just sitting and listening to Jan Hartley singing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain". I'm so moved by her - I get goosebumps every night.
What's the audience response been like?
It's so special. I didn't realise the effect it had on people - how much meaning it holds. Standing there at curtain call, singing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", you see people throwing their backs and singing along at the tops of their voices, tears in their eyes. It's part of their lives, and it speaks to them in a way I've never experienced with anything else I've done. It's something people need at the moment: positivity, hope and love.
Have you started thinking about life beyond the show?
It's weird, we finish in two weeks, and it hasn't really dawned on me yet. We stopped for 10 weeks in the middle of the tour, and that was hard enough, but at least then I knew we'd be coming back. Recently I drove through the town where we finished then, and thought, "Oh my god, what's it going to be like this time?" It's been a year of my life, one that I'll never forget. But I'm excited for new challenges.
Do you have anything in the pipeline?
I made an album last year - that came out in March - and I've been away the whole time since the launch, so I've got some gigs over Christmas for the album. And a little rest! I need about a week in bed. I'm planning to go back to Ireland to see my family.
Would you like to do more theatre?
This is something I've always wanted to do, because of my parents and my sister, and actually doing it has really solidified in my mind and heart that this is what I want, this is where I'm happy. So I would love to do more.
Finally, any advice for budding performers?
Believe in yourself to the point of stubbornness, no matter what anyone says. I was very lucky with The Voice, but it's hard out there, and you have to keep pushing and asking for more. If it's really what you want, don't listen to anyone telling you no.
Photo credit: Mark Yeoman