There’s always a lot of negativity flying around the internet, so when a real piece of good news comes along it’s a very welcome sight for sore eyes. Yesterday, a truly wonderful piece of good news took off at speed across the internet with the announcement of Samantha Barks being cast as Eponine in the Hollywood film of Les Miserables.
Cameron Mackintosh took to the stage at the end of Tuesday night’s performance of Oliver! to confirm the casting, much to the shock and delight of Barks who is currently starring in the tour production as Nancy. Calling it ‘the most incredible moment of my life’, the small-town Isle of Man actress has since been inundated with congratulatory messages – and deservedly so. Samantha Barks is an incredibly talented girl and absolutely lovely with it: I couldn’t think of anyone who deserves this opportunity as much as she does.
Her journey from playing Snow White in her school play at the age of four to Hollywood film star has been a meteoric rise of success, ignited by the BBC talent show I’d Do Anything in which Andrew Lloyd Webber searched for a Nancy for his forthcoming West End production of Oliver! Barks came third in the show, but as seems to be the custom with these types of reality shows, being a runner-up has opened up plenty of doors. Still, Barks was hardly a novice to the world of performing: before appearing on the show, she had played roles in a variety of amateur productions and was training at the Arts Educational School, London. It was the stage of live television that really helped to thrust her into the spotlight though.
After I’d Do Anything, Barks was cast in the lead role of Sally Bowles in the UK tour of Cabaret, directed by Rufus Norris. The production took a new, racier direction and, at 18, Barks was a lot younger than previous incarnations of the character, but she received critical acclaim for her portrayal. She then moved on to join the West End company of Les Miserables, which is where her close relationship with the role of Eponine began. She spent a year at the Queen’s Theatre and quickly became an audience favourite, which led to her being asked to play the role in the 25th Anniversary Concert of Les Miserables at the O2. Barks has described the experience as ‘a dream come true’ and no wonder – performing such an iconic role alongside the likes of Norm Lewis and Alfie Boe would be a dream for many people. Despite such success, Barks has kept her feet well on the ground though, always finding time to help out others in the industry: she took part in the mini-tour of Direct From The West End (produced by Musical Ovation – Scott Garnham and Martin Neely); performed at a British composers cabaret at the Battersea Barge as part of the SimG Productions summer cabaret series and was a guest vocalist on Dougal Irvine’s debut album, duetting with the man himself.
She began touring with Oliver! on 10th December 2011 – a nice accomplishment which highlights just how far she has come since first vying for the part of Nancy on the BBC. Now, Hollywood is beckoning and, as much as her life has changed since that show, it is about to take a much bigger turn in the road. Barks will be starring with such A-list actors as Hugh Jackman (Valjean), Russell Crowe (Javert), Amanda Seyfried (Cosette), Geoffrey Rush (Thernadier), Helena Bonham Carter (Madame Thernadier), Anne Hathaway (Fantine) and Eddie Redmayne (Marius). Nice company to be in. It has been thought that American country singer Taylor Swift would be playing Eponine in the Les Miserables film, but the surprise announcement of Barks’ casting has had many a musical theatre fan whooping for joy. Les Miserables’ popularity lies in the success of its musical theatre roots, so it is very fitting that this is being recognised in the film version. Original cast members Colm Wilkinson and Frances Ruffelle, who played Valjean and Eponine respectively have been offered roles in the film: Wilkinson will appear as the Bishop of Digne while Rufelle will play ‘the most fabulous whore’ in the Lovely Ladies scene. There are a number of further opportunities for musical theatre performers expected and with the addition of one of the lead roles going to musical theatre star Barks, each of these castings are a nice nod to musical theatre. They’re important too – if anyone has seen the film of The Phantom of the Opera you will understand why. I actually really like the film, but I can’t deny how much better it would have been with more accomplished singers in the lead roles (with the exclusion of Patrick Wilson, who actually is a Broadway performer).
It’s always nice to see a good person receive good things in return and this certainly pertains to Barks. At just 21, she has already achieved so much and it looks like her star is continuing to rise. I have no doubt that she is going to be just fantastic in the film of Les Miserables and with such a great cast being lined up, hopes are high for its success. Her accomplishment restores faith in this industry and everyone within it is thrilled to pieces for her. So once again, congratulations to you Samantha Barks – you’ve done us all proud.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)