Sophie Evans has been skipping down the Yellow Brick Road as Dorothy in the West End stage adaptation of The Wizard of Oz since February, having assumed the role from original star Danielle Hope. Both young actresses came to the show via the BBC reality TV talent contest Over the Rainbow, on which Evans was runner-up to Hope. During a recent chat with Broadway.com, the vivacious 19-year-old Evans described making the leap from TV to stage and reflected on the excitement of bringing down the house at the 2012 Olivier Awards with her rendition of—what else?—“Over the Rainbow.”
You’re playing one of the most iconic roles ever written on screen or stage. How do you keep the part of Dorothy fresh?
I don’t try to imitate. I just allow myself to be myself and sing with my voice. I think that’s how it works.
It must be amazing taking on this part at the London Palladium, a theater associated over the years with Judy Garland.
And I’ve even got the Judy Garland dressing room—the one that Judy used when she was here. Sometimes it’s a bit weird: Little things happen in the theater, and I go, “That’s Judy.”
What’s interesting is that you took over the part having already done it once a week as part of Danielle Hope’s seven-performance contract.
Yes, I’d been the alternate for a year, and there were times when I did quite a lot more shows than once a week. What scared me most about taking over the role was the hectic routine and the constant singing, but I seem to have dealt with it pretty well.
And you’re contracted to do eight shows a week, not seven?
Yes, I do eight. I think they just believed in the fact that I could do eight.
You certainly wowed the crowd at the Olivier Awards singing Dorothy/Judy's signature song.
I was the most nervous at that [event] that I have been for anything, really; it was very intense. I kept saying “I’m fine, I’m fine,” but as soon as I was in the wings seeing all those professionals like Scarlett Strallen, I was like, “Wow!”
How did you cope?
I just pretended I was at the Palladium and that it was the same set-up as in the show—in other words, as if I had just walked out on stage after being shoved out by my auntie and uncle. I zoned out of the fact that I was at the Royal Opera House standing in front of everyone who could employ me in a job ever [laughs]. It couldn’t have gone any better.
And you had come directly from a matinee, right?
Yes, I had my costume and Dorothy’s shoes with me in a sealed bag, like prized possessions; no one could touch them!
I was impressed not just by your lung power but by your American accent.
I’ve got an ear for accents. I’m always asking Americans after the show, “What was it like?” and they say, “Oh my God, we thought you were American!”
How would you describe your take on Dorothy?
I play her as a girl who thinks she’s very knowing about the world even though she’s a 14-year-old who lives in Kansas, doesn’t really know anything and sings a song about how nobody understands her. What happens is that it all gets too much for her and she just wants to leave, but if the story were different and Dorothy didn’t get to Oz, I think she’d still come back [home]. She’s not grown up enough to fight for herself, which she only finds out by going out into the world.
Are there any parallels to your relocating from a small village in Wales to the hurlyburly of London?
I adjusted to London pretty quickly, though people here are like a different breed. At home everyone’s so chilled and no one’s in a rush, whereas in London everyone seems to be in a hurry all the time. What’s nice about our performance schedule is that I can go home a lot.
Are you the only theatrically minded member of your family?
My dad works in a power station and my mum’s a hairdresser, but she can certainly sing; I think I got my singing voice from her! I’ve got a younger sister, but she’s more interested in backstage stuff like hair and makeup.
So did you have any exposure to London theater before you began working in it?
I’d seen my fair share. The first show I ever saw was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when I was about 12, and then I saw Wicked when I was 14 or 15 and thought, “This is what I want to do!” And because we play Sunday afternoons but not Monday nights, I can see shows then. A few weeks ago I got to see Sweeney Todd!
You came to this show via reality TV, which seems to be increasingly common on the West End. How does that experience look in retrospect?
Well, I was 17 at the time, so I was a bit oblivious to what I was actually doing and I didn’t quite understand that if I did win, I would be a West End leading lady. But I definitely think it’s a great platform for people like myself, and it gives a [theater] audience someone they know already.
What did you think of the solo numbers you had to do, which ranged from songs by Beyonce [“If I Were a Boy”] and Avril Lavigne [“I’m With You”] to numbers from Mulan [“Reflection”] and Annie [“Tomorrow”]?
To be honest, I found most of them difficult, and hardly any of them were songs I would pick. But I loved singing “Reflection.” That was probably my favorite. Oh, and “Over the Rainbow”!
What’s next after this? More musicals?
I’d love to do Wicked and play the part of Glinda, though it’s a tough sing. And if The Little Mermaid ever came over, I would fight off anyone to get to play Ariel. I love the whole thing of performing on stage, but my heart is in singing. I just love to sing, so it could be a concert. But, you know, I’d like to be an all-rounder. I’m very patient and am willing to do what it takes to be successful.