In 2019, Hannah Lindsey made her West End debut taking on the roles of understudy Cynthia Murphy and Heidi Hansen in the original London cast of Dear Evan Hansen, where she rehearsed for the show in New York. Whilst theatres were closed due to the pandemic, the show won Best New Musical at last year’s Olivier Awards, and Hannah is set to rejoin Dear Evan Hansen when it reopens at the Noël Coward Theatre. Prior to her West End debut, Hannah had been touring as Alternate Caro in The House on Cold Hill and her other projects have included performing a number of times with The Rat Pack shows, Fingask Follies, and she played Esther in Luv Esther – Pop Opera for her first role in a professional production. Hannah is closely involved with charity Naomi’s Garden, which has seen her be part of events such as a Christmas concert and a National Three Peaks challenge, which in the last year, has seen them raise £30,000. Answering our questions, Hannah tells us about her West End debut in Dear Evan Hansen, being an acting and singing coach and performing with The Rat Pack.
You booked your West End debut as understudy Cynthia Murphy and Heidi Hansen in Dear Evan Hansen, how did it feel booking the role and being part of the original London cast?
It was a magical feeling getting the call from my agent to say that I’d booked the job; I will never forget that feeling!! It was a call I had dreamt about my whole career up until that point. And being part of the original London cast – from rehearsals in New York to the show being awarded the Olivier for Best New Musical – has been a hugely rewarding and exciting experience.
What are the roles like to play and how much did you know about the musical before joining the production?
I hadn’t heard much about the show before getting the call for my first audition, but my sister also works in the industry and told me in no uncertain terms how exciting it was to be seen. The roles are both so beautiful to play – so similar in some ways and so different in others. They’re both just mums wanting to do the best thing by their kids, balancing their own lives alongside the pressures of parenting. And then there’s this beautiful contrast between them because they come from very different backgrounds – Cynthia’s being relatively privileged, and Heidi having to work herself into the ground to provide for herself and her son. Those contrasts are definitely the most exciting to play.
How was it performing the first time as both Cynthia and Heidi?
My Heidi debut came first and was a two-show day, so I got to play the role opposite both Marcus Harman and Sam Tutty as Evan. It was a thrilling experience to step into Heidi’s shoes and to tell her heartbreaking but very redemptive story – the first show was an excited blur of adrenaline and storytelling, and the second I was able to really settle into the awareness of the experience of having my West End debut and drinking in all those moments on stage. My Cynthia debut came a few weeks later, and I remember being so moved by her fragility as a broken woman who just wishes she could get a second chance, feeling she’s been given one, only to have it taken mercilessly away from her again, but finding how much she has grown and healed in the process. It’s definitely a role that requires tissues!!
Do you have any highlights from being in Dear Evan Hansen up until theatres closed due to the pandemic?
The final bow of my second Heidi show, for sure. I just remember being completely in the moment, and determined to take it in as the audience applauded and the whole company on stage celebrated my debut. They’re such a wonderful group of actors – and they were so supportive. Then there have been some other really special moments on stage – my first Heidi show with Marcus Harman who has become such a dear friend, and the dinner scene at the Murphys during my Cynthia debut where I played opposite Becky McKinnis – she sat down on the couch and I’ll never forget her smile of support and excitement that I was there.
How was the experience touring in The House on Cold Hill?
It was a wonderful tour! We were a relatively small company so by the end of the tour we were very much like a family. We got to travel all over the UK in each other’s pockets and played in some absolutely stunning theatres.
Can you tell us about being Alternate Caro and what drew you to the role?
Caro was very much how my mother was when I was a child – a young, middle class mum who has moved out to this beautiful house with her family that she hopes will be her ‘forever home’, only to meet a bunch of slightly odd village neighbours and to ultimately be thoroughly creeped out by the goings-on in her new home. We moved when I was three to a grade-two listed building in Lincolnshire and our first few years there were very much like that. I remember my mum being terrified and charmed by the house at the same time. Caro is so put together, but she gradually comes apart in a series of events that are completely terrifying – thankfully our resident ghosts in Lincolnshire never got that far, haha.
You’ve been part of The Rat Pack shows a number of times, what do you enjoy most about working on these shows?
I think out of every company I have worked with in my career, the company at The Definitive Rat Pack I genuinely do consider family. I have performed at home and abroad with them on various tours and one-off gigs since 2012 – as a fresh grad, a newly-wed, whilst pregnant, then with a nine month old, then with my sister who also successfully auditioned for them years later – I’ve got a gig up in Yorkshire with them this weekend! The music is timeless and endlessly classy, we always have so much fun and the occasional tipple during the final number never goes amiss. It’s very hard to call those shows work, because it’s so hand-in-glove now and we spend 80% of our time laughing together or at each other. It’s brilliant fun.
Can you say about performing in Fingask Follies at Fingask Castle?
The Fingask Follies is a five-handed cabaret shown in castles and stately homes up in Scotland, and including a few venues down south. There’s frivolity, always delicious food and wine, stunning views, and the show itself is very tongue-in-cheek humour with cleverly written pieces along a theme which changes every year. I’ve played the top Soprano in the Follies twice, and Helen and Andrew who produce the show are utterly fabulous – I’d love to book a cabin at Fingask one year as a punter, because it’s such a lovely experience.
In 2008, you played Esther in Luv Esther – Pop Opera, what was the role like to play?
Esther was my first ever role in a professional production, so I look back on those years with a lot of fondness. As a pop opera, it was a sung-only role, so it was unique to anything else I’ve ever done in that respect. It was a challenge to communicate the story clearly through the music, often while performing dance routines as well. And I love the character journey of Esther – a young woman who finds herself being crowned Queen at an extremely young age, being plucked from anonymity and then using her position to change the fate of an entire people group. It was also my first time wearing a wig for a role, my first romantic lead, my first paid work!
What do you remember most about your time in the musical?
Actually, this is a sad story, but there’s a song at the end of the musical called For the Love of Juliet about a young girl who died with a terminal illness. It’s a beautiful tribute to her, and the lyrics became even more poignant when my youngest sister, Naomi, passed away during a UK tour of the show. I remember getting permission to sing the song at her funeral, and I thought of her every time I sung the song on the remaining stretch of the tour.
What are some of your favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
I’m a sucker for the old-school, vintage shows like Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera. There are so many shows I need to get out and see – I had tickets to see a friend in Mary Poppins when the pandemic hit, so I’ll definitely be rebooking those, plus friends in Come From Away and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella so those are next on my list!
Where does your love of acting come from and is it something you always wanted to do?
Absolutely. My oldest memories are of putting on shows for my parents as a child and making my siblings and cousins join in. I sorted costumes, choreographed and directed – everyone had a role – I’ve just always loved performing.
Can you tell us about training at the Royal Academy of Music and can you say about some of the projects you were involved with whilst there?
Studying at the Royal Academy of Music was without doubt a life-changing opportunity for me. To train under the likes of Mary Hammond, George Hall and Anne Marie Speed etc., performing in workshops and concerts for/with Stephen Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown, Julia McKenzie, working with directors like Matt Ryan and Guy Retallack. I left a very different, and well-armed theatre performer to the starry-eyed ingenue that arrived in 2010!
We understand you are also involved with music, what are some of the projects you’ve worked on recently?
I occasionally get session work so spend a fair amount of time in studios recording backing vocals or recording the odd track at home when a request comes in. My husband, Sam Bradley, is a singer-songwriter so I really enjoy putting down vocals for his tracks and we finally got to do some singing together during lockdown which was a lot of fun.
How do you find the experience being an acting and singing coach?
I LOVE coaching others with their acting and singing. It’s been hugely rewarding to transfer my skills in the last year to helping other people access their voice and the texts they’re working with in a new and more profound way. And I’m happy to say many of my students have gone on to have successful auditions in the last couple of months as the world is opening up again, so that’s been really exciting. I’m proud of them all!
Can you say about Naomi’s Garden and how did the Christmas concert go?
Yes! So, I mentioned my sister, Naomi previously. I’ve spent a lot of time during the pandemic raising awareness for a charity called Naomi’s Garden that was set up in her name by my best friend, Sarah in 2010. Sarah works with children and adults with neurological diseases and movement disorders. She has a huge waiting list, so we set to work together to organise fundraising to get her in a new building where she can set up a base and provide Conductive Education to more families that need it. At Christmas, myself, alongside Sarah and an old school friend who is now a professional events manager put on an online Christmas concert, pulling together all our contacts including West End stars from across many of the shows in town including Lucie Jones, Rita Simons, Tom Read Wilson and Aisha Jawando who all donated a song to perform for our audience and raise money for Naomi’s Garden. We also put together a team of hikers to take on the Yorkshire Three Peaks, we’ve done a skydive, and since then the National Three Peaks as well and have raised a total of £30,000 in the last year which is an incredible amount that we are extremely proud of. The concert was a huge highlight of hope and generosity in such a difficult year for everyone. I’m extremely proud that we were able to pull it off, with the help of Vivid Productions who also volunteered their staff and equipment for the event, and it’s still available on YouTube for anyone who wants to watch.
What performing-related projects have you been doing during the pandemic and what are you looking forward to most now the industry is beginning to reopen?
My main project has been transitioning from performing into teaching, which has been extremely fulfilling. Now that the world is beginning to open up, I’m seeing shows again, reading in for auditions, booked to start rehearsals for Dear Evan Hansen again in September, teaching in workshops, sending in tapes, gigging with Rat Pack and still seeing my private students. August is actually looking extremely busy! Which is so wonderful after such a long year for this industry. Mostly, I’m looking forward to being back in a rehearsal room with the DEH company. We didn’t really get a proper ‘goodbye’ as we thought COVID would be around for three or four weeks, haha, and some members of the company have moved on, but to get everyone else back in the room together plus some fresh friendly faces will be a magical day.
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