For her West End debut, Iona Fraser is joining the cast of Dear Evan Hansen as Alana Beck when the show reopens at the Noël Coward Theatre next week on 26th October, and she recently performed alongside some of her co-stars at the Royal Albert Hall for Magic At The Musicals. Over the summer, Iona could be seen in RENT at Hope Mill Theatre, and her previous stage work includes playing Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act at Shanklin Theatre and Sam in the TIE production of BOY. Ahead of opening in the West End, Iona chats about playing Alana Beck in Dear Evan Hansen, her time in RENT at Hope Mill Theatre and performing as Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act.
How did it feel booking your West End debut as Alana Beck in Dear Evan Hansen at the Noël Coward Theatre?
It was the most surreal experience! It had been a crazy year with the pandemic and lockdown, I didn’t think this would have ever been a possibility. And from about April this year, the auditions suddenly started flooding in, so I was very lucky! It was a busy time for me having rehearsals for RENT and auditioning for Dear Evan Hansen at the same time! But I’m so glad I pushed myself to do that. The minute I got the call from my agent, I said “wait… you mean the actual part?” And Oliver laughed and said “yes, Iona, the part you auditioned for!” I was in a state of shock! But the relief and excitement that came after that phone call was euphoric, honestly.
What was it like reading the script for the first time and how have rehearsals been going?
When I read the script it was just so enthralling, it really is such an incredible show. I sadly never got to see it, so I had no expectations. The characters are so layered and real. Rehearsals have been so full on and nothing like anything I’ve done before, but I’m in my element! The cast and creatives are so full of talent and have welcomed me into the family which I am so grateful for.
How much did you know about the musical and character before booking the role?
I hardly knew anything about the musical! I knew a few of the songs (which are just stunning, by the way) but I really was going in blind until I read the script! The more I understood the plot, the more exciting it was. It’s such a good concept and it feels like a play actually (with songs) which I love because I can really get my teeth into the acting side.
For those that haven’t seen Dear Evan Hansen, why would you recommend seeing the show when it reopens on 26th October in the West End?
If you love real, raw, complicated yet hugely relatable characters with insane vocals then this show is the one to watch. The music is so compelling, with elements of contemporary rock, but also showcasing the most beautiful heart-wrenching ballads. The concept and plot is so important surrounding mental health and loneliness; everyone can relate to that. The writing is spectacular and the acting is second to none. If you love a gritty play, but also love musicals, this one combines the two!
Recently, you were part of RENT at Hope Mill Theatre, what was it like to perform in?
Oh, RENT was something quite special. And particularly working at the Hope Mill. The love and dedication that place has towards its shows is just magical, and Joe and Will, the producers, are so beautiful to work with. The intimacy of performing on that stage was so cool, it feels like the audience are a part of the show, and being able to perform in Manchester was such a fun experience.
How was the experience on Gala Night and do you have any other highlights from your time in the show?
Gala night was so fun! The audience was incredible and being able to celebrate with my cast was joyous after all our hard work in rehearsals! Biggest highlights from RENT; singing the Seasons of Love solo! The response from the audience every single night without fail was immense! I loved it so much! Also, getting to work with such a diverse and talented cast was dreamy! It was genuinely a stunning, colourful, queer family; I felt so seen, loved and appreciated.
What was it like being directed by Luke Sheppard and performing at Hope Mill Theatre?
Luke is so passionate and artistic, it was like being a part of a dreamlike creation. The ideas that come from his brain are just so exciting! I had a great time working with him, I loved his inclusive work space and how open he was to our own ideas. Finally getting into the space at the Hope Mill was thrilling, it was surreal but I also felt so welcomed.
Can you tell us about playing Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act at Shanklin Theatre?
This was my first paid musical, it was a semi-pro production in the Isle of Wight. My lovely friend Sarah, who I did panto with, recommended me for a theatre company called The Island Savoyards, as they needed a Deloris. After working in entertainment for about seven years, singing at holiday parks and acting in theme parks, this was a very different experience for me! Actually being in a big theatre, playing a lead in a gorgeous musical! It genuinely helped me take the plunge to start looking for an agent and get my name out there! Getting to play Deloris was just so fun and joyful! I saw Sister Act in the West End with Patina Miller when I was a teenager, so getting to recreate it was actually a dream!
Do you have a favourite song to perform from the show and what did you enjoy most about playing the character?
I just love Fabulous Baby! It’s actually the first song on my vocal reel! It’s just so bright and soulful, and I love the lyrics. “I’m meant to be where the spotlight shines, born to be on display!” It’s just so camp and extra, it’s a bit of me! What I love about Deloris, she’s a bit of a sassy diva but she finally experiences living with just basics and love for her sisters. She’s layered, she makes mistakes but ultimately does what’s right!
What was the experience like playing Sam in the touring TIE production of BOY?
I was quite a bit younger at the time, I hadn’t trained so was looking for any kind of theatre I could audition for without an agent or credits. And I thought TIE could be a great way to get into immersive theatre. I have a soft spot for TIE, I think it’s really important to get young people interested in theatre and a great way to educate through performance. BOY specifically looked at homophobic bullying and how we can combat it. I loved the cause, it was incredibly important to me and the other actors, so we had a great structure. It was my first tour as well, so tiring but very rewarding!
How is it performing in pantomimes and what are some you’ve been part of?
The pantomimes I’ve been a part of were touring ones around schools and small theatres. So we did all the set, lighting and sound ourselves! Very intense but also fun! I did Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Pinocchio and Dick Whittington. We got a fabulous response from the kids!
When did you get into theatre and how did you start?
So, I didn’t train in acting or musical theatre. I actually did a film studies degree! But I always loved theatre and acting as a child. Me and my sister would recreate scenes in our living room for our mum! My older sister went down the traditional route of drama school and has been in the West End for a good few years now; but my route was very different. However, we both knew really that it was what we both genuinely wanted to do. It’s rare to have both siblings in theatre, but here we are! After uni, I realised film journalism was actually very hard to get into and my passion for acting and singing just hadn’t gone. So, I went down the entertainment route instead, working hard in customer service for years. Until finally booking with Regan (so grateful for my agents!) just before lockdown!
What theatre shows do you enjoy watching and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
Absolutely love Hamilton (and luckily got to see it a few times as my sister is in it!), Spring Awakening is one of my all-time favourite shows and I cannot wait for it to come back to London! I’m so excited!! Taboo in Brixton was a masterpiece! Emilia was one of the best plays I’ve seen; poetic, historic, strong! Just incredible. I saw the livesteam of The Color Purple and I was so astounded by it! And I just love Newsies! Never seen it live but watched the filmed Broadway version and crumbs, those boys can dance! Would love to see Back to the Future, Come From Away and The Normal Heart.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I love watching films and go to the cinema on my own, my passion for film will never leave me! Love a good series, absolutely whizzed through Squid Game and Sex Education! Really excited for the new Game of Thrones spin-off too! I like to rest as best as I can; I’m an introvert at heart so love my own time to have a bath, nap, listen to music. But I also love to go out to eat with my pals, watch a drag show and enjoy live music!
Is there anything you are looking forward to most for your West End debut and opening night later this month?
I’m looking forward to my friends, sister and parents finally seeing me in the West End. They have been with me through my years of hard work and supported me constantly. And I know they can’t wait to see the show! The excitement and nerves I’m going to feel knowing my friends will be in the audience is overwhelming! I can’t wait to stand on that stage, in the Noël Coward singing those incredible songs and show audiences what we’ve been working so hard on for four weeks. To finally reopen theatre is just such a beautiful feeling!
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