Rising Star: Georgina Onuorah

Friday, August 18, 2023

The talented performer is flying over the rainbow at the London Palladium as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz

The facts Georgina Onuorah is a 24-year-old actress who has already amassed impressive Musical Theatre credits since she graduated from Arts Educational Schools (aka ArtsEd) in 2020. Those include Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, in which she was Carrie Hope Fletcher’s alternate, Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, and starring as Dorothy, first at Leicester Curve and now in the West End. ‘It’s one of those roles everyone knows,’ she says of the latter. ‘My mum loves the film, my gran loves it. It’s one for all the family.’

Beginnings Onuorah was born in Luton and raised by a single mother. She adored theatre, playing Martha in a production of High School Musical when she was 13, but ‘it didn’t seem possible it could be a career’. She credits arts charity Mousetrap Theatre Projects (now Go Live Theatre Projects) for helping her see shows. ‘They would get you up to London for £5.’

Everything changes Onuorah went to a regular sixth form and looked at university courses – but it wasn’t what she wanted. ‘I was sitting in front of the computer screen crying,’ she recalls. Then she met a girl from her hometown while doing National Youth Music Theatre who convinced her to audition for Emil Dale’s performing arts academy in Hitchin in Hertforshire. It was, she says, life-changing. She subsequently landed the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Scholarship, supporting her place at ArtsEd. ‘If I hadn’t got that, I wouldn’t have been able to go.’

That competitive training world was a shock initially. But ‘the best bit about drama school turned out to be learning from all these world-class performers. One of my friends there was Emily Lane – she’s now Princess Anna in Frozen.’ Though singing was Onuorah’s first love, she wanted to get equally good at acting and dancing. ArtsEd ‘trains you so well across the board, giving you every opportunity’.

Covid Unfortunately, Onuorah graduated straight into the pandemic. But she puts a positive spin on her turbulent time in Lloyd Webber’s Covid-plagued Cinderella. ‘I learnt so much: every possible thing that could happen in putting on a musical happened. It was my first big-budget West End show, and I learnt how to lead a company, doing a really demanding role. At some performances, people were visibly disappointed that I wasn’t Carrie [Hope Fletcher] – but it was heart-warming that they were rooting for me by the end. I won them over.’

Going small Variety was always Onuorah’s career dream, and she’s already achieving it. After the massive Cinderella, she went into an intimate musical, Millennials, at The Other Palace, where ‘the audience was right in front of us’, and which aimed to woo the next generation of Musical Theatre fans. ‘Accessibility is something I’m really passionate about –particularly given how I came into theatre.’

Reinvention Onuorah took over the role of Ado Annie from Marisha Wallace (‘Talk about daunting!’) when Daniel Fish’s moody Oklahoma! transferred to the West End. ‘It’s exciting working with a director who isn’t scared to reinvent and do something polarising. Like it or not, everyone left with an opinion.’ Singing ‘I Cain’t Say No’ on that huge stage, Onuorah felt ‘like Beyoncé. It was my diva moment!’ Having a Black actress in the role was significant too. ‘A girl came up to me afterwards in tears saying: “I’ve never seen anyone like you onstage.” Now the seed has been planted in her. It’s important that theatre reflects the world.’

Homecoming Bringing her Dorothy to the Palladium is ‘big time. It’s such a spectacle’. Her new castmates are ‘a melting pot of people, bringing their special talents to it. Ashley [Banjo]’s dancing is being weaved in, and Jason [Manford]’s comedy – he’s just made for it.’ Onuorah thinks Dorothy is ‘headstrong and determined: a confident young woman leading everyone she finds along her journey’. As for that famous song: ‘When I sing “Over the Rainbow” at the Palladium, Mum’s going to cry her eyes out.’

Buy tickets: The Wizard of Oz