Rising Star: Michael Ahomka-Lindsay
Monday, February 5, 2024
There’s no stopping this charismatic young performer, last seen tearing up the stage as Jack Kelly in Newsies
Michael Ahomka-Lindsay is the 26-year-old actor-musician whose rapid ascent to leading man started even before he graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS), when he appeared as Benny in Rent at the Hope Mill Theatre in 2020. He then toured with Michael Fentiman’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as Maugrim, before playing Emmett Forrest in Lucy Moss’s smash-hit production of Legally Blonde at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre last summer. As a Black actor taking on Jack Kelly, ‘a role normally associated with a white performer’, Ahomka-Lindsay feels ‘ lucky and honoured to be part of this wave of change’.
Ahomka-Lindsay had a nomadic upbringing courtesy of his father’s work in public relations, which saw his family move from the UK to Zambia, then Kenya, Atlanta and Ghana. Early exposure to music came from his parents: ‘My dad is a huge Bob Marley fan,’ he says. ‘We’d listen to reggae, disco, highlife, funk, and all the divas – Aretha [Franklin], Etta [James], Donna Summer… plus Michael Jackson and James Brown.’
Singing was just for fun – ‘I enjoyed imitating people,’ he admits. He also played piano and guitar, and loved to dance. ‘There’s a family video where I walk over to a wooden statue and start dancing with it. Everyone starts looking at me. Mission accomplished.’ He remembers a music teacher at school who gave him the opportunity to sing on an educational TV programme. By 14, he was into school drama in a big way, performing shows at the National Theatre in Ghana (the psychological lesson in confronting its ‘humongous proscenium arch’ was, he says, a pivotal moment). But it was experiencing the Ghanaian artist Kojo Antwi live in concert that had the biggest impact: ‘I was exposed to showmanship, to owning the stage, for the first time.’
Music vs medicine
At 16, Ahomka-Lindsay moved back, solo, to the UK – ‘I wanted that stability’ – and enrolled at Wellington College in Crowthorne, Berkshire. He took singing lessons with Katie Jordan, who taught him a classical foundation (‘We sang arias, in French, German and Italian), and helped him view his voice and vocal cords as ‘something you have to treat in a muscular way’. At this point, he was pushed by teachers to drop drama A-level because it ‘wasn’t a transferable skill’. He was three years into studying medicine at Leeds University when he finally took the plunge and auditioned for drama school. In Leeds, he was heavily involved in every element of drama and music available to him, and when his flatmate noticed that he would miss a 9am lecture but never a rehearsal, something clicked. He auditioned for RCS, got in and was awarded the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Scholarship which covered his fees for three years. He didn’t look back.
‘I loved the vibe,’ he remembers. ‘It was a conservatoire, so it wasn’t just about Musical Theatre – I felt that collaboration was possible.’ His course focused on the integration of dancing, acting and musicianship; he took up the saxophone, and learnt that ‘being an “actor muso” deepens your connection to a piece’.
Hope Mill remains a special place for Ahomka-Lindsay. ‘Their creative teams are ready to take a risk in casting someone like me who was just out of drama school.’ He still recalls the joy of rehearsals, seeing ‘these incredible actors’ who were able to transcend their training in order to be ‘ fully engaged in their creativity’.
Legally Blonde enabled Ahomka-Lindsay to be inspired by Courtney Bowman – ‘how she interacted with cast and crew, how she carried herself. It was an incredible experience.’ It also helped him figure out who he was as a performer. How could he make Emmett authentic? The character sings of growing up in the Roxbury slums, an area that had ‘a huge Black population’. Perhaps, he thought, ‘this could explain the “chip on his shoulder” that he sings about?’
Researching for Newsies, he found that one of the newsboys striking in New York in 1899, known for his rousing speeches, was called ‘Black Wonder’. ‘You look into the history, and there’s this whole world of information that aligns with accessing it as a Black performer.’
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2023 issue of Musicals. Never miss an issue – subscribe today!