Rising Star: Nathania Ong

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The talented performer has played Éponine in both the touring and West End productions of Les Misérables

Nathania Ong as Éponine (photo by Johan Persson)
Nathania Ong as Éponine (photo by Johan Persson)

The facts

Nathania Ong is a 25-year-old Singaporean actress who already has two West End shows under her belt. She relates hugely to her character Éponine in Les Mis: ‘Even if it’s not unrequited love, everyone has things they want desperately to achieve.’ It hasn’t been easy, but Ong made her dream a reality. Her final West End Les Mis was on 23 September, but we’ll undoubtedly be seeing a lot more of her – mark our words!


‘Music was always a big part of my family,’ she recalls of her Singapore upbringing. Her dentist dad, once a semi-professional singer, taught all his daughters. After Ong aced a talent competition, aged 10, that training grew more serious. ‘My dad said: “If you want to sing, you have to do it well.”’

Lacking resources

Ong did a theatre A-level, but wasn’t sure a career was feasible. ‘The arts aren’t as supported locally in Singapore,’ she explains. ‘Most audiences only go to see international companies perform.’ So, she applied for five drama schools in the UK – ‘not realising that, to get in, you had to be able to act!’

A second chance

After being rejected by those schools, Ong rallied and began studying at Singapore’s Lasalle College of the Arts instead. ‘Then audition season rolled round again. My best friend convinced me to go for Mountview – she said: “You’ve wanted this for such a long time, you’ll regret not trying.”’ Ong’s flight landed in the UK just two hours before her audition. ‘I messed it up, but somehow I got in!’


While at Mountview, Covid struck – yet, in a strange way, it helped Ong. ‘I was doing badly in class because I was so nervous to sing in front of my teachers and peers. But watching my online classes back made me realise that if I hit a bum note, it’s not a big deal.’ Aged just 20 when she moved countries, Ong learnt to ‘handle different situations’.

Cool casting

Ong made her professional debut in musical Be More Chill, joining its West End transfer from The Other Palace. ‘I was fortunate to have a lovely cast who helped me; I had no idea what I was doing half the time.’ Since there were few cast changes, it was a short rehearsal period: after just three weeks, Ong was onstage. However, she says she was inspired by the show’s message: ‘You don’t need to fit in – just be yourself, be uniquely you.’


Ong auditioned for Éponine in the West End – and, ultimately, didn’t get it. But she was then invited to try for the national tour. ‘I fully embarrassed myself in front of Cameron Mackintosh. He asked if I’d seen Les Mis and I said no! I guess it worked out – Éponine is supposed to be tactless and brash.’ Victor Hugo’s novel then deepened her characterisation. ‘Éponine has a strength to her: she fights to protect Marius. She’s only known hardship and abuse, so his kindness is this ray of light.’

London calling

Ong loved getting to know the UK through touring. ‘In Glasgow, they’d been waiting three years because of Covid, and on press night, it sounded like extra percussion during the finale because the audience were stamping their feet! [Composer] Claude-Michel Schönberg was really moved.’ It was a difficult choice to leave the tour partway through, when she was then offered Éponine in the West End, but she grew to love the relative intimacy of the Sondheim Theatre. ‘Because this musical is really honest, there are moments when you want to catch the actor’s eye.’

Home time

Ong’s family did get to see her in Les Mis, despite Covid. Her mum surprised her in Glasgow, first quarantining in secret. ‘I wept!’ she recalls. Everyone back home could also watch her in the BBC’s Big Night of Musicals. But now, they’ll get to see her perform live: she’s playing Cinderella in Sondheim’s Into the Woods in Singapore in October. After that, she aims to work more in the UK – but also hopes that Singapore’s own theatre scene will develop. ‘I know this industry is tough, at every stage,’ she says. ‘But if you keep moving yourself forward, amazing things can happen.’

This article originally appeared in the October/November 2023 issue of Musicals magazine. Never miss an issue – subscribe today