Samantha Barks, best known for her role as Eponine Thenardier in Les Misérables, has become one of the most prolific West End performers since her emergence nearly a decade ago. In this Stage Spotlight, we look at the performer’s journey, and the ways she has come to be so beloved.
Although she had previously released an album, Looking In Your Eyes, via an independent label, it was in 2007 that Sam Barks first got noticed. This notice came with her appearance on the BBC reality competition, I’d Do Anything, in which Andrew Lloyd-Webber searched for a new Nancy for the Oliver! revival. Although she did not win, she came in 3rd, beaten in the sing off by Rachel Tucker, who went on to play Elphaba in Wicked (and is recently reprising the role for the UK production’s 10th anniversary). The show spread her name across the UK, and also gave her the opportunity to not just have the great Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber hear her sing, but also Broadway legend, Idina Menzel.
Soon after I’d Do Anything ended, Sam was offered her first lead theatre role, when she was cast as Sally Bowles in the UK tour of Cabaret. She played this role for the entire tour run, which lasted from August 2008 – July 2009. When the tour finished, she performed a few smaller concerts, and also took the lead role in a festive panto version of Aladdin.
However, it was when she was cast as Eponine in Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre that she really began to get recognition for her talent. After seeing her on her opening night, producer Cameron Mackintosh was so impressed that he decided to cast her in his 25th anniversary concert of the show at the O2 Arena in October 2010, alongside the likes of Alfie Boe, Lea Salonga, Nick Jonas and Matt Lucas. During her period on the show, she was given the opportunity to perform in the role at the Royal Variety show in 2010.
After Les Mis, Barks performed in a few concerts, both of her own music and with West End performers, before she took her dream part of Nancy in Oliver!, which she played from December 2011 to April 2012. During the curtain call of one of these shows, Cameron Mackintosh appeared on stage and announced Samantha had been cast as Eponine in the Tom Hooper film adaptation of Les Miserables.
As her first film role, she couldn’t have really asked for much better, getting the chance to act with the likes of Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne, and more. Her performance of ‘On My Own’ in the film takes a much more subtle approach than her stage version, enabled through the use of the film medium, making a truly heartbreaking performance. Her performance was praised by audiences and critics alike, and in 2013 she won the Elle Style Award for Best Breakthrough Performance. She also got the chance to perform at the 2013 Academy Awards, where the film of Les Mis was celebrated.
Through the international attention garnered by Les Mis, Barks began to get roles in America, playing Velma Kelly in Chicago at the Hollywood Bowl in 2013. As well as this, she was spotted and chosen to originate the role of Amelie in the musical adaptation of the French film of the same name. The show opened in August 2015, and has had brilliant reception, with Hamilton‘s Phillipa Soo recently stepping into the lead role following Bark’s exit.
Samantha Barks is set to head back to the West End at the end of this month (28th October), alongside Jonny Bailey, in Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years. Her return is widely anticipated, and shows a true West End legend coming home to where she belongs. The show is a favourite among modern musical fans, and is likely to sell well. For more information about tickets, click here.
Did you know?
- She previously worked with Jonny Bailey on Disney Channel’s original series Groove High.
- Her self-titled album was released earlier this year.
- She played Jules in the initial workshop stages of Bend It Like Beckham: the Musical.
- She had a role as Baba Yaga in the film Dracula Untold, but her scenes were cut.
- In 2007, she represented the Isle of Man in the Maltese International Singing Competition.
Performance to watch: ‘On My Own’ at the 25th Anniversary Concert of Les Miserables.