UNITED KINGDOM – Lucie Jones will represent the United Kingdom in the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, singing Never Give Up On You in Kiev, on her first visit to the Ukraine, on May 13. And where will you find Welsh singer Lucie this week? In York, starring in Bruce Guthrie’s new 20th anniversary production of Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning rock opera Rent at the Theatre Royal from Tuesday.
Lucie, a finalist on The X Factor in 2009 who signed to Sony but did not release an album at that time, has since carved out a career in musicals. Latterly she has starred as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde at Curve, Leicester, with earlier credits as Molly Jenson on tour in Ghost The Musical; Victoria in American Psycho at The Almeida, London; Meatloaf in the international tour of We Will Rock You and Cosette in Les Miserables at the Queens Theatre, London, and the O2 Arena.
She plays struggling artist Maureen in Rent, a musical inspired by Puccini’s opera La Bohème, in which Jonathan Larson’s world is inhabited by a group of bohemian artists who struggle to maintain their friendships and their non-conformist ideals in New York City’s East Village at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Facing their problems head on, they make personal self-discoveries and find what really matters most in life.
The poignancy of the story was heightened when Jonathan Larson died of an aortic dissection on January 25 1996, the night before the show’s first off-Broadway performance at the New York Theatre Workshop, but songs such as Seasons Of Love, Take Me Or Leave Me and La Vie Bohème live on.
“I’ve been with the tour since September, finishing in May, so after all the madness and fun of Eurovision I’ll still got a few more weeks to do!” says Lucie. “I’m playing Maureen, who’s part of the core group in the show; she’s a struggling artist and her first entrance is a big protest number about the eviction of the homeless from a car park. That number is crazy! I can do it differently every night, which I love.
“The story is about living and loving without fear, which is a great message now, just as it was in its time when Rent was pivotal, in 1996, and the show is still as Jonathan Larson left it.
“But our director, Bruce Guthrie, had never seen it, so he has a completely fresh view on it. Last summer, he visited New York to meet one of Jonathan’s friends and to visit Jonathan’s New York, and he sent back millions of pictures and lots of documentaries to watch on AIDS and HIV.”
Unlike Guthrie, Lucie had watched Rent, “when I was young”. “But maybe I was too young, as most of it went over my head,” she recalls. “But doing the show now, it’s such a moving piece, and we’ve had standing ovations at every performance as everyone is so moved by it.”
Playing Maureen is such a contrast to Lucie’s last role as effervescent Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. “It’s completely opposite, but it’s a perk of this job that you get to do such varied things. It’s a compliment that people trust you to do that,” she says.
And now the nation – by public vote On Eurovision: You Decide in January – has entrusted Lucie with carrying the torch in the Eurovision Song Context. However, can the 26-year-old musical actress from the village of Pentyrch, on the outskirts of Cardiff, buck the trend of the UK’s poor track record, especially as our first post-Brexit representative?
“To be honest, it’s one of those things that people talk about every year, but this year feels different because Never Give Up On You is a really good song that I totally believe in,” she says. “You just concentrate on singing your song and doing your best for your country. What an honour.”
Lucie Jones stars in the 20th Anniversary tour of Rent at York Theatre Royal, April 18 to 22, 7.30pm plus 2pm, Thursday, and 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk