Jekyll and Hyde at The Alhambra, Bradford

Sarah Earnshaw with Marti Pellow
Sarah Earnshaw with Marti Pellow
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SHE’s not the first greengrocer’s daughter to do rather well in life, but she’s probably the first from Leeds to transform herself into a star of musical theatre.

Sarah Earnshaw was born and raised in Middleton where her dad ran the local shop and mum worked for the city council.

The south Leeds estate wasn’t the most likely breeding ground for a budding artiste, and the fact that no-one in the family had any background in the performing arts didn’t help either.

What did help, admits Sarah, was the fact that she was an only child and her parents did everything they could to help her on the road to stardom.

“They weren’t pushy parents though,” she insists. “It was always me asking to do all the singing and acting and dancing, not them.

“Though they did help me massively and I don’t think I would have anything near the start I had without them. But the whole family is really proud now.

“My grandfather came to see me when I got my last role in Wicked! in London and he just went into the theatre bar in the interval telling everyone I was his granddaughter.”

The road to stardom temporarily leads home as her first lead role, this time in the musical version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, comes to Yorkshire next month.

Sarah appears as Emma, a love interest of frontman Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde played by ex-Wet Wet Wet heartthrob Marti Pellow, who’s carved out a new career starring in several successful musicals such as Chicago and The Witches of Eastwick.

But, as she’s just 27, her young heart didn’t throb for the smiley singer, after all she was just a baby when the four-piece band from Glasgow hit the big time.

“Although I do remember him from around the time when he was singing Love is All Around and Goodnight Girl,” she insists.

“There were always CDs around the house and my mum loves him. She still does in fact. I’ve told him so too and he just smiles and does that wink, you know, the way he does.

“It’s strange to think I’m actually kissing Marti Pellow on stage all these years later, but it’s nice. Apart from anything else he’s a good kisser.”

Although this is arguably her biggest lead to date, Sarah is no stranger to big productions. She comes to this musical fresh from the aforementioned West End blockbuster Wicked!

From the age of 24 she alternately played the role of Glinda in The Wizard of Oz spin-off which has become a global smash hit.

It’s a long way from performing with amateur dramatics societies in Guiseley and Yeadon in her teens. Sarah started dance classes in Middleton at the age of three, acting lessons with One Stage Ahead in Alwoodley at the age of seven and within four years she was singing with the Yorkshire College of Music and Drama.

Which makes the ex-Leeds Girls’ High School pupil’s ascent all the more unbelievable.

“Yeah, I had a few ‘pinch me’ moments when I was doing Wicked!” she says. “It’s funny though because when you do a job over and over it gets to be you take it in your stride a bit.

“Then you’ll have those wake up moments when you’re reminded you’re in this HUGE show and it can be overwhelming, but overwhelming in a brilliant way.

“Wicked! was very, very challenging for me. To maintain that standard of vocals is essential. But Jekyll and Hyde is another level of challenging because we’re on tour for months on end and I’m now doing up to eight shows a week. But I love it, after all, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

After training with the Mountview Academy of Theatre and Arts, Sarah found herself back in Leeds at the age of 21 as understudy to the lead in West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Alice in Wonderland.

Perhaps surprisingly, she found coming from Leeds and having a Yorkshire accent actually helped with her career.

“When I went for auditions nobody certainly told me to lose the accent or anything like that,” she recalls. “In fact a lot of people said it was good to have a bit of a regional twang, a bit of character.

“I think some of the stronger elements of my accent have worn off a bit now, after all I left home nearly 10 years ago and you spend a lot of time with different people. But as soon as I start speaking to my mum and dad again it comes right back.

“It’s ironic really because I’ve ended up talking using received pronunciation in many of my parts, particularly in Jekyll and Hyde where I actually play an upper class character with a very posh voice.”

Her part in Jekyll and Hyde is a major step up. The musical was hit on Broadway and other countries, though it hasn’t quite gained the same traction in the UK.

It is building momentum, however, dispelling some of the cynicism that’s grown around a recent splurge of musical adaptations - of varying quality - which either utilise the jukebox genre or reinterpret classic stories.

Sarah insists audiences will be impressed by the production.

“The music was written by Frank Wildhorn who may not be well known to the general public but is very well known in the musical theatre world,” she says.

(He also, fact fans, penned the Whitney Houston hit, Where do Broken Hearts Go?)

“Just to give you an idea, the music is actually very close to Les Miserables in the sense that it sounds very epic and, strangely for such a dark storyline, it’s also quite uplifting.

“You just don’t get that same vibe from a more poppy musical, one where you tap your foot or feel like getting up and dancing. This has more substance to it.

“Jekyll and Hyde was also written by Leslie Bricusse who’s also very well known in the musical theatre world; Leslie wrote Dr Dolittle and Scrooge, for example.

“So there’s a real pedigree to this show. Although it’s still new to a lot of people they can be assured that is a real musical with real gravitas.”

From April 11 to 16, The Alhambra, Morley Street, Bradford, 7.30pm, Wed mat 2pm, Sat mat 2.30pm, £19 to £35. Tel: 01274 432000. www.bradford-theatres.co.uk

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