Aberdeen actor Jenna Innes made her debut as Eponine in the current West End run of Les Miserables in spectacular style – “shoved on” at the interval with just four minutes warning.
She had to step into the limelight after the cast member playing the iconic role lost her voice halfway through the staged concert version of the legendary musical in London’s Sondheim Theatre.
“One Saturday night (about two weeks ago) we had the first understudy on for Eponine and her voice just completely went,” said Jenna, who is second understudy for the role.
“So at interval she ran up to me and said ‘I have to go off, you have to go on’. So I had about four minutes to get ready to do my West End debut as Eponine.”
Jenna said it was like a scene from a film as the sound department, wardrobe mistress and wig lady swirled around her, prepping her to step on stage just at the moment Eponine sings her big dramatic number, On My Own – a Les Mis classic.
“It was crazy but so much fun getting shoved on. I loved it,” said Jenna, adding as second understudy for the concert version, she never expected to be on stage as Eponine, unless in a real emergency.
Never forget saving the Les Miserables show
“You see it in the movies and think that will never happen to me, but it did. It was something I will never forget, sort of going in and saving the show and being that person who is ‘it has to be you’. It was magic.”
While nerve-wracking, Jenna said the entire company were behind her, as was the audience and it led to her having a week-long run as the street-smart Eponine in the West End.
It was a special moment for the actor, who cut her acting teeth growing up in Aberdeen in local companies such as Leading Lights, Aberdeen Youth Music Theatre and Lamour School Of Dance.
She graduated from The MTA London then had several major stage roles before she starred in His Majesty’s Theatre panto, Snow White, in 2018. It was her first professional role on the HMT stage.
In fact, Jenna credits her time as Snow White – alongside West End star Lee Mead and HMT panto stalwart Alan McHugh – with securing her understudy role in Les Mis, both in the West End and on tour.
“I finished the panto in January and in February I had an audition for Les Mis to come in and cover Eponine for only five weeks. Someone was leaving so they just needed someone to slot in,” said Jenna.
“I really felt that doing panto in Aberdeen, really prepared me for Les Mis. I was ready, my brain had been switched on for six weeks and was still in that quick place.
“Lee Mead has done Les Mis many a time over the years, so when I was in the room, they were asking, ‘oh, I see you’ve just done panto with Lee, how is he?’. That was a nice conversational starter.”
Lee Mead phoned to say congratulations
Jenna added Lee has remained a friend since Snow White and was one of the first people to phone to congratulate her on joining the Les Miserables cast.
The five-week understudy contract turned into two months with the original London show before it ended, then Jenna stayed on with the UK and international tour, continuing to cover Eponine. And she has been invited to return to the tour as understudy when it takes to the road later this year, after the current staged concert version – staged under strict Covid guidelines – ends its run in September.
“It’s a dream come true. I don’t know if there are many shows I’ve thought about being in since I was a little girl and this is one of them and in that role. It’s surreal sometimes,” said Jenna.
“When I got to do a full week as Eponine two weeks ago, I couldn’t quite believe that I had got there, just this wee girl from Aberdeen.”
When not taking to the stage as Eponine, Jenna is part of the ensemble cast for Les Mis, appearing as one of the factory girls who bully Fontaine, or the women of the barricade. But all the time she needs to know Eponine inside out for when she gets the call to step in.
“You just have to remember it. You don’t get to do it over and over again, you don’t get rehearsals every week. You just need to remember where you go and not get in other people’s way.”
Jenna Innes on why her Eponine is Scottish
Jenna says that even being thrown in at the last minute is what she has trained for – and that training started with her groups in Aberdeen.
“I think it was the best sort of training I could have got. So fortunate, with the people I met, the teachers and tutors and pupils. We were so fortunate, we just had such a passion for it and all worked toward this one goal of putting on a show,” she said.
“Leading Lights, AYMT and Lamour School of Dance, they were the three that really got it for me.”
And Jenna hasn’t forgotten her roots – she even plays her Eponine as Scottish, with the show’s producers happy to let her use her own accent to dig into the character’s down-to-earth nature.
“I had a message from a little girl when I went on last week, she found me on Instagram and texted I to say ‘I have never heard my accent on a West End stage’ and I thought it was so important and that was really touching to me. It was a lovely moment.
“So yeah, Scottish Eponine for the win.”