Natasha Barnes’ own life story could very well be the book of a new British musical; the plucky understudy who had the unenviable task of stepping in to the shoes of Sheridan Smith at the very last minute, taking on the iconic role of Fanny Brice in ‘Funny Girl’, and finding herself adored by audiences and critics alike.
Fast forward almost two years, and now Natasha Barnes has two new roles to take on, she’s releasing her debut album, Real, and is expecting a baby.
I ask her how it feels to be releasing her debut album? “It feels very surreal, I never set out to make an album, so it’s come as a really big surprise and a learning opportunity”. It all happened by chance as well, with someone from Sony Records happening to buy a theatre ticket, “Someone came to see ‘Funny Girl’ and invited me to a meeting, and it very much grew from there, it came out of me and the type of artists I like, I’m really proud of it.”
But, perhaps surprisingly, this isn’t a musical theatre album, “Of course the temptation was there, and that was probably the initial plan, I’d be silly not to give that a try at some point in the future, but it was really important to me that I find my own voice.”
So, how did the song choices come about? “Every song was kind of chosen accidentally, my producer and I got on famously and we just sat and listened to records, he is a master collaborator and he’d play me bits of songs and ask if I wanted to do that one, or we’d find a club in Manchester where there was a big Northern Soul band playing, with a real gutsy singer, and that would be another track, it was all just about having a passion for music and connecting to the songs.”
The first single from the album is called ‘Supermodel’, and I ask Natasha if she’d prefer to be a supermodel or a West End star, and without a moments hesitation, she replies “West End star all the way!”
‘Supermodel’ already has some pretty big credentials, “It was co-written by (X-Factor’s) Rebecca Ferguson and Paul, my producer. He asked if I wanted to do it, and I said no, her voice is incredible, I can’t do that! We ended up trying it, and she’s really happy with it I think, I’m still pinching myself about that actually.”
I comment again how everything has fallen so neatly in to place for Natasha, it seems like fate? “Everything with me seems a bit cosmically aligned, it’s all a bit spooky, I feel like I’m on the outside of this story that’s been really well weaved, it feels like I’m watching it happen rather than being a part of it. I like to think that if it hadn’t been ‘Funny Girl’, it would have been something else and that’s why I’m just grateful for everything that happens, I don’t have any expectations, I’m just going with it.”
I ask what role she’d like to play in the West End next? “Something untouched by this country, either from Broadway, or a brand-new British musical, something I can work with the team to create, and be part of the creation of it would be my ideal thing to do.”
We talk about Ben Platt, and the role he created which earned him a Tony Award, “That’s a great example, it’s why we get into the business; to create something new and share it with people, just like I’ve done with my album I guess. The gamble is what I love about the theatre and performing”
With a baby on the way, I ask Natasha which is more daunting, motherhood or stepping on to stage with twenty minutes notice? “Going on stage twenty minutes before it happens I reckon! I feel I already am a mother and it’s happened without me even realising, so yeah, ‘Funny Girl’ definitely came as more of a shock!”
As we finish our chat, I tell Natasha that my own Mum, a massive Barbara Streisand fan, had loved her in Funny Girl, “It means a lot more from a Barbara Streisand fan, that means a lot to me”.
As for that new British musical based on Natasha’s life? “Well, maybe one day” she laughs, “a couple more epic moments and I think I would be set”. I’m not sure how much more epic Natasha’s story could get, but while she enjoys her new role as a mother, we can enjoy her new album, at least until her next big role comes along.