Interview: Jordan Arthur
Photo Credit: Owen James Vincent
This week ReVamp is thrilled to welcome rising theatre star Danielle Fiamanya who talks about playing the understudy of Elsa in Frozen: The Musical, her award-winning stage debut, music, and plans for the future.
Hi Danielle, welcome to ReVamp and thanks for talking to us! Let's talk about Frozen! You can currently be seen as the understudy of Elsa in Frozen The Musical at the Theatre Royale, Drury Lane in London. What's it been like to take on such an iconic and immensely popular Disney character?
It’s been the biggest rollercoaster in every sense; professionally, personally. It’s had such a positive impact on my life, I’ve learned so much about the character and myself, and how she speaks to so many people.
I think as well, above all, it’s been empowering. It’s been something I’ll be so grateful for forever. Whatever I go on to do, this has been the biggest highlight so far.
Sometimes I like to think you have dreams that are disguised, you didn’t even know they were there, and I think this has been one for me. I didn’t even think this would be possible, but now I’m here I’ve realised it’s been like this silent dream which I now get to live.
Taking to the stage as a real-life Disney princess must be such a thrill. Are you ever able to catch glimpses of the faces, particularly of the kids, who are seeing Elsa in person for the first time, and how does that make you feel as a performer?
It makes me feel so emotional. I feel so connected, and I am connected, to those people watching. I’m still there watching other people do these kinds of things, and I’m still that person taking delight and is so inspired by it all.
Seeing kids in the audience, it just blows my mind – watching them take in this magical world. Of course, I’ve never got to sit down and watch the show, but we have a lot of people, friends, other creatives, who have been to see it and they tell us how they felt so transported.
They tell us ‘You might not see what’s happening out here, but we can,’ and to know that’s happening is wonderful.
Someone told me this one story that makes me quite emotional. We have a younger girl who plays young Elsa, and she’s a black girl as well, and we had this mother and daughter in the audience, and when our young Elsa came on, the daughter said “wow, Mummy, she looks like me.”
I was on that day, and they didn’t know I was going to be on, but when the screen came up and revealed me as Elsa, [the mother] just went “wow” and burst into tears. Seeing that emotion transcend from a young child to her mother, that emotion crossing a generation was just unreal.
But it also shows how that feeling of being represented is universal – it transcends ages, it’s for everyone. When I heard that one, I was gone!
Taking on the role of Elsa must have felt incredibly significant, especially in how you how your performance may allow more children to see themselves reflected in these beloved characters?
Massively. With other things, if I’m going into an audition room or whatever, I just have to be confident in what I do, and that’s it, and what happens from that happens. But with this, when it was announced that I was doing it, the response was beyond what I could have imagined. Not just congratulations, but ‘do you realise this is such a great thing that is happening?’
As time went on, I started to realise how important and cool and the actual significance of playing Elsa as a black woman. Not wanting to play it down, and being proud of who I am and who we all are, and taking that with me on my journey.
And not being afraid, like when we do the dress reveal, in those moments I feel – this is why, as a collective, we’re doing it. And in those moments any kind of doubt or fear… it’s about the bigger picture.
GSA, which you graduated from in 2019, is one of the UK's best known drama schools. Could you tell us a little bit about your experience there? Do you feel your time there helped set you up for success?
Yeah, definitely. I spent three years there and I really appreciate the time I had and the things I learned about myself. Drama school is such a bubble and you have your one goal, to be in the industry, and it gets really intense. I think I was very lucky with the group of people I had around me in my year, we got on so well and it was actually like – it just was a dream – we were a big family. That doesn’t happen all the time. It was a great selection of people.
I owe so much to the teachers, they have such an impact on kids and I was lucky – you know, some teachers don’t give you the time or space or energy, but then I had the teachers that did – and I have so much respect for them, and those that believed in me.
It makes me emotional now, I think of them and think ‘I’m here because of you’ and that’s who I owe a lot of the things I’m doing now, and the things I want to go on to, I owe that to them.
Speaking of early success, you won the Stage Debut Award for Best Actress in a Musical for your role of Nettie in The Color Purple. What was it like to receive such a recognition so early into your career?
That day I was like ‘what is going on right now’ – and I think I just wasn’t expecting it. That was the first professional show I did, and it was an all-black cast, and I was just so emersed in it. I’m from Scotland so I’d never been around this many black people at once. Even at GSA. But this changed my life, and to play this role and to learn what I learned… And to play it every night.
I love that role with my whole heart – it was the greatest gift. I couldn’t even fathom someone coming and recognising that and giving me an award. For me, I’d already won - so for me in that moment, it just blew my mind.
Music is obviously a bit part of your life and now your career. I saw a lovely performance on Soft Sessions that showcase your voice in a slightly different setting to musical theatre. Do you see yourself recording a studio album in the future?
Yeah, why not?! Especially looking back on this year. I never want to put myself in a box. The reason I do what I do is because I grew up on music, and it became musical theatre – but that’s my roots. Music is my one love, so it’s definitely something I want to do. If the time is right, and I have the people around me, and there’s something I really want to create – then I would absolutely love to do that.
Thanks so much fort talking with us today, is there anything you’d like to say to anyone reading who may want to follow in your footsteps creatively?
Thank you for reading and looking in on me!
Dream. Don’t let anyone take it. It’s something I’m still telling myself, but it’s like ‘yeah you are your own person’ and only you can believe in you. Chase every dream, nothing is too big or too small. I’m such a firm believer that we create our own universes and our own worlds, and when we do that with intention – that’s when we see magic happen.
Believe in your dreams, believe in the magic – come see Frozen – and see the magic!