Samantha Peo. Picture: Supplied
Musicals have been the bedrock of Samantha Peo’s career. While she has explored TV - as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing as well as bagged roles in Erfsondes 2, Binnelanders 12 and Ashes to Ashes 2 - the call to the stage remains triumphant. This time she is in Calling Me Home. On joining the cast, she said: “I happened to miss the first round of auditions for some reason. And apparently they were really struggling to cast the role of Isabella.

“So I received an e-mail from my agent asking if I might be interested, a good couple of months after those first round of auditions, and after reading the brief of the show and the role I immediately said: ‘Yes’. I had a Skype interview with Alice Gillham as she lives in Cape Town.

“We just clicked and then I sent video footage of myself performing one of the songs from the show and Isabella’s monologue. And here we are!”

Revealing her understanding of the character after reading the script, she said: “I had been well briefed on the character before reading the script.

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“Physically she needed to look of Spanish descent, with long dark hair, curvaceous, quite flashy and confident in presence. But on an emotional level, understanding that she is a second generation immigrant, working hard to make ends meet. Desperately trying to create a better life for herself, trying to make it as a singer in a jazz club, but getting tangled up in an underground, seedy scene of drug lords and gangsters.

The cast of Calling Me Home. Picture: Supplied

“She becomes addicted to drugs, is abused in the most horrific way, goes through insurmountable odds, but finally finds and reconnects with her inner strength and in so doing brings an entire community together.”

There’s much poignancy to the tale of this conflicted character.

Peo adds: “I think Alice, the writer, composer, lyricist and producer had a very clear idea of all the characters and so made it quite clear in the script and stage directions on particular acting choices for all the characters in order for us to bring them to life.

“I can, and can imagine many others being able to, connect to a breakthrough moment within oneself, when one finally says ‘Enough!’ And it’s often the result of a catastrophic event that cries out - enough!

“And you discover that if any change is to happen it has to begin with you.”

As for getting to share the stage with Freshlyground’s Zolani Mahola and Lynelle Kenned, she said: “Both are consummate professionals and masters of performance”.

“Zolani, I think, has surprised and enraptured us with her beautiful acting skills. And Lynelle has just the most glorious, technically brilliant but emotive voice. And both are just incredibly instinctive and very real and honest in their portrayals.”

She adds: “Actually all the leads and sub-leads are phenomenal.

“And the ensemble features some of the most talented vocalists and performers.

“But I do have to make mention of the superbly talented Carly Graeme, who somehow makes it look easy to belt out an E, while doing a cartwheel and being upside down. I try to tell her to stop ‘showing off’, but she humbly responds that she’s not sure what she’s doing! But it’s lies I tell you. All LIES!”

Peo said: “Anthony Downing has been on tour playing Raoul in one of the biggest musicals in the world, Phantom of the Opera, surrounded by brilliant talents and as always one learns from watching those actors that come before us. One cannot help but learn and grow from that experience. But he is the first to say that having the international experience has made him aware of the talent here at ‘home’.

“Personally we get along well, and there is a sense of familiarity in our relating, so that makes playing opposite each other great fun.”

Offering insight into Magdalene Minnaar’s clout as director, she notes, “I think she has taken on a formidable task with absolute guts. And is completely fearless!”

Reflecting on the message Calling Me Home promotes this Women’s Month, she says, “I love that I get to play a woman who finds her strength, who is a survivor and who helps others find their strength too.

“Our beloved planet is in desperate need of beings, and especially women who have moved from self-loathing to self-love, from self-criticism to self-celebration.”

* Calling Me Home will be on at The Mandela Stage at Joburg Theatre from August 17.