A determined musical theatre student has landed his first leading role after he was awarded a grant from the Neil Hudgell Trust to help him pursue his dream.
James Leeman, 21, has always dreamed of starring in West End musicals and secured a place to complete a master’s degree (MA) at the Royal Academy of Music in London in September.
The year-long course costs £14,200 and most of the £20,000 he raised came from sponsorship, including £1,500 from the trust, as well as his own savings.
Now, just 11 weeks into his course, James has landed the lead part of Prince Michael – or Prince Charming as he is traditionally known – in the Snow White pantomime at the Grimsby Auditorium from December 11-27.
As rehearsals get underway, James said the course and his pantomime role have reinforced his love for musical theatre and cemented his desire to perform on the West End stage.
James, who now lives in London but is originally from Swanland, said: “The trust has helped me so much and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that help, so I am incredibly grateful.
“I have always wanted to be in the West End and I’m even more certain of that now.
“We hit the ground running hard when we started in September and I have been working with incredible people in the industry, including directors, musical and casting directors, and people in the heart of the business.
“It’s been an interesting journey so far, exploring skills and learning a lot about myself too.”
James was just five years old when his passion for musical theatre began while watching a production of Oliver at Hull New Theatre.
He then joined the Northern Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), Northern Theatre, Hessle Theatre Company, the National Youth Music Theatre and the One Off Productions group, taking to the stage whenever possible.
A typical morning for James involves body conditioning at 8.30am, followed by ballet, jazz and acting technique classes.
Afternoons consist of play or musical rehearsals, speaking and voice technique, singing and voice tutorial classes, with his day finishing at 10pm.
James has completed his first term at the Royal Academy of Music and now has a break for the pantomime and Christmas before starting again on January 4.
He said he is looking forward to performing close to home, with the pantomime, which is produced by Imagine Theatre Ltd, running in Grimsby.
“I’m looking forward to performing in front of a home crowd,” said James.
“I have always had a love for musical theatre but, since joining the Royal Academy of Music, I have become even more enthused, particularly by my teachers and the people I have met.
“This is the best decision I have ever made and I couldn’t ask to be in a better place at the moment.”
A total of £100,000 is available from the Neil Hudgell Trust over a 12-month period and groups and organisations can apply for grants of up to £5,000.
Some individuals, such as James, can be granted discretionary awards if their applications fall short of the trust’s specific grant criteria, but the panel feel they are deserving of support.
Jo Hudgell, chair of the trust, said: “It’s great to hear how well James is progressing at the Royal Academy of Music and pursuing his dream of taking to the West End stage.
“We’re really pleased the grant has given him a stepping stone to his musical theatre career and we wish him all the very best for a successful future.”