A Quick Catch Up with Nathania Ong: Singapore’s Own West End Star

Published on 18 December 2023
By Team Catch
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It was only recently that we’ve been treated to news of Nathania Ong being the first Singaporean to play the role of Eponine in Cameron Mackintosh’s blockbuster musical

Les Miserables in London’s famed West End.


As with many instances of success stories like Ong’s, it’s easy to perceive hers as an overnight success. We managed to catch up with the 25-year-old musical theatre star who was back in town to play the part of Cinderella in Pangdemonium’s Into The Woods, as well as her own solo concert Spirit of Giving: Nathania Ong - A Musical Homecoming Concert, which will be staged at the Esplanade Concert Hall for one night only on 20 December 2023.

 

 

So, Nathania, how did it all begin? Did you wake up one day and decide, “I want to be a musical theatre star”, and then it all happened magically for you? Like in a musical?


I actually started out singing at a pretty young age. My first performance was when I was six-years-old at Total Defence Day in 2004.

 

Wide shot of Nathania Ong (bottom right) with friends

Nathania’s love for singing was sparked from a young age and further blossomed over the years.

All I knew back then was that I really enjoyed singing. It wasn’t until I was eight that I competed in my school ‘Talent Time’ and really got a thirst to perform more. I definitely didn’t just wake up and decide to do theatre, because I think it’s a pretty big decision. 

 

I feel like anyone you speak to in the theatre industry can attest what a difficult industry it can be to be in. The majority of your professional life is rejection, and I think that it can be a lot for people to deal with unless you learn to fortify yourself.

 

I booked a month-long trip to the United Kingdom (UK) with all the savings in my bank account and applied to five drama schools under their acting course, and was rejected from all of them within the first two weeks of being there. I think that to this day that was one of my lowest points, because I wasn’t sure if what I was doing was worth it.


Wow, that sure sounds tough! So, what got you to try again?


The following year, my best friend convinced me to try again. I was attending the three-year BA (Hons.) Acting Course at LASALLE College of the Arts at the time, but the idea of studying in the United Kingdom (UK) felt a bit like unfinished business like in ‘Avatar the Last Airbender' when Aang comes back and has to learn the four elements to fight the Firelord. So I applied to Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts (in the United Kingdom) and it ended up paying off and I haven’t looked back since!


Take us through that very first time you fell in love with theatre - what show was it? Who sang what song? How were you mesmerised? Because that’s how it usually goes, isn’t it?


Wide shot of Nathania Ong smiling at the camera through a mirror reflection

From admiring Lea Salonga in the 10th anniversary edition of Les Miserables to starring in one herself–talk about a dream come true!

I didn’t really grow up with theatre, and one of my few interactions with musical theatre was Lea Salonga singing ‘On My Own’ on the 10th anniversary edition of Les Miserables. She’s  incredible and is definitely one of my biggest musical theatre inspirations. She paved the way for Asians to sing on the global musical theatre stage. 

 

As for a show that I’m totally in love with, it will have to be the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I think Alan Menken did an incredible job, the music is so beautiful. Also the story is so powerful with themes of love, acceptance and kindness. It doesn’t shy away from difficult topics which are unfortunately still heavily relevant in the world today. I would highly recommend you give it a listen!


How did you feel when you left our sunny shores for the bright lights and grey skies of the West End?


Oh, I was feeling a myriad of emotions, from overwhelming excitement to fear to homesickness. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was lucky that I had my Mum and sister with me to help me set up. I think I only managed to process what I had done once they had left about a week after I arrived.


Mid shot of Nathania Ong (far left) posing with friends

Forging new connections and building a home away from home.

I was alone and wasn’t sure when I was next going to see my family; a feeling that, I’m sure, many people are familiar with. But humans are very resilient! When faced with new experiences and a new environment, we adapt. We make new friends and our friends become our family when we are away. I feel truly blessed by the people who have come into my life.

People tend to make a big deal about being an “Asian” or “Singaporean” “first” on a western stage. It’s been 20 years since Lea Salonga played that same role of Eponine. Is it a sort of hang up that we should be getting rid off? 


I think that it’s true that seeing Asians on the musical theatre stage nowadays isn’t as uncommon as it once was. However, I do still feel that there is more to be done with regards to representation on stage in the western world. 

 

Ideally, I would love to be viewed for my artistry and what I bring to the table rather than the colour of my skin. I am proud to be a Singaporean, it is part of who I am. Also it is still quite rare for me to bump into a Singaporean in the industry there. When we do, we celebrate that, and equally I hope that people can share in our joy and celebrate us for our work and not just for our labels.


Tell us a bit about your concert at the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. The Spirit of Giving. What can your hoards of fans expect?

My concert will be tracing my musical journey from the time I was 12, relooking songs I sang as a child with the knowledge and tools that I have now. The audience will hear songs from my childhood with fresh new arrangements to songs that I’ve never sung in public to ones heard by thousands. You will get to hear my personal journey, and stories that have never been told to the public. This concert is also in aid of the Business Times Budding Artists Fund. Which aims to grant children and youths the opportunity to pursue the arts, despite their financial circumstances. 

 

My favourite thing about theatre is that it is ephemeral, it lives in the moment and then it disappears forever. It only lives on in the memories of the artist and the people there to witness it. This concert is for one night only, and I would love to share this moment with as many people as possible.

 

You heard Nathania - now, live in the moment and get your tickets to Spirit of Giving: Nathania Ong - A Musical Homecoming Concert on 20 December 2023 at the Esplanade Concert Hall. Tickets are priced from $66. 

 

 

All images belong to Nathania Ong.


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