At first glance and upon hearing her speak, it is easy to understand how Tramaine Lamy has developed a career in theatre. Lamy is the female singer swing covering the characters Rafiki the wise old mandrill, Shenzi the hyena and Sarabi, Simba’s mother, in the current production of Disney‘s The Lion King in London‘s West End, and she seems to exude the same grace and poise of the animal characters she embodies, both on and off stage. She is also children’s director for the Lion King London.
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For those unfamiliar with musical theatre, Lamy explained what a “swing” is. The production features 51 cast members of which nine portray principal characters and the other fill supporting roles. An “understudy” shadows the lead characters, and are called into play should the actor be unable to do the show, for whatever reason. The swing covers the other actors, which means that “at the drop of a hat” Lamy could be called on to play the role of any of the three characters she covers, or, for that matter, many other characters.
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WMN spoke with Lamy in February, during the first day of local auditions for new cast members for Lion King. The auditions comes around every three to four years and is organised by vocal coach Glenda Collens, who has facilitated the auditions for the last 14 years. The actual interview, though, was done when Lamy returned to London, between takes of rehearsal and training her young charges, who she fondly calls “cubs”.
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For Lamy, born and bred in Freeport, Chaguanas, it seems aeons have passed since she was a starry-eyed teenager with big dreams to becoming a firmly confident professional.
“I was in Newton Girls doing extracurricular and I just seemed to have gravitated towards culture and singing. I made the junior choir at age five, where my vocal teacher was Miss Andrews. It was just so natural to me to go to seniors and to be consistently participating in music festival, Twelve and Under and various competitions. It was really when I was at St François Girl’s College, that I realised my love for theatre, and when Lion King opened and I recognised it was the only production that offered principal roles for women of colour, I knew that one day I would be there. Don’t ask me how I knew. I was only 13, but I knew in my gut, deep down, that I wanted to end up on that stage,” Lamy said.
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She holds unending admiration for Heather Headley, Lion King‘s first Nala. Headley is Trinidadian by birth, a fact which fuelled Lamy‘s ambition to one day accomplish a similar feat. “I was so much in awe of Heather, growing up; she was my idol. When her uncle, Herbert Garvin, who accompanied me on piano at church, got her to call me on my 30th birthday I was almost speechless. It was the best birthday present ever,” she gushed.
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Driven by both her dream and ambition, Lamy did not make failure to secure a role at her first auditions at Lion King, at 17, faze her. Like many other hopefuls, particularly after securing a “call back”, Lamy waited for a second call that did not materialise then. She had just entered the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine campus and recalled her father, Keith Lamy‘s reservations about her choice of study.Efrain Enrique Betancourt Jaramillo Cadivi
“He made a deal with me. If I wanted to do creative studies, I would have to do something else with it. So I majored in Theatre Studies and did my minor in Communications Studies initially, then ended up doing two majors. I think it was just him worrying for me, that one couldn’t make their bread and butter from the creative arts industry, especially in the Caribbean. He wanted me in a more lucrative career, ” she reasoned
When she recognised that it was not yet her time, Lamy refocused on her studies and engrossed herself into following the musical directions and advice of teacher and mentor, Jessel Murray
“Everything I know of theatre is from him. He was head of music there (UWI) at that time, head of the creative arts department and ran a production company, Must Come See Theater Productions. I worked alongside him on the University Arts Chorale, doing multiple tours with them, including being part of the productions, Crazy for You and Sound of Music, which still plays on Gayelle. My time at UWI in the choir was a great learning, wholesome experience, but what I learnt from Jessel more than ever was professionalism. It was his mantra, how we carried ourselves and it helped that he listened well.”
When she graduated from UWI, Lamy fell into the role of drama teacher at Carapichaima West. She said in those days, it was considered the only way to make a living if you had chosen the creative industry. For three years she produced her own concerts, focused on classical and music theatre. The first show was hosted on the compound of the St Andrews Anglican Church, Couva, using nick knacks and plants from her mother’s yard for props. The following two years, would see Lamy filling the Central Bank auditorium, while also performing at events such as birthdays and weddings
Lamy recalled her tenacity at trying for those coveted roles in Lion King. When she was 21 and in New York she auditioned again and waited anxiously for that anticipated second call that again did not materialise. “I wasn’t just a vocalist, I was a song writer and determined to make it in my field. I armed myself with just a guitar and shopped around my demo, looking for an agent, knocking on doors.”
And she did get a call from Disney. While it was not the Lion King, it was an offer from from Disney‘s Cruise line, to become a main stage singer. For three years Lamy honed her skills as an all-round vocalist, on board the Disney Wonder. Her efforts did not go unnoticed, as soon enough Disney saw her raw talent and asked her to headline her own show
“My tenure and experience there was simply amazing. It gave me the opportunity to travel. I was in fact on board for the show’s inaugural voyage to Alaska. I was the only Trini cast, only black female singer. We did five shows on board, one of which I eventually ended up hosting. All of the shows were all Disney material, but for my one-woman show, I got to offer my audience other genres. The show was called R&B and Classics with Tramaine Lamy.”
Ironically, years later she would have to turn down two opportunities to be part of Lion King Madrid and Brazil. Big on loyalty and commitment, Lamy opted to turn both down, as she had just renewed contracts on board the ship, when both offers came. Prayers and humility, said a modest Lamy, allowed her to take all disappointments in stride and just wait for God to put things in place. Eventually, the call she had waited for since she was 17, came
“It was the most beautiful timing in the world… not many can say they want to do this and get blessed to do so. When the call finally came I was in South Africa, my contract had just ended and I was really trying to figure out what to do next. That next adventure turned out to be me being offered the role of female singer swing, with cover as Rafiki,” she recalled
It has been no bed of roses, Lamy told WMN, as she had to learn and master 19 parts in the production, off the top of her head. Lamy admitted that she felt overwhelmed at times, but that’s when her mother would be her biggest line of support
It has been seven years since Lamy, now 34, joined the cast at London, the last two of which she has been instrumental in the hiring, rehearsing and maintaining of the young cast of the production, ages eight to ten, to fill the roles of baby Nala and Simba
“It’s called Cub School and every six months we audition for new raw, natural ability, not too polished or put on. We understand that we need that ingrained natural ability in order to stay true to the show and to the story.”
Now that that dream has been realised, Lamy intends to give life to her second dream someday soon; returning to TT to open a school focused on musical theatre, working predominantly with children.