It's been quite a journey for Milton Keynes actress Natalie Kassanga.
Having started out on the stage aged just ten, she is now preparing to return to her hometown to star in the glittering musical Dreamgirls next month.
Natalie's first experience of performing came when she appeared as Young Nala in The Lion King. Since then, Natalie has taken on big roles in hit shows, including playing Diana Ross in Motown the Musical.
Now, performing as Deena Jones in the first UK tour of Dreamgirls, there’s a certain venue she can’t wait to visit.
“The one town that I'm most excited about is my hometown, Milton Keynes.” Natalie says. “I was born in London, but I pretty much moved to Milton Keynes when I was about three years old. It’s going to be amazing for me.”
The role of Deena Jones was taken to new heights in the 2006 film Dreamgirls with Beyonce’s portrayal of the shy singer turned superstar.
Natalie said: “Seeing the role of Deena played by the iconic Beyonce really inspired me and introduced and grew my love for music”.#
There’s also a lot in her character that Natalie can relate to. “She’s a bit like me, she’s full of love, she’s all about family, she’s very driven, ambitious and wants to make her dreams come true."
Joining the cast is Nicole Raquel Dennis. Best known for her time on the show The Voice UK, where she performed one of the musical’s signature songs And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going with Jennifer Hudson in her blind audition.
It's a moment that moment still hasn’t quite sunk in. “When anyone says anything about Jennifer Hudson it still feels very surreal, like ‘that happened’," said Nicole. "She was my coach on The Voice, I think because she came from a background of reality TV as well, she had a lot of genuine wisdom. She was so patient and so understanding.”
Nicole will be playing the same role that launched Jennifer Hudson to stardom, Effie White. But how will she make the character unique?
“With something so iconic like this, it's so easy to compare people who played this," says Nicole. "but I think I have to remember I'm a completely different person to who they are, so I would never bring something that they’ve brought.. I can also recognise who I am as an actress as well and put my own stamp on it.”
Natalie Kassanga and Nicole Raquel Dennis perform in Dreamgirls at Milton Keynes Theatre from Tuesday January 25 to Saturday February 5.
Visit atgtickets.com/MiltonKeynes to book.