Michael Colbourne is currently starring as Enjolras in the West End production of Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre. Having recently graduated from the Guildford School of Acting, Les Mis marks Michael’s West End debut.
His theatre credits include playing Young Buddy in Follies (Yvonne Arnaud) and Axel in The Other School (National Youth Music Theatre) as well as appearing in Cinders: Boom or Bust (Theatre Royal Drury Lane) and Tell Me On A Sunday (St James) as a supporting singer. He has also performed in workshops for Water Babies and The Devil’s Advocate.
On Sunday (24th August) Michael will star alongside Louise Dearman and his Les Mis co-star Rob Houchen in Hamlisch at the St James Theatre for two performances only. The show will celebrate the work of composer Marvin Hamlisch, featuring songs from his musicals including ‘A Chorus Line’, ‘Sweet Smell Of Success’, ‘They’re Playing Our Song’, ‘The Nutty Professor’ and ‘Smile’, as well as music written especially for Barbra Streisand.
I recently spoke to Michael about what it has been like to join one of the West End’s biggest musicals, how he felt when he found out he had been cast as Enjolras and what makes Marvin Hamlisch’s music so beautifully unique…
What attracted you to this Marvin Hamlisch concert?
Mainly the fact Marvin Hamlisch’s music is very rarely performed. The uniqueness of his music and the style of his music is something us English people are not used to – it’s not something we usually see in the West End so it’s always nice to do something different and something outside your comfort zone. Also Alex (Parker, producer/musical director) is a very close friend of mine and for many years I’ve always done projects that he’s worked on… so of course I was going to say yes when he asked me [laughs]!
How aware of Marvin Hamlisch’s career were you?
I’d always known about some of his work through drama school rep classes and I had seen an amateur production of The Sweet Smell of Success. But doing this show has got me listening to the songs and going back to the soundtracks.
What is it that makes his writing so special?
Pinpointing something would be very difficult, but I think it’s the fact he’s able to do many different things – he didn’t just do musicals, he was able to write music for films or whole musical films or an integrated musical like The Sweet Smell of Success. He’s not pigeonholed. Although Marvin Hamlisch has his own style he can do a broad range of things to express his talents.
Any hints as to what you could possibly be singing…?
I don’t know if I’m able to tell you names of songs… but I can tell you that you’ll probably be hearing songs you’ve never heard before, or they will be performed in an arrangement that has never been done before. For example six of us are singing a song that’s sung by a massive female Broadway legend, but we’re doing it as a six part harmony choral number. Everyone is on the same level; me and Rob will be singing together, I could sing with Louise Dearman. Everyone takes part and lends a hand and sings as one unit.
Was it daunting to join the West End’s most successful and longest-running musical?
Daunting is one of the many hundreds of emotions that I felt when joining Les Mis [laughs]. I can’t begin to describe to you how elated with joy I was when I found out I had got the part. I went through a very up and down casting process – I was on hold for many weeks and didn’t know if I was going to be called back in. Then when I was called back in I was told I had the part within three days.
What was the rehearsal process like?
You can do as much technical training as you like but to find focus as well as personal drive and improvement can’t be taught, and when I got to the rehearsal room I learnt that. We sort of reinvented the production because there were twenty new people joining the cast. Everyone had this massive company feel which Les Mis had originally when they first did it. Everyone is involved, for example me and Rob – who plays Marius – are in the ensemble every night until about half an hour in. It’s a really clubbed together show; to come in as a graduate to find everyone was in the same boat made everything a lot easier.
Was Enjolras on your list of roles you wanted to play?
It was on my list! I really can’t begin to describe how lucky and overjoyed I felt when I found out… it was like my five year plan. Everyone has goals and I always thought, ‘oh yes I’ll go into the industry, work, meet people and then hopefully I will reach that point someday’ but I’ve been thrown in now which is crazy.
What’s the atmosphere like behind the scenes?
Everyone is lovely and I couldn’t name a bad person in the show… saying that it’s probably me [laughs]. No – I hope it’s not! You get into your own rhythm of the show, your own mind and focus zone. You get into a funny routine, like when I come up to my dressing room I know when I have enough time to sit down for ten minutes. I love the ensemble feel and the company are so supportive.
Imagine you had to go to a desert island and could only take three musical theatre songs with you. Which three would you take?
I would take… oh god! The first one would be from Les Mis… I would take ‘Do You Hear The People Sing’ but the whole section from the ABC Café with the students into Do You Hear The People Sing because I just love listening to it and don’t think I’ll ever lose love for that music, regardless of how many times I sing it. Number two is a song from a Marvin Hamlisch musical, ‘The Column’ from Sweet Smell of Success. I saw it performed once and immediately thought it was phenomenal! For my last one I would have to take… umm… [laughs]. I would take the prologue from A Little Night Music. I love Sondheim in general but that is one of my favourites!
Les Mis has such incredible and dedicated support. It must be lovely having that kind of support behind you?
It is brilliant. Les Mis is such a good show to go into after college because it starts the ball rolling. The Les Mis super-fans are so brilliant and lovely. They live their life by Les Mis which I understand and appreciate. It’s amazing, the rest of this year is going to be phenomenal and we’ll wait and see what happens after that..!
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Hamlisch takes place at 15.30 and 19.30 on Sunday 24th August 2014 at the St James Theatre. Please visit www.stjamestheatre.co.uk for further information and tickets.
Les Miserables is currently booking at the Queen's Theatre until Saturday 25th April 2015. Please visit www.lesmis.com for further information and tickets.