Monday, 18 August 2014

Interview: Rob Houchen, starring as Marius in Les Miserables

Rob Houchen is currently starring as Marius in the West End production of Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre, marking his West End debut.

Rob has appeared in many one-off concerts including Scott Alan Live (Hippodrome), The Twelve Tenors, Anderson & Petty Live (Delfont Room) and West End Fest (Actors Church) as well as the recent one-off charity gala West End performance of Godspell (Lyric).

On Sunday (24th August) Rob will star alongside Louise Dearman and his Les Mis co-star Michael Colbourne 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 Rob about the pressures of playing such an iconic musical theatre role, Les Mis’ new cast and the beauty of Marvin Hamlisch’s music…

Marvin Hamlisch had such an incredible career, what drew you to this concert?
His music is so beautiful. I was told I would be doing ‘I Cannot Hear the City’ (from Sweet Smell of Success) and I really like that song, it really interested me. And then I wanted to work with Alex (Parker, producer/musical director) who I already knew. The cast and set up are great and I love the venue so I thought it would be a great concert!

How much did you already know about his career?
I didn’t know much about his personal life, I had watched the concert dedicated to Marvin Hamlisch which I loved. I spoke to Alex about what it’s all about; it’s funny because you don’t hear about many concerts of his work. It’s really nice to put it back out there and perform some of the favourites. People don’t realise that it’s not just about A Chorus Line; there are other things too which are lovely to sing!

I think people forget just how varied his career was – he won Oscars, Tonys, Grammys, Emmys and the Pulitzer Prize! Can you put your finger on the beauty of his music?
I think there’s beauty in the simplicity of it. It’s not stereotypical; he wrote ballads that were a bit different and not just romantic. His music isn’t always climatic and doesn’t always do anything crazy, but it is never boring. I think it’s the type of music people sometimes forget to pay tribute to.

How’s life in Les Mis? Have you enjoyed welcoming the new cast into the show?
We’ve had a massive cast change with about twenty new people coming in. It’s been really refreshing and has revitalised the show, everyone’s really great. Rehearsals are over now so everyone’s stuck in and knows what they’re doing – we’re all really enjoying it. Every night everybody seems to be really going for it, it’s a very, very strong cast and I feel privileged to be a part of it.

Marius is considered to be one of the ultimate roles for young musical theatre actors. Is it a role you always wanted to play?
Yes I did. If I’m honest, when I went to audition I didn’t think they would want to go for someone who looks as young as I look. The film had just come out and it was very commercial, I guess there was a younger audience interested in the show. I wasn’t completely realistic but then they did want to go for someone younger; my voice isn’t as young sounding as I look so it’s an interesting combination but I think it works well for the part. Obviously when they called me back to sing the material for Marius I thought, ‘Yeah – this could happen!’ I always thought perhaps it would happen later in life, but it’s happened now!

Obviously Les Mis has always been incredibly popular, but following the film release there’s a fresh new interest and many people will go to the theatre with a preconception of Marius. Does that bring extra pressure?
I do feel that pressure, like you say there are a lot of people who will see the film and then go and see the show. We hope we can bring something fresh to the roles and in my opinion – I’m completely biased – it’s the show I prefer because there’s nothing like live theatre and the way the story’s told and the revolve and set… you can get wider angles from the film but more depth and emotion from the stage production. During ‘At The End Of The Day’ you can have the cast right in your face – there’s nothing like that and people will never forget the experience. It’s unique and where it all started. Because the show is so popular there is that pressure – but it’s a good pressure. The show is still as popular now as it was when it started so you’ve got to keep giving 100% every night. 

Imagine you had to go to a desert island and could only take three musical theatre songs with you. Which three would you take?
[laughs] I think you would have to take some classics! It would be very difficult… I think for me all three of them might have to be Sondheim! I would take ‘Sunday’ (from Sunday in the Park with George), maybe something from West Side Story – probably ‘Tonight’. Finally to reminisce I would take ‘One Day More’ (from Les Miserables).

Les Mis has such incredible and dedicated support. It must be lovely having that kind of support behind you?
It really is! Les Mis has one of the best groups of fans who are so supportive. There are people who know everything about the show – they’re amazing and to know that they’re there is really great. They’re encouraging you to do what you can do every night and then they come and see you do other things like concerts and so on. To see their faces and to know they’re supporting you outside of Les Mis means a lot. I really appreciate 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 for further information and tickets. 

Les Miserables is currently booking at the Queen's Theatre until Saturday 25th April 2015. 
Please visit for further information and tickets.

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