Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Big Interview: Matthew Seadon-Young, starring as Bobby Strong in Urinetown

Matthew Seadon-Young is currently starring as Bobby Strong in the West End transfer of Urinetown. He previously understudied the role during Urinetown’s run at the St James Theatre.

Directed by Jamie Lloyd, Urinetown looks into how the world would cope if we lost the privilege to pee. The satirical musical comedy ran on Broadway to great acclaim between 2001 until 2004, receiving ten Tony Award nominations. It won for Best Book, Best Score and Best Direction.

Matthew’s theatre credits include: The Architects (Shunt) and Les Miserables (Queens Theatre). He previously worked with Jamie Lloyd on School For Scandal (Theatre Royal Bath) and She Stoops To Conquer (National).

His screen credits include Matthew Warchus’ Pride as well as the film adaptation of Les Misérables directed by Tom Hooper. Matthew also sang at the 85th Academy Awards (Oscars – 2013) and The 25th Anniversary Concert for Les Miserables at the O2 Arena.

I recently spoke to Matthew about playing such an almighty role, bringing the house down night after night with the show stopping number ‘Run Freedom Run’, Urinetown’s cult following and a certain voicemail Jamie Lloyd left on his phone… 

How did you find out that you would be taking over as Bobby?
It was actually via voicemail. Jamie Lloyd, the director, had left me a voicemail. I woke up to a missed call and I thought, ‘oh, what’s this about then?’ because it’s not every day you get a call from the director! Obviously I had missed the call and he had left me a voicemail, but instead of listening to the voicemail – like any normal person would – I just tried ringing him back. I just thought it would be one of those short voicemails like “just give me a call back” or something like that, so I didn’t listen to it for about half an hour!

I love this story! What happened next?
Well Jamie wasn’t picking up his phone so I thought, ‘you know what, I’ll just listen to the voicemail’. It turned out he had left me a good ten/fifteen minute voicemail saying he would like me to take the role of Bobby. 

How did you react?!
I think it was about ten o’clock in the morning. I remember going into my housemate’s room and scaring the absolute bejesus out of them [laughs]. I just went in and started shouting “guess what, guess what”. Poor Mel, my housemate’s girlfriend, leapt out of bed and ran across the room to get as far away from me as possible. I think she must have thought I was some sort of murderer or something. It took her a good ten seconds for it to sink in and for her to realise that she wasn’t about to be killed. So yeah… that was an amazing morning!

Bobby is such an incredible role. You must be able to have fun playing him every night? 
Oh my god, it’s amazing! I was talking about this with one of the producers the other day and I think we both agreed that Bobby is possibly one of the best roles in musical theatre. You get a bit of everything with Bobby. There are some great moments of comedy, but by the end of the show it has completely turned on its head. It’s devastating really! Obviously I don’t want to give anything away, but you can really get your teeth stuck in. It’s a meaty role! One of the best things is being able to go on and sing the music. It’s just… it’s just amazing!

Is it as tiring as it looks?
I come off every night completely exhausted. At the start of the next show you really have to focus, but once you’re off you can’t be like ‘I’ll take it easy today’ because it’s one of those journeys that once you’re on it, you get so into it. Bobby is a lot of fun to play… but is also mentally and physically exhausting! 

So do you try and rest as much as possible during the days?
Yes, some days I literally do nothing… sod all - just watch films all day [laughs]. 

Each time I’ve seen the show the audiences have been wild and ‘Run Freedom Run’ has brought the house down. How are you finding the different audiences? Receiving that kind of response must be quite something!
I’ll tell you what, ‘Run Freedom Run’ is probably one of the best moments for me in the show. I love going on and doing it, but I kind of feel guilty because the ensemble – this kind of pocket rocket ensemble we’ve got – are absolutely amazing and before ‘Run Freedom Run’ they’ve been on from the top of the second act. They’ve done two numbers already, and these two numbers are amazing! It’s almost like ‘Run Freedom Run’ comes at the end of this sort of act two opening and it is almost like the release for the audience. I feel like I go out fifteen minutes into the second act and take all the glory [laughs]. Really the ensemble help me earn it as well. 

What was it like doing it for the first time?
I remember going out and doing it for the first time at the St James and I thought, ‘What the hell is going on?!’ It’s also a bit weird being at the front at the end of the song when the audience are applauding because I’m never quite sure what people are doing behind me. It goes on for so long and I start to wonder ‘have they put their arms down yet?’ and ‘do I put my arms down now?’ I can never really tell!

What do you say when people ask you what Urinetown is about?
This is the question – what is Urinetown? Because you want to leave some mystery surrounding the show it’s a dangerous question! I think it’s best to go and see the show not knowing much about it, that is how it makes its impact. It’s hard to tell people without giving anything away while still making it sound convincing enough to make them want to come and see it. I like to sort of say that it’s not what you expect as well as the obvious things like: it’s hilarious, the music is amazing, the cast are out of this world and visually it is stunning. It is escapism! For two and a half hours you can lose yourself in something completely wacky. 

I just remember coming out completely buzzing and wanting to see it again so I could take everything in!
We get a lot of people coming back. There were some people who saw it at the St James about ten times or something. I think it has something cult-ish about it, I think that is what this show is going to do – it is definitely going to have a cult following. It’s those sort of punters who keep the West End alive!

You’ve been directed by Jamie a few times before, what is he like to work with?
The first time I worked with Jamie was on She Stoops To Conquer. I’ll tell you what he’s like, you walk in and he’s the director – but he’s never like ‘I’m the director’. It’s not a normal director/actor relationship, he’s just like a guide in the room – he’s a pal, a friend. He always has a great relationship with his actors. No one feels intimidated by him or worries about what he’s thinking. He is one of these people you always feel really comfortable around, and that’s what brings out the best in actors. He’s just… dead nice [laughs]! There’s no other way of saying it! He’s very giving of his own energy; he never just sits there with a script and expects you to do all the work. It’s always amazing to hear him giving his descriptions and ideas… I can’t explain it! He matches his actors’ energy so it feels like you’re bouncing off him. I think it was Jenna Russell who had a great way of putting it. She said Jamie gives you a box full of toys, he lets you play with all those toys and day by day he takes some of those toys out, leaving you with this final toy. It’s a bit of a weird metaphor but I think it works [laughs]! 

What is the atmosphere like backstage at the Apollo? What’s the vibe like amongst the cast?
Oh it’s great! Obviously everyone is incredibly excited to be at the Apollo. Ninety percent of the cast are the same for the West End transfer so it was like throwing a bunch of old friends in a room together. It’s just like as it was. I mean the space is different, but it feels the same. We were such a tight unit at the St James and we still are. There are only four new cast members and they’ve fitted right in! They’re all very nice. It’s weird, it’s like nothing has changed! It feels right and it feels easy, we’ve all come back together and have gotten on with it. Although obviously there’s the added excitement of being on Shaftesbury Avenue! 

And it must be nice to have a bit more space! I believe life backstage at the St James can be slightly cramped!
Yes, definitely. I think people are getting used to the fact that they have to go down a lot of stairs sometimes. At the St James when we got our beginners call we only had to walk about five yards and we were on stage. I think people are getting used to all the extra space rather quickly [laughs]. 

Totally irrelevant to Urinetown, but imagine you had to go to a desert island and could only take three musical theatre songs with you. Which three would you take and why? 
Three musical theatre songs… ok. One would be 'Marry Me a Little' by Stephen Sondheim just because… I love it [laughs]. Sondheim is definitely up there as my favourite musical theatre writer. I just love that song! God! Second one… what would it be? [laughs] My housemate just shouted ‘Go the Distance’ from Hercules! That’s not mine… actually I would have to take that because it would remind me of my housemate, I would miss him a lot [laughs]. My third one would be an overture, the one from Carousel. It’s amazing! It’s old-school, but I love it.

You have so much support behind you and the show – everybody was rooting for the transfer and there was a lovely response when it was announced that you would be taking over. It must be nice having that behind you?
Yes, like I mentioned earlier I think Urinetown is going to be very important because I definitely think it is going to turn into one of those cult musicals. It’s those returning punters who keep shows alive and it’s always lovely to have support at the stage door and things like that. Especially early on, it was definitely felt around the theatre which made us feel very welcome in the West End! We’re looking forward to meeting some new supporters as well as the old supporters. I think Urinetown does something to people – it connects in more than one way. It touches people in a funny way; it touches their curiosity about the ecological disasters going on around the world. I tell people “you go in not knowing what to expect but trust me, you’ll come out having really enjoyed it and I’ll be surprised if you hate it!”

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Urinetown is currently booking at the Apollo Theatre until Saturday 24th January 2015.
Please visit www.urinetown.co.uk for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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