Samuel Edwards is starring as Sonny in the UK premiere of roller skating Broadway musical Xanadu.
Following two weeks of previews, Xanadu officially opens tonight (2nd November) at the Southwark Playhouse where it runs until 21st November 2015.
Based on the 1980s cult film, Xanadu originally opened on Broadway in 2007 where it ran for over 500 performances and was nominated for four Tony Awards. The score features the movie's chart topping songs including 'Magic', 'Suddenly', 'I’m Alive', 'Evil Woman', 'All Over the World' and 'Xanadu'.
Sam recently starred as Fiyero in the UK and Ireland tour of Wicked, having previously understudied the role in the West End production at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. His credits also include: understudy Sam Wheat in Ghost The Musical (Piccadilly), Feuilly in Les Misérables (Queen's) and The Sound of Music (Regent’s Park Open Air).
I recently spoke to Sam about embracing the cheesiness of Xanadu, what people can expect from the show and how he has found the roller skating. We also discussed his year as Fiyero, why Ghost was such a special show for him and what he got up to in a previous life…
How much did you know about Xanadu before this production came up?
If I’m honest with you I had never heard of the film! Someone mentioned the show to me back in February this year so it was on my radar. I remember typing it into YouTube and watching their performance at the Tonys and thinking, ‘This looks awesome’! I had never really heard any of the songs before – they’re 80s hits apparently [laughs] from before my time. It wasn’t until the auditions came around that I thought I should probably buy the DVD. I got about half an hour into the film… and just couldn’t take it anymore! I know it’s a cult film and everything, but I thought it was diabolical! It is awful [laughs]! But the show is very different and did so well on Broadway.
It’s so different to all the other shows you’ve done! Are you embracing the cheesiness?
Definitely! It is completely different to everything else I’ve done. It’s so nice to be doing something upbeat and funny rather than coming home from something like Les Mis every night and feeling depressed because everybody died. In Xanadu everyone lives which is nice! It’s so much fun to do comedy, but it’s also a scary thing because in the rehearsal room you haven’t got anyone there to laugh. We spent three weeks in rehearsals going, ‘Oh god, am I funny?! Are people going to laugh?!’ When that first audience came in and laughed I think we all breathed a sigh of relief. I still find the show hilarious – I think it’s so well written!
What can people who know nothing about the film or musical expect?
I think if someone knows nothing about Xanadu it might take them a scene or two to understand what they’re in for [laughs]. It is very, very camp. It starts with a scene with just me onstage and I talk to the audience, I think it is always strange for any audience when the fourth wall is broken. However, if you sit back and go with it and take it for what it is you will be taken on an absolutely brilliant ride. The songs are catchy – you will leave singing them all night – and, as I already said, the script by Douglas Carter Beane is brilliant. He’s been over here with us in rehearsals so it has been slightly reworked which has kept things fresh. It’s just so much fun! There are no morals or anything like that to take away from it, it’s just a great night! Plus we’re on roller skates for half the time!
I had never roller skated before, but many years ago back in a past life I had ice skated which is ‘kind of’ similar. Obviously if you’re ice skating you have a blade whereas when you’re roller skating you have four wheels… so there are some similarities but it’s very, very different. It took quite a while. Myself and Carly (Anderson) who is playing Kira had some lessons before we started rehearsals. I’m lucky because I’m not on roller skates the entire time whereas Carly pretty much is. I fell over last Saturday night coming on for my bow [laughs], these things happen! I was getting a bit cocky and was trying some spins… [laughs]. With a show like this people love that kind of thing!
With the intimacy of the Southwark Playhouse you could land on somebody’s lap - the front row are practically on the stage!
[laughs] It’s weird because I’ve never done something in a small space like this before. I’m not usually a great fan of being able to see the audience; however, at the Southwark Playhouse you can literally see everyone who is sat there. At the same time it’s actually quite nice. I shouldn’t say this really, but you rely on the audience’s laughter and the smiles on their faces. The success of a show like this depends on whether the audience are happy and having a good time, so the fact that we can literally see everyone having an amazing time is encouraging.
What have the cast been like to work with? It’s a small company!
Everyone is so much fun, they’re great. We’re all in a dressing room together so we’re all pretty cosy [laughs]. It’s amazing to be working with people like Alison (Jiear) who is wonderful – she could sing the phonebook and it would sound incredible! It’s nice to be in such a small cast. When there are only nine of you everyone becomes quite close, we’re a team and we all want the show to be the best it can be. We would all love for it to have a life after this run, so we’re just working as hard as we possibly can.
You recently completed your run as Fiyero in Wicked’s UK & Ireland Tour. What was it like to play the role full time on the road after understudying it in the West End for a year? You played some incredible venues – the Edinburgh Playhouse is huge!
After a year of covering I knew the role because I’d played it a fair bit in London, so it was amazing to finally take over. Fiyero is one of those roles I had wanted to play since I started drama school. It was such an honour to take it around the UK. As you said, some of the theatres were amazing – especially the Edinburgh Playhouse where we were over Christmas. It holds something crazy like over 3,000 people! Audiences seem to go crazier for shows around the country than they do in London. I remember coming down for my bow in the Edinburgh Playhouse and feeling like a rock star at Wembley Stadium! Touring can be difficult because you’re always packing everything up and living out of a suitcase, so it was nice to be in a big tour because we got to settle down in each city for a month or sometimes two months. We had more of an opportunity to feel at home. It was great to make the role mine, it was a really exciting year.
The other show I wanted to mention was Ghost which marked your West End debut. What’s it like to look back at that experience? You understudied and played Sam many times, it’s such an incredible role!
I’ll be honest… it was completely terrifying!! I was just out of college, actually I left college early to join the cast. I was fresh out of college and the youngest person in the cast so had a lot to prove. Ghost is a show I really hold close to my heart because it’s so incredible. Sam is such a gift of a role and I was lucky enough to get to play the part a hell of a lot over the year and a half that I was there. If Ghost ever comes back to London I would love to go back and play that role again. Paul Warwick Griffin who has directed Xanadu was my resident director on Ghost. Having worked with him four or five years ago I knew I could trust him with this project.
I have a stagey question for you…
[laughs] …I’m not very stagey but you can try me!
I’m sending you to a desert island and you can take three musical theatre songs with you. What are you going to take and why?
Three musical theatre songs? Hang on… I need a sec… I would take ‘Goodbye’ from Catch Me If You Can which is one of my absolute favourite shows. To be honest I’m taking that song because I love singing it [laughs]. Ok, I’ll be really stagey for my second one – it’s from Ghost. I’m going to take ‘I Had a Life’, it’s such an epic conclusion to the end of the first half. When you’ve got Sam, Carl and Molly all singing together it is incredible. Whenever I hear that song it brings back memories because, like I said before, Ghost was my first job and I was so excited to be involved in it. Have you seen Big Fish?
Well my third one would be ‘Time Stops’ from Big Fish. It’s really good, you should look it up! It does exactly what it says in the title; the song is about stopping and looking at what’s around you there and then in that moment. We whizz around every day – I do this too – and don’t get the chance to stop and think, ‘Wow’. In London we’re all constantly on the move!
I’ll be honest, that was a hard question for me! I’m not very good at things like that [laughs]!
Last question – there’s so much support in the theatre world from people who will support you in everything you do. What is it like to have that support behind you?
It’s really nice and so lovely to see people coming back again and again and again. The same faces from when I first started in Ghost who used to support me when I went on as Sam still support me now – some of them travelled across the country when I was in Wicked. I’ve already seen some familiar faces at Xanadu and I had a letter through the other day too. I’m so grateful that these people come back and support because it makes me think that I must be doing something right if they’re sticking with me throughout all these years!
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Xanadu runs at the Southwark Playhouse until Saturday 21st November 2015.
Please visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit: Ruth Crafer
Photo Credit: Matt Crockett
Photo Credit: Matt Crockett