Thursday, 25 February 2016

Big Interview: Dean John-Wilson, starring in Miss Atomic Bomb & Disney’s Aladdin

Dean John-Wilson is currently rehearsing new musical Miss Atomic Bomb before starring in the West End transfer of Disney’s Aladdin. 

Dean is creating the role of Joey Lubowitz in Miss Atomic Bomb which is written by Adam Long, Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long. 

Inspired by the bomb tests and beauty pageants of the era, the musical comedy is co-directed by Bill Deamer and Adam Long. Catherine Tate and Simon Lipkin also star in the show which is set to begin performances at the St James Theatre on 7th March 2016.

In May, Dean will originate the title role in the London premiere of Disney’s musical Aladdin at the Prince Edward Theatre, starring opposite Jade Ewen as Jasmine and Trevor Dion Nicholas as Genie. Currently running on Broadway to tremendous acclaim, Aladdin is directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw.

Dean most recently starred as Man 1 in Songs For A New World by Jason Robert Brown at the St James Theatre and as Aquino in the UK premiere of David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s musical Here Lies Love at the National Theatre.

His extensive theatre credits also include: understudy Prewitt and Maggio in From Here To Eternity (Shaftesbury), Zack in Bare (Union Theatre) and understudy Pablo and TJ in Sister Act The Musical (UK tour). Dean recently performed solo shows at the London Hippodrome (with Scott Alan) and Singers Lounge; he reached the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent in 2008.

Yesterday I dropped into rehearsals for Miss Atomic Bomb. After watching a few numbers from the show, I caught up with Dean to discuss his first impressions of Miss Atomic Bomb, West End Frame making his dreams come true and why the last few months have been a whirlwind. Dean also revealed how he reacted when he found out he had been cast in Aladdin, his Broadway ambition and next dream show…

The last time we spoke you were in rehearsals for Songs for a New World – I can’t believe how much has happened since then! Have you had a chance to take it all in?
After doing Songs for a New World, getting calls about Aladdin and Miss Atomic Bomb was crazy – I don’t know whether there will ever be a point in my career again where I’ll be able to say I’ve got two posters on the tube for shows that I’m one of the leads in. I was in New York when the Aladdin news was announced and everybody was tweeting me and Facebooking me all the posters on the tube, but when I got off my flight back I jumped straight in a cab to rehearsals and didn’t see one! I don’t even know when this jet lag is going to kick in – I haven’t felt any yet. I just don’t think this will happen again – what more could you want?! 

Both shows fit perfectly together into your schedule!
It’s funny because Miss Atomic Bomb came about pretty quickly, I just had one audition and then didn’t hear anything for a good while – I was also auditioning for Aladdin at the time. I had eleven auditions for Aladdin… as you would expect for the title role in 2016’s biggest show. They auditioned all over the world, but who’d have thought they just needed to look a bit closer to home and find a boy from Middlesbrough [laughs]. Eventually I heard back about Miss Atomic Bomb and was asked to come back in to be seen for the role of Joey. I read the script and looked at it…

Dean and the cast of Miss Atomic Bomb in rehearsals 

What were your first impressions?
The script was great and very funny. It really popped out to me and intrigued me. Truthfully I wouldn’t say I’m a stereotypical Joey – I’m in the process of trying to make it work. Can I also just say that the last time I put on a pair of tap shoes was ten years ago when I was back in Middlesbrough [laughs]… oh my god. If back then ten years ago you told me that I was going to be front line in the world premiere of a new show as one of the lead characters in a pair of tap shoes doing a full out eight minute number I would have said “get out of town… absolutely not”, but here I am doing it! 

You were hilarious just now in the numbers you performed. It must be so nice to take on a completely different challenge?
Joey is a very interesting character to play – he’s very different to other characters I’ve done. He’s got so many layers and is very intelligent. I’ve only just found his journey within the last week; he’s got some issues – he’s bright, always on the run and looks out for his brother. What I love about this show is that one minute you’re laughing and one minute you’re crying. The important thing is that it has something so many other musical haven’t – it’s got heart and a good, funny script and good plot but you also really care for the characters. 

Dean & Simon Lipkin
What have rehearsals been like over the past few weeks? With it being a new piece, I imagine things are being tweaked and changed constantly?
Absolutely! There are so many roles out there which are take-overs where you’re told exactly which spot to stand on. I’ve been very fortunate because the last three or four jobs I’ve done have been original stuff. I’m used to the idea of creating in the room and working collaboratively with the directors and writers. This has been really different because we are literally chopping and changing scenes. It’s like a series of Game of Thrones – we literally don’t know what’s going to happen… a scene we’ve learnt and have got all the beats for will get cut and then something else completely different will get put in. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it! It’s been really nice, everyone’s a close-knit bunch.

You’re working alongside the most incredible cast!
I know! Cynthia (Erivo, Dean’s partner) has worked with Simon (Lipkin) before, but I’ve never worked with him. It never crossed my mind that one day he might play my brother… but now that he is it’s perfect – the rapport we have together is brotherly. Simon also has traits my biological brother has too which is nice. He’s a genuine guy! I’ve worked with Cavin (Cornwall) before, he’s phenomenal and a very experienced actor. It’s been really nice getting to know all the other guys, everyone’s so talented!

Can we discuss the full out tap dancing?
Yes… [laughs] I’ve had fun tap dancing! It’s been annoying trying to get the steps right because everyone else is on a completely different level. Simon and I are in the same boat together and everybody else has been so supportive. I’ve had to say to people, “I’m going to be really slow at picking this up, can you help me out?” and they’ve gone over it with me. It’s like a family! It really is, and I’ll be sad when it’s over… but when one door closes… another one opens!

Well that leads us perfectly onto discussing Aladdin! During our last chat I asked you if there were any roles you had your eye on and you casually said you would love to play Aladdin… four months later it was announced that you had been cast!
When I said that to you I genuinely said it really frivolously! I just said ‘Oh yes I think Aladdin’s coming over, I would love to do that’ and we had a laugh about it. It’s crazy!

Dean and Jade Ewen

So after eleven auditions, when you had the call from your agent to say they wanted to offer you the role… what did you do? How did you react?
Oh my god… I completely lost my… I literally had eleven auditions and was living in Middlesbrough during that time so was coming back and forth, back and forth – eleven times, that ain't cheap [laughs]! I wasn’t staying in hotels, I was sleeping on peoples sofas… I mean… talk about method acting and getting into the character of a street rat living on floors and sofas [laughs]. The morning I got the call, it was before office hours at like 8.30 in the morning. I woke up, turned my phone over to check what time it was after having the most horrendous sleep on this sofa thing. When I looked at my phone CAM (who Dean is represented by) were calling me.

I don’t think he knows this, but I’m going to say it anyway and he’s probably going to read this [laughs]. Whenever I get a call from Gavin (Denton-Jones), my incredible agent, I’m always in two minds about whether to answer. I know Gavin, what he does is either answer the phone in a grand voice and say “Dean John-Wilson…” and then I’ll know I’ve probably got the job, or he’ll say “Hi Dean, I’m not going to beat around the bush…” and then I know I haven’t got the job. I like to let it ring through and then I can listen to his voicemail and try and work out whether I’ve got it. Anyway… so Gavin was calling me and seconds before it was about to go through to voicemail I answered it.

Dean in Songs for a New World
I said “Hi” and could hear a shower in the background. He said “Dean John-Wilson… I’ve just had the call”. I couldn’t read him and didn’t know what he was going to say. “They want you, it’s yours” – I literally dropped the phone and my body went cold. It was a bit like an out-of-body experience, it was like I could see myself watching myself. I went white as a sheet and had my head in my hands whilst the phone was on the floor lit up… tears were falling out of my eyes and onto the floor. I just lost all concept of time and water was going into the speaker of the phone – I couldn’t think properly.

I finally said, “Gavin I’m going to have to call you back” and then I couldn’t tap the phone properly because of all the water. Eventually I stood up in the middle of the apartment – I was alone – and I was like “thank you”. I don’t even know who I was saying thank you to! It just felt like a dream I had achieved. It has been my lifelong ambition to do something in my own right and be remembered for it. It’s a huge, title role!

Exactly, the show will run and run in London and people will always say “Dean John-Wilson was the original West End Aladdin”.
And I’ve never originated a role in the West End like that before. Aladdin is going to be 2016’s hottest ticket. We just had the press launch and it feels like we’re doing a blockbuster Hollywood film – the cast are massive and the production team are huge. We’ve been treated like, pardon the pun, royalty! I’m very lucky.

Did you enjoy spending some time in New York recently? I’m going next month, what do I need to see on Broadway?
Oh my god it was insane, I saw loads of theatre! You need to see Hamilton! You know we had the conversation about Aladdin last time and then it happened? Well this time I want to say something else which will be hilarious if we look back on this and it has happened! You need to see Hamilton… I want to do that show. I really want to do that show.

Well West End Frame clearly makes dreams come true..!
I would really love to do that show, there’s a role in it I really want to play. The show as a whole is beautiful, perfect, witty, intelligent and clever – you have to see it!

Dean and the cast of Miss Atomic Bomb in rehearsals 

Luckily I’ve got my ticket!
It’s amazing, it was the second show I saw. The first one was Allegiance because I’m good friends with Lea Salonga. I had dinner with Lea and saw the show; she was amazing in it. It’s sad that it has closed! What else did I see? Oh my gosh I saw Hand To God which has opened over here now. Spring Awakening was also great.

One day would you like to cross the pond and do something on Broadway?
Absolutely… that’s the next step. Fingers crossed I would love to go across the pond with Aladdin, that would be the dream. We could go to Broadway with Miss Atomic Bomb! I would really like to go over and do Aladdin. We’ll see..!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Miss Atomic Bomb opens at the St James Theatre on 14th March (previews from 7th March) and runs until 9th April 2016. Please visit for further information and tickets. Disney's Aladdin opens at the Prince Edward Theatre on 15th June 2016 (previews from 27th May). Visit for tickets.

Photo Credit 1&4: Helen Maybanks
Photo Credit 2,3&6: Bronwen Sharp
Photo Credit 5: Darren Bell

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