Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Big Interview: Robert Colvin

Next month Robert Colvin is taking part in the Showtime Challenge 48-Hour Musicals, starring as Jimmy in Thoroughly Modern Millie with just two days to rehearse! 

The one-night-only performance is in aid of mental health charity MIND. Starring alongside Robert are Anna-Jane Casey, Amy Perry and Suanne Braun, as well as host Warwick Davis. Over 100 performers are taking part in total.

Most recently Robert starred as Warner in the London fringe premiere of Legally Blonde at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, having previously played Simeon in the UK tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

I recently spoke to Robert about how he’s feeling about performing a show with 48 hours to rehearse, the perks of being baked a technicolour cake on a three show day in Joseph and his late start in musical theatre, plus much more…

Showtime Challenge 48-Hour Musicals sounds crazy… talk me through the concept!
So I got given the script six weeks in advance and I can learn my part and listen to recordings but I’m not allowed to rehearse with anyone until 48 hours before the show on Sunday 20th March. On Friday 18th March myself and loads of other absolutely petrified actors will turn up and start rehearsing. It’s probably easier for me because I just have to learn the blocking, but everyone in the ensemble has to learn all of those dances… it’s insane [laughs]!

How is that possible?!
I don’t know! Well we’ve got Ashley Nottingham choreographing it and he’s amazing. He taught me at college so I know he’s going to do the most incredible job. For some people it’s going to be the most stressful 48 hours of their lives!

How did you come to be involved?
I was auditioning for something else and the MD Leigh Thompson was playing. Then I was working on a musical recording and Leigh was there again. We had a chat and he asked me about my background. I didn’t think anything of it, but then a few weeks later an audition came through for Showtime Challenge 48-Hour Musicals..!

Did you know anything about it?
Nothing – but it sounded great! It said I had been highly recommended, but I thought ‘I don’t know anyone, who would recommend me?’ [laughs], and then I realised it was Leigh. The audition went really well and I got the job… then I was like ‘oh god what are we all letting ourselves in for?’ [laughs].

Did you know Thoroughly Modern Millie at all?
Not really, I knew a few of the songs. When I was auditioning I watched the film with Julie Andrews and thought it was so good. To get to do it at the Adelphi is going to be so, so cool. 

And you’ve got an amazing cast! 
I know! Funnily enough Suzie Aries, who I just did Legally Blonde with, is also doing it. Other than that I literally know nobody so I’m really excited to meet all these new people. When I found out Anna Jane Casey was doing it I couldn’t believe it – the pressure is on! I’m really excited to get going.

What can people who know nothing about the show expect?
It’s all singing and all dancing, so full on. It’s a proper triple threat show. I love the 1920s – that period to me is the best, my favourite book is The Great Gatsby – I love F. Scott Fitzgerald. To do something from that period is amazing. My role, Jimmy, is great – his songs are amazing. There’s a YouTube clip of Gavin Creel in the show, and as soon as I watched it I went “Oh my god I really want to do this”! I love Gavin Creel… anything that he’s done I’m like ‘fantastic I have to do that’. 

You’ve just finished Legally Blonde. Warner is a dream role for a lot of guys now, how did you find getting to play him?
I didn’t actually know the musical that well. I watched the MTV recording which is ridiculous, as soon as it got to ‘Serious’ I knew I really wanted to play the role. The whole show is so clever! I was gutted that I had never seen the show before. The writing is so clever – I think it works better as a musical than as a film. All the work is done for you – you just say the words and it’s funny because the material is so good. I don’t think you could do a bad production of Legally Blonde.

Did you all have as much fun as it looked like you were having?
Yes, I had such a great time. Warner was a fun role – he got more arrogant and cocky as the run went on. Katie and John (Plews, producer & director) made the best atmosphere to work in. It’s such a small theatre so everybody really felt like part of the team.

Performing at the Gatehouse couldn’t be any more different to doing Joseph around the UK!
In Joseph we played the Edinburgh Playhouse which seats 3,000 and is the biggest theatre in the UK. On the Saturday night it was sold out, that was one of the best moments of the tour. It’s such a classic and people love it, there are lots of fans who have seen the show about fifty times and baked us amazing technicolour cakes. It’s a tough show to do with twelve performances a week; so when someone gave us a cake on a three show Saturday it was amazing!

What’s the secret to surviving a three show Saturday?
The hardest one is the second show. The first one is easy because you’re full of energy, but during the second one you know you’ve still got a third one to do. The third one is great – you want to smash it because it’s the last performance of the week and in that venue. Joseph was so much fun, it was tough but I learnt so much.

How did you find the intimacy of the Gatehouse? It’s an amazing space!
The thing I struggled with most at the Gatehouse was catching people’s eye.

Did you ever have any family and friends sit on the front row?

And how did you find it?
Horrible [laughs]. My mum sat on the front row when she came to see Joseph but that was ok because you can have a bit of fun – when it came to the mega mix at the end my mum was loving it and up standing when nobody else was… she’s a bit like that [laughs]. My mum is amazing and my number one fan! In Joseph it was fine, but when she was in the front row for Legally Blonde straight away I clocked where she was and worked out where not to look for the rest of the show. We could still have fun with the audience because it’s a fun show. I loved it! You get such instant gratification from the audience when they’re that close.

Ok so I’m sending you to a desert island and you can only take three musical theatre songs with you. What are you going to take and why?
I’m only going to take one!

Am I allowed to do that?

Absolutely not - usually everybody wants to take more than three! What would your one choice be?
‘Maria’ from West Side Story… that’s all I need. It reminds me of my mum and my Nan. I started musical theatre really late; I wanted to be a straight actor because I loved doing plays at school. I remember watching West Side Story with my mum and Nan when I was about fifteen. I had sung a bit in a band and done school plays but had never danced. I saw West Side Story and thought ‘oh my god this is amazing’ – all these proper men dancing was out of this world. I went to an all-boys school so my perception of dance was very different. 

So what happened after you saw West Side Story?
I joined my little sister’s ballet class at sixteen… I was about 6”1 and my sister is four years younger than me so that was… horrible. 

Isn’t it really hard to pick it up at that age?
It was tough and I was shocking for so long, but I worked hard because I knew it was what I wanted to do… and I loved it! I used to watch Gene Kelly films with my mum and Nan as well, seeing guys like that really dancing but making it look so easy was amazing. At the time it was so far away from what I was, but I wanted it so much… and then I got a scholarship to Bodywork! It was amazing. So I would take ‘Maria’ from West Side Story because it changed the course of what I wanted to do… does that sound cringy [laughs]?

What would your two others be?
I would take anything sung by Ramin Karimloo, I’ll go for ‘Til I Hear You Sing’ from Love Never Dies which I sang at my Bodywork third year showcase. Ramin’s out of this world and I’m inspired by him in every sense – even by his fitness. I feel like today as a male performer, unless you want to play character roles, you have to be a model as well as an actor, dancer and singer. Seeing him including fitness as part of his technique and method is great. Obviously his voice is out of this world! I really looked up to him when I was at college. 

Finally I’ve got to go for something that will uplift me, so I’m going to take Jodie Jacobs singing ‘Ireland’… that girl… I used to see her in the wings and just say “you’re amazing”. Those are my three!

Looking ahead, are there any roles you would love to have the chance to play?
I would love to play Fiyero in Wicked – it’s such an amazing part. I would love to do something like Enjolras in Les Mis, I think that’s an incredible part. When I was in college I spent all of my third year learning Les Mis-type ballads but then got out there and realised I needed to learn some pop songs too.

There is so much support in the theatre world, what has it been like over the past year to have that behind you?
It’s a bit mental to be honest! I’m just a guy from Hertfordshire who’s a bit of an idiot… it’s so funny when people come up to me after a show and say “we loved it” because I just think, ‘Why are you talking to me, I’m nobody!’ But it’s lovely and I love talking to people – it’s funny because I’ve been the other person so many times. I think in my head I still think I’m just in a school play [laughs], it hasn’t started feeling like a job… and I hope it never does.

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

The Showtime Challenge 48-Hour Musicals production of Thoroughly Modern Millie takes place at the Adelphi Theatre on 20th March 2016. Please visit www, for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 1&7: MUG Photography
Photo Credit 4-6: Darren Bell

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