Exclusive interview and images – Michael Xavier is ready for his close-up on Broadway

Pictures: Roy Tan

Two-time Olivier Award nominee MICHAEL XAVIER has been enjoying his Broadway debut, playing the character of Joe Gillis opposite Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard at the Palace Theatre, New York for a limited season (the production closes this weekend). He previously took on the role at the London Coliseum in April 2016.

Next he joins the cast of the Broadway premiere of Prince of Broadway, a musical celebration that highlights the legendary, six-decade career of director and producer Harold Prince.

His other theatre credits include Gaylord Ravenal in Show Boat at the Sheffield Crucible, Suffolk/George of Clarence in Trevor Nunn’s production of The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Theatre, Emmanuel Schikaneder in Emmanuel and Eleonore (workshop) directed by Trevor Nunn and composed by Stephen Schwartz, John Wilkes Booth in Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Sid Sorokin in The Pajama Game at the Shaftesbury Theatre, Captain Von Trapp in the The Sound of Music at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Cornelius Hakl in Hello, Dolly! at Leicester Curve, Oliver in Love Story at the Duchess Theatre, Wolf/Cinderella’s Prince in Into the Woods at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Curly in Oklahoma! at the Chichester Festival Theatre, Sir Galahad in Spamalot at the Palace Theatre, Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Bob Baker in Wonderful Town for the Royal Exchange Theatre, James Prince in Soho CindersSky in Mamma Mia! and Freddy in My Fair Lady.  Xavier has also hosted the UK Theatre Awards, West End Live and the Olivier Awards at the Piazza.

His conversation with Musical Theatre Review’s Michael Darvell is accompanied by exclusive images taken in New York by our official photographer Roy Tan.

You are just coming to the end of your run playing Joe Gillis opposite Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard on Broadway. What has that experience been like?

Working with Glenn has been an absolute dream!! She is so kind, considerate, fun, and not at all a diva in any way. She allows me to explore Joe every night and never berates me for taking chances or making new choices.

It’s so refreshing to work with someone that skilled and secure enough to ‘play’ every night. I’m so delighted – I’ve not only had the chance to work with and learn from Glenn throughout this process, but we have also become such great friends too.

What has it been like performing on Broadway?

Coming over to Broadway with the show has been an incredible experience. There’s something electric about being on Broadway in a hit show and the fans of musical theatre here are so enthusiastic. There is plenty of stage door screaming every night!

New York City is a place like nowhere else I’ve been and the atmosphere and excitement in the air is tangible. It’s been a joy being invited over to the home of musical theatre.

Along with Sunset Boulevard, you have also appeared in The Phantom of the Opera. Do you respond well to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s grandly melodramatic scores? 

Yes, Andrew is wonderful at writing melodrama and that translates well into great musical theatre. His scores are phenomenal and working on them has been so much fun.

Before you trained professionally, were you involved in any acting or singing groups at school or local dramatic societies or choirs? 

Yes I was part of an amateur dramatic group in Cheshire called Scamps. I owe a lot to them, my friend Wil Mainwaring and my drama teacher Helen Mayne for getting me involved.

Where did your interest in musical theatre originate?

I always sang as a young boy but I wasn’t into performing at all (I played lots of sports) until I joined Knutsford High School and they were putting on a production of Grease. At the time I had bronchitis and couldn’t play football so my friend Wil said I should audition for it. I auditioned, did the show and realised acting was definitely what I wanted to do. I never looked back!

How could you tell you had a talent for acting and singing? Was it something that you always did from an early age? 

Yes. I always sang in choirs at primary school. I suppose I was born with the ability as I never had any training.

Your first professional casting after leaving Manchester Metropolitan University [studying acting] was in Pageant, a very entertaining show about a US drag contest in which you played Miss Great Plains. It was a real hoot but were you at all fazed by this being your first job? 

No, not at all. I was so fortunate to be cast by the writer and director Bill Russell (we’ve remained great friends to this day) and I’m forever grateful to Bill for taking a chance on me as a ‘non-musical theatre boy’ of just 21 years old. I loved doing the show and everything about it. I always say you can’t call yourself an actor until you’ve played the opposite sex!

Since then you have appeared in most of the classic musicals of the 20th century, from Show Boat, Oklahoma!, Wonderful Town and The Pajama Game, to My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Hello, Dolly! and The Phantom of the Opera. Do you enjoy doing the classic shows or do you prefer to get into something new and untried that you can create yourself? 

I love doing revivals of the classic musicals but there’s nothing greater than creating a role and shaping something new.

Spamalot, Love Story, Soho Cinders, The Secret Garden and Mamma Mia! are more recent additions to the musical theatre genre. Do you think they compare favourably to the classics by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerome Kern or Bernstein, for instance? 

They are so different that it’s hard to compare. Rodgers and Hammerstein were the ‘Kings of Musical Theatre’ in that era and that wrote so many brilliant shows and songs. I’m a big fan of the artform taking new directions and the genre being as broad as it can go. Let’s keep writing new shows and inventing different ways to tell story through song.

Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods in Regent’s Park and Assassins at the Menier must surely be two great highlights of your career. Were they particularly difficult to stage, as they were not played in conventional houses? 

Well, Into the Woods was tricky as it had scaffolding made of three tiers with13 different entrances and exits so that was very difficult to rehearse, but Tim Sheader and Liam Steele’s staging was terrific.

Assassins wasn’t much simpler as we were in amongst the audience for the entire show, so the movement on and ‘offstage’ was very specific. I had five days rehearsal on the set. It was terrifying. Plus, Stephen Sondheim songs are the hardest to learn full stop!

Michael Xavier and Joanna Riding in The Pajama Game. Pictures: Roy Tan

You have been nominated for Olivier Awards for Into the Woods and Love Story, and you won a BroadwayWorld Award for Sunset Boulevard. Do awards such as these confirm that you have been successful in your own estimations? 

I used to think so, but now I don’t know. It’s lovely to be recognised by the industry, but you can’’t gauge your success on awards. I just want people to see my work and like what I do. If I can move them or help them to think differently then I’m content. For me, success in this industry is continuing to work and playing characters that you find interesting.

Radio has played a part in your career, but do you find that it is more difficult to put a number across when you are not dressed for the part? 

Ha! Well, it depends on the number, but yes, I prefer to be in costume and in the context of the show to deliver a song.

You are the principal of Musical Theatre Masterclass that offers training for musical theatre students to gain places in professional training colleges. Are you involved in any of the teaching or is your position just a supervisory one? 

Yes I love to teach and have done for many years now. I love the opportunity to help young performers, using the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years. I’ve been unable to teach since I came out to the USA, but I’m looking forward to getting back to my brilliant students to work with them again! I have so much pride for them and love seeing them going on to professional work or to get full-time training at the big colleges.

My sister Anna runs MTM with me and I have an incredible team of teachers running the masterclasses each week (Viv Storry – acting, Ross Sharkey – singing, Dena Lague, Lucinda Lawrence and Lucas James – dance).

Michael Xavier in Into the Woods

We also have guest teachers each term. These have included Ramin Karimloo, Kerry Ellis, Louise Dearman, Rebecca Trehearn, Matt Henry, Katie Brayben, Gina Beck and many more. If there are any budding performers reading this go to mtmasterclass.com and sign up for an audition to join. You can see our students performing at West End Live in Trafalgar Square on Sunday 25 June.

What do you think generally of young people currently aiming for places at training colleges? Do they have voices good enough to sustain a whole musical show?

Yes! I have many students at Musical Theatre Masterclass who are phenomenal singers and could sustain 16 shows a week (I hear producers sitting up in their chairs). We have a brilliant vocal coach in Ross Sharkey who is giving them the best training out there

You have acted in some non-musical productions such as The Wars of the Roses. Would you like to do more roles that don’t involve music or would you miss the music too much? 

I’d love to do it all. I’m greedy… I wouldn’t say no to playing the next Bond!

After playing Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard on Broadway, what is next in line for Michael Xavier?

I’m going to be starring in Hal Prince’s Broadway show Prince of Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club. It’s directed by Hal himself, choreographed by Susan Stroman, with musical arrangements and additional songs by Jason Robert Brown. It’s going to be a lot of fun! Come and see it!

Readers may also be interested in:

Sunset Boulevard – Palace Theatre, New York – Review

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