JON ROBYNS is perhaps best known as Princeton/Rod from the original West End cast of Avenue Q, but his career to date boasts a varied and prolific journey through the West End and beyond, and is by no means slowing down.
Musical Theatre Review’s Aura Simon caught up with him at the Curve Leicester, where he’s playing leading man Emmett, in Legally Blonde.
I’ve just seen you guys flash mob Legally Blonde over at Highcross shopping centre in Leicester this afternoon, how was that?
It was great fun. We got members of the public to ‘Bend and Snap’ which was wonderful and entertaining. Leicester is really supportive of the Curve as a theatre I think, and the Curve is very good at getting the public involved too, so it’s a nice atmosphere to be around.
Was that your first flash mob or is that a stupid question?
It’s not my first! A few years back there was a T-Mobile ad at Heathrow where we did all this a cappella singing, so that was kind of an organised flash mob.
I think I remember that one!
That was 14 hours at Heathrow singing in the public’s faces, they really appreciated that…
The last thing you did was play Caractacus Potts in chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the West Yorkshire Playhouse. How does it feel coming back into the 21st century? This is quite a different style.
Yeah, I mean you couldn’t really get two more different shows in terms of style and presentation, and two different kind of guys. But that’s the beauty of my job, the variety I get to enjoy.
Has the run been going well so far?
It’s fantastic, I just love working here. The company has been brilliant, the whole building feels vibrant and really like you’re part of something that’s going places. I feel really lucky to be part of this theatre at this time. This is Nikolai Foster’s first big musical that they’ve made at the Curve. That little stamp that they put on the press, it’s really true, everything is made here – the props, the set, all the orchestrations they’ve created. We’ve done all the recordings that need to be done for the show in-house, we’ve rehearsed it here, we’ve choreographed it here. Everything is here! So, when they say ‘Made at Curve’, they really mean it. So it’s been really nice to be part of that artistic, theatrical experience.
Not a lot of people realise it’s quite a huge venue, when you look at it from the front you don’t necessarily grasp the size of it.
Oh no, I was lost for a good day and a half.
What’s it like working with Lucie Jones as your co-lead?
Oh, she’s just fantastic, I mean she’s absolutely perfect for this, she’s such an intelligent actress. Everyone knows about her voice – you feel terrible dismissing such an incredible voice as a given, but it really is a spectacular voice. She’s such a wonderful company leader too, because of course there’s more to playing leads than just saying the right lines and standing in the right places, it’s about really being sure the whole company comes with you. And she’s just perfect for that, she’s absolutely made for it. Falling in love with her is the easiest thing in the world, so that makes my job easier!
What’s your favourite thing about playing Emmett? Is there any part of the show you literally can’t wait for every night?
I know it’s a crappy answer, but I just love doing all of it. I feel like I understand him very well. So I really just love being out there, it’s such a vibrant, fun show. Our entire show – walls, ceiling, into the auditorium – is pink. It’s very difficult to feel downbeat when you’re surrounded by that much pink!
Do you share similarities with him? Do you think in another life you could have passed the bar?
I don’t know about passing the bar! He’s a lot more driven than I am. I’m more Netflix than legal studies, but I think in terms of personality, yeah, we are quite similar, which definitely helps.
Now, we’ve been told there are live dogs onstage for this one, are you a dog person?
I’m more of a cat person, I never owned dogs as a kid, but the dogs in this are gorgeous. Walter – one of the dogs that plays Rufus – wasn’t supposed to, it was a true kind of ‘rags to riches’ understudy theatrical dream. So he was in the rehearsal room standing in for the dog that should have been there, got given the part and ended up doing press night!
This could totally be a musical in itself. I’d go and see it.
We’re working on it now, I think we’re going to workshop it while we’re here.
I’ve read the production’s due to tour to Korea. Will you be heading over as well?
I will be, yes. I’ve never been to South Korea, so it’s the culture shock I’m looking forward to. And from what I’ve been told, the musical theatre festival that we’ll be taking part in is very rounded. They’ve got a few different productions from several continents around the world, so it’ll be really eye-opening to be there. I’ll be really proud to show our production to an international audience.
You’ve been working in the industry consistently since graduating – straight into Miss Saigon and then more recently, Memphis, Dessa Rose, The Last Five Years, If someone had showed you your CV now, back when you were in training, how do you think you’d have reacted?
I think I’d have taken that, thanks very much! I mean, yeah, I’ve been very lucky that the parts have been around at the times when I was available. That’s half the battle. Being suitable, or able to do a part is important, but being available to do the part is the most important thing.
So yes I count myself very lucky, but again it goes back to what we were saying about the variety of roles that I’ve been given the opportunity to play. Musical theatre is such a varied genre, it’s great that people do put on things at different ends of the spectrum. Something like Dessa Rose, which is grounded and earthy and just about as tense as it can be; then there’s Avenue Q, or Spamalot, which is frivolous and fun. I’ve got to do both!
And before all that you trained in musical theatre.
Yes! Not that it helped my dancing much. That’s nothing against the tutors, they tried their absolute best, I’m just not gifted that way. Although I did manage choreographer Stephen Mear’s ‘Me Ol’ Bamboo’! It took me about ten times as long as everyone else to get, but I got there in the end. It was great fun. Sweaty, but fun.
So onto our Quick Fire Round! What was the first part you ever played on stage?
Squeers, in Smike, which is a spin-off of a Charles Dickens novel. I think I was about 10 or 11.
What would you have been if not a performer?
Maybe a chef? I really like cooking.
And two of my favourite performer questions: What’s been the strangest thing you’ve had to do in an audition?
Ha ha! I had to (strangely enough I didn’t get this job) do a celtic poem, through the medium of interpretive dance. They really did get me to say it out loud and move my body around. My heart wasn’t in that one, in fact I think I laughed. It’s never good to laugh at a panel when they ask you to do things.
And what’s the weirdest singing/warm-up exercise you’ve ever had to do?
There’s a lot of very strange ones. I remember when I was a kid I had diaphragm strengthening exercises. I had to lean over with bent knees, touching toes, doing baboon noises. I remember doing that at about 14 or 15 thinking that I was wasting my money. But it definitely helped!
Advice for those starting out in the industry?
Polish up as many skills as you can, you never know what’s going to get you a gig – and be nice to everybody, not just because it makes you a nice person, but also because it makes you easier to work with and people will re-hire the nice people!
What keeps you going in-between jobs?
Spending time with my family is just about the best exercise I could ever have, and I teach at most drama schools in London, I absolutely love teaching. Teaching musical theatre really helps me understand it better, and hopefully some of my students who have worked have gleaned something from it. I really get a kind of spiritual kick out of that, too.
If you were to put on a show, what would it be and who would be in your dream team?
Er, I really like Adam Guettel. The Light in the Piazza, Myths and Hymns… I’d quite like to put on Floyd Collins. It’s a great piece, it’s really complicated and of course it’s so complex and dense that no one hardly ever puts it on in a professional capacity, because how do you sell a story about a guy stuck in a cave? But I love it. I’d like to put that on somewhere, at the Donmar maybe. Get an interesting, cool young creative team, a director like Adam Lenson or Kate Golledge, up and comers. And I would – if I had to – play Floyd Collins.
Only if you’re forced to, though.
If I’m forced to, if you’re going to bend my arm. Fine.
And finally, getting back to the subject material: What’s your favourite shade of pink?
Is Fuchsia a shade of pink? Have I made that up? Is that actually a thing?
No, that’s a thing!
We’ll have that, then!
* Legally Blonde runs at the Curve, Leicester, until Saturday 14 May.
[Jon Robyns’ other West End credits include Les Misérables, Spamalot and Memphis (alternate Huey), plus the staging of Road Show at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Jon has also appeared in The Last Five Years and Dessa Rose.]