NATHAN AMZI – who is currently playing Officer Barrel in Urinetown the Musical at London’s Apollo Theatre – is perhaps best known to a wider audience for taking part in BBC1’s The Voice UK and being mentored by Ricky Wilson of Kaiser Chiefs fame.
However, the Urdang Academy-trained performer has also proved himself a versatile actor and singer, appearing in straight drama, musical theatre, film and on television.
Theatre credits include: Piragua Guy in the original London cast of In the Heights (Southwark Playhouse), Mayor and Alternate Lonny in the original London cast of Rock of Ages (Shaftesbury Theatre and Garrick Theatre), Peter Simple in The Merry Wives of Windsor (Shakespeare’s Globe, also playing Los Angeles, Broadway and shown in cinemas worldwide), Roy in Alan Ayckbourn’s A Small Family Business (Watford Palace Theatre), Eddie/Dr. Scott in The Rocky Horror Show (UK tour) and the original UK tour of Miss Saigon.
Film and television includes: the feature film of London Road and the Sky television series Give out Girls.
Musical Theatre Review editor Lisa Martland talks to NATHAN AMZI about working with Jamie Lloyd, appearing on The Voice, and whether the future could include a collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
What has it been like working with director Jamie Lloyd on Urinetown the Musical?
Jamie is very actor-centric and gives you tons. He does everything he can do to help you land what you are doing, to make your work the best it can be.
That also includes his involvement in the technical side of the production: the care he takes to see the show from the audience’s perspective (he sits in every seat you can think of); even tiny tweaks in the lighting. He has such a good eye.
It’s different to some of the other shows I have been part of. A lot of them have been quite regimented and the creative process is taken out of your hands. Jamie takes care to check in with everyone that is part of the show.
What was it like joining the Urinetown cast, the majority of which had had a big hit with the musical at the St James Theatre.
It was really intimidating going into the rehearsal room. The show has such a high calibre cast. Jenna Russell is a tour de force (there is such a natural quality to her performing), Simon Paisley Day is a brilliant actor, and I am in awe of working alongside Jonathan Slinger as his sidekick. His comic timing and the way he engages with the audience is incredible.
They all had such a hit at the St James, loads of five star reviews, and were involved in the creative process from scratch. I was nervous because from day one I wanted to be as good as they were.
At the first warm-up before rehearsal, it was like a reunion for the cast, but I needn’t have worried. Everyone has been so welcoming and accepting, they’ve welcomed me to the family.
Tell us about Officer Barrel and how you have put your own stamp on the character.
Barrel is, alongside Lockstock, a corrupt officer who works for the head of the Urine Good Company, Caldwell B. Cladwell, making sure people pay the proper fees to go to the bathroom, that ‘no one is peeing for free’. If anyone gets caught, they get sent to Urinetown. No one else knows what or where that is. Lockstock convinces Barrel that this is the right course of action and he very much looks up to him, in a way he adores him. But ultimately Barrel does question what they are doing.
Adam Pearce was phenomenal as Barrel at the St James, and was physically striking as well. We’ve changed a few bits about the role and Jamie has helped me shape my own character.
Do you think the way Urinetown satirises corporate greed is relevant to contemporary society?
It really does raise the question about how much huge corporations rule our lives, how they control more than we believe they control. It also suggests that we give them all that money and power and therefore have the purchasing power to change that. It’s our choice. We are depleting our resources, be it oil or water, so could we reach a situation such as the one described in Urinetown? It’s important that we are aware of ways of sustaining our future.
You have proved yourself a versatile actor, working in straight dramas, high-profile musicals, and in television and film. How have you achieved that?
I’m a character actor, so I’m never going to play the hero in the conventional sense, but that has enabled me to do a whole mix of things.
I did plays for a while and had an amazing experience at Shakespeare’s Globe, then I alternated the lead role of Lonny in the original West End production of Rock of Ages which was really great for my acting chops.
It was after that that you auditioned for TV series The Voice UK and reached the battle stages…
Yes, I realised how much I enjoyed singing, and my good friend Oliver Tompsett [his co-star in Rock of Ages] really encouraged me to think of myself as a singer in my own right. I know I’m not a conventionally handsome man, but on The Voice the panel is listening out for one thing – how well you sing, so I was really attracted to it.
I had the most incredible time on The Voice. I have become close friends with my mentor Ricky Wilson and he is helping me in the recording studio. We went to see Kylie Minogue in concert the other night. My mum loves the show as well, so she was so proud, telling everyone: “My son’s on The Voice!”
Urinetown is an unconventional musical, is that the kind of project which you find attractive?
If I do a production now, it has to be something that really excites me, not a small role in the 15th version of a show. I was part of the first UK production of In the Heights recently, and there was such a great cast. I am sure I could be tempted back to the show if it transfers. There are always nerves when something so well received is brought into town, but I can’t imagine it wouldn’t have everything it had before.
There have been all kinds of rumours about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical version of School of Rock coming to London. I would love to do the main role, in fact Lonny in Rock of Ages was quite Jack Black-esque.
And you have been doing some producing too…
I’m one of these people who doesn’t just want to discuss an idea, I want to get on and do it. Through Amzi Entertainment, we produced composer and lyricist Scott Alan’s concert at the IndigO2 Theatre in August 2013. I am also hoping to fly over Wicked actresses Eden Espinosa and Shoshana Bean for a couple of nights in London in the not too distant future.
Sometimes judges on reality shows like X Factor and even The Voice are snobby about musical theatre. What do you think of that?
For a start, there are no better singers than those in musicals who sing live to such a high standard eight shows a week. As for the snobbery, I really don’t understand that. Wherever I am performing, my goal is to entertain an audience. If someone has enjoyed themselves, then that is what matters.