Following his sell-out LA and Edinburgh Festival Fringe performances, RICHARD SHELTON returns to the UK to perform Sinatra and Me at Crazy Coqs, Live At Zédel, early next month.
Shelton, who won ‘Best Actor in a Leading Role’ for portraying Frank Sinatra in West End’s Rat Pack Confidential, will take audiences on a trip through Frank Sinatra’s timeless repertoire.
Musical Theatre Review’s Polly Sisley caught up with Shelton ahead of his two London dates.
How did you first get into performing?
As a boy in the early 1960s, The Sound of Music and Oliver! transfixed me. In fact, I wanted to be Mark Lester in the film version of Oliver! so badly, that when I started at a new school, I told everyone it was me!
It didn’t take long to be hauled in front of the headmaster to explain myself, but it ignited a real desire to act, sing and simply get lost in storytelling. Aside from school plays, my first performance on a proper stage was at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre with the local dance school as a sort of acrobat Pierrot doll. From then on, I was hooked.
Was there a particular turning point in your life when you realised a career in performing was what you wanted?
While my brother was tipped to play rugby for England, I was tipped for the Royal Ballet. But ballet wasn’t an acceptable option to a Wolverhampton boy, so gymnastics became the alternative.
Later, my acting aspirations were similarly quashed in favour of a ‘trade’, so I went into the hotel business but always acted on the side, or got involved with reading the news on the radio.
I was 32 and well into a successful and well-paid hotel career when I started the Bridewell Theatre in London’s Fleet Street with a group of acting friends, calling ourselves ‘Breach of the Piece’, specialising in contemporising Shakespeare plays.
An agent came to see our inaugural shows, offered to take me on, and so I resigned from my job – all in one fell swoop. It was a magnificent weekend, and it was then I realised, ‘Gee, it’s my life – I must do what I simply want to do, not what someone else wants me to do’. And now when I’m in hotels, I’m on the other side of the reception desk which is a very nice feeling!
You’ve done a lot of work in film, TV and theatre all over the world, particularly the UK and US. How does the showbiz world differ between the two countries?
LA is a lot more open-minded than London – casting directors are prepared to see anyone and everyone for a role, so in that regard, it’s a lot less closed shop than London, which is refreshing.
However, if in showbiz terms London is brutal, LA is savage. Whilst there are more opportunities in LA, there’s also significantly more competition, so you really do have to keep a level head while going about your daily business. And it pays to retain a good sense of humour in all things.
Where do you prefer performing?
I just love performing on a live stage, whether that’s in London, LA or Bangkok. Live is live – there’s nothing like it, and I love responding to a live room when singing.
You’re living in LA at the moment – what has living in America been like recently?
In a word, interesting! If you live in California or New York, you live in a parallel America with a bias towards the liberal arts. I watched the recent Presidential elections closely and, post-Brexit, wasn’t surprised by the Trump win. There’s much I could say about today’s political landscape, but for reasons of personal sanity and happiness, I recommend putting a smile on your face, humming a tune and making time to smell the roses.
Your portrayal of Frank Sinatra is award winning. What was it that pulled you to Sinatra?
It was the other way around – it was Sinatra who pulled me in. My father bought Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ album in the early 1970s and, from the age of 14, I knew every song, the shape of the melodies and meaning of the lyrics – from the pain of ‘If You Go Away’, to the joy of ‘Hallelujah, I Love Her So’.
When I was called to audition for Rat Pack Confidential, I’d been working the jazz circuit for years, performing Sinatra repertoire and standards, so the music was etched into my psyche and I had a solid basis to fall back on. But it was acting as the herculean icon that was truly a challenge and one I adored.
Charles Spencer wrote in the Daily Telegraph: ‘Shelton portrays Sinatra with a smile that turns on and off like a lightbulb and an edge of near psychotic violence.’ It illustrates the explosive, volatile nature of Sinatra from which springs the magnificence of his musical storytelling.
‘Sinatra and Me’ was a sell-out show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and received great reviews. Because the level of expectation is now so high, do you feel more pressure during your shows?
No. Every show, every audience, is a new experience and I give every performance 100% so they’re all unique. I don’t let external pressure influence me. Otherwise I wouldn’t be in the moment.
You’ve performed at some brilliant venues: Ronnie Scotts last month and Live At Zédel next. Both of those are quite intimate venues. Which do you prefer: intimate performances or looking out to a big and busy auditorium?
Ha! Both are different experiences and require different muscles, different energy, but I approach them as the same. My joy is in finding a way to connect with people as if they’re the only ones in the room. If you can do that, you can create an unforgettable energy and connection. But, if really pushed, an intimate concert is a marvellous experience.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into performing?
What really gets on my nerves is these talent programmes; they just don’t prepare you for how much you have got to work. Nothing can prepare you for that kind of life. You’ve got to want it so badly and take everything that goes with it. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. Don’t think about the fame and fortune.
What are your plans following your Live At Zédel shows on 5 and 6 June?
I travel back to LA to work on vocals for my new album in development, Sinatra and Me, and mixes on my current album, An Englishman in Love in LA, plus a couple of concerts in town.
Then I’m back over to the UK for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, performing Sinatra and Me daily at midday between 4-28 August in a great venue called Frankenstein’s Bar (venue 304) on George IV Bridge in the centre of town. And after that, I’m doing post-production on a movie I’ve just shot in LA before leaving for the Middle East and some more live shows, so a busy time.
* Sinatra and Me will be performed at Live At Zédel on 5 and 6 June.
Richard Shelton is also known to UK TV audiences as the charmingly murderous Dr. Adam Forsythe in Emmerdale. He has also appeared on EastEnders, American TV House of Lies and Jane the Virgin. On the big screen his credits include, My Week With Marilyn, the Japanese cult movie Joker Game, I Capture the Castle and Spaceman.