Interview – Michael Xavier on Richard Rodgers tribute, Some Enchanted Evening

Michael Xavier at West End Live 2016

Picture: Roy Tan

This week West End leading man MICHAEL XAVIER will join Ruthie Henshall, Lesley Garrett and Gary Wilmot in Some Enchanted Evening, a series of concerts at Cadogan Hall celebrating the timeless music of Broadway legend Richard Rodgers.

Presented by Garrett, the four performances running from 18 August until 20 August will feature the four vocalists accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and ArtsEd Ensemble under the lead of conductor Richard Balcombe.

Michael most recently starred in the semi-staged production of Sunset Boulevard at the London Coliseum opposite Glenn Close. Previously he played the role of Gaylord Ravenal in the critically acclaimed musical Show Boat at the Sheffield Crucible. 

His other theatre credits include 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 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 Sound of Music at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Cornelius Hakl in Hello, Dolly! at the Leicester Curve Theatre, Oliver in Love Story at the Duchess Theatre (Olivier nomination for Best Actor in a Musical), Wolf/Cinderella’s Prince in Into the Woods at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre (Olivier nomination for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical), Curly in Oklahoma! at the Chichester Festival Theatre, Sir Galahad in Spamaloat 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 Cinders and Freddy in My Fair Lady. 

Michael has also hosted the UK Theatre Awards, West End Live and the Olivier Awards at the PiazzaHe is also the founder and director of West End Masterclass, a popular training school for students hoping for a career in musical theatre.

400x300.fitandcropMusical Theatre Review’s Tal Fox caught up with Michael ahead of the Cadogan Hall shows.

Are you allowed to reveal any of the set for Some Enchanted Evening?

I don’t think so, but it’s all classic Rodgers songs, so it’s a nice mix of songs you know and a couple of less well known ones. You might occasionally think: ‘Oh I never realised that song was actually written by Rodgers’, so it’s a good mixed bag, a really nice set.

Is there one song that’s a favourite of yours that you will be performing?

There’s a song called ‘This Can’t Be Love’ (The Boys from Syracuse) which I’ll be singing with Ruthie Henshall. That’s one of the highlights for me.

Does it follow a plot or is it more like a concert?

This is more concert-style, Lesley Garrett is going to be narrating – introducing the numbers in-between. She’s hosting the night. You can expect Lesley, Ruthie Henshall, Gary Wilmot and myself obviously, performing some of the best musical theatre songs ever written – put into one sales pitch.

What made you want to be involved in this show?

The songs are fantastic. I’m a big fan of Richard Rodgers and he’s probably one of the best musical theatre writers of all time, except for maybe Stephen Sondheim – so to get to sing these great songs is a joy. It was a no brainer really and obviously working with Ruthie, Lesley and Gary Wilmot is just going to be a lot of fun.

michael 0105 mc mtr

Michael Xavier and fellow Sunset Boulevard cast members take their bows at the London Coliseum. Pictures: Roy Tan

You’ve been in Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music, have you been in any other Rodgers musicals?

No, but I would love to do more. The Sound of Music is one of the best musicals ever written.

Is there a Rodgers musical you’d still like to do one day?

Well I did The Sound of Music, so I can’t say that, can I? I think probably Carousel. I think it’s a lovely story, so moving.

And The Sound of Music again by the sounds of it?

Yes, probably! Well, I mean to be honest, I don’t really like to go back and do things again. I think it’s always better to keep moving forward, to keep trying different projects and doing different things. I think going back to it would be strange now because to do it again would feel like a step backwards. I always feel I need to be doing something new, different and exciting and stretching myself, so I probably wouldn’t go back to it, but I remember it so fondly so that’s good enough for me.

You did the Sweet Charity concert at Cadogan Hall and now you’re back there again, is there something about that venue that makes it so ideal for concerts?

It’s a lovely layout, very intimate, and we’re going to have the band on stage with us like we did for Sweet Charity, and it just works really well. I think what’s lovely about it is that it’s like you’re in someone’s living room, it’s got that kind of intimate feel about it, but it seats about 900 people. It’s a really lovely auditorium.

Into the Woods

Michael Xavier in character for Into the Woods at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

There seems to be a trend for taking a composer’s work and celebrating their work in a musical theatre setting. Do you think that is going to continue to dominate?

I don’t think so, I hope not. I hope we don’t just make musicals based around the people who’ve written the songs. Ideally musicals should be written with a story in mind and the music should be written relating to that story. I’m not a fan of musicals that take pre-existing songs and piece them together or shoehorn them into a narrative. I think it’s much less creative, much less exciting and we’re churning out what will end up being the musical version of McDonald’s. I really hope that the future of musicals is rooted in young talented writers who pen shows that are story driven.

Richard Rodgers isn’t an example of what I’m talking about because he wrote these incredible musicals. I’m talking about shows like Mamma Mia!, for example. A show where pop songs have been shoehorned into the storyline that don’t necessarily have any narrative. I mean, it’s cleverly done in Mamma Mia!  it’s done tongue-in-cheek and that’s why it works. But for me it really should be about writing songs that fit the storyline and fit the characters in that particular situation, it’s got to be specific.

I just have to ask you, what was it like being in Sunset Boulevard?

Amazing. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in theatre. It was kind of surreal and incredible at the same time. We had 2,500 people on their feet every single night screaming like it was a rock concert. It was incredible. Glenn Close is amazing, she is one of the best performers of all time and I mean that across the board. She can transcend television, film, musicals, plays, she’s done it all, and she’s brilliant at it all because she’s such a good actress. To work so closely with her, and to get to know her as a friend, has just been the most amazing experience, and she is phenomenal and a really lovely woman as well. I did fear she would be a bit of a diva, but she was lovely and a workaholic really – she really throws herself into her work, but it was exciting to be a part of that.

to lisa no 3 michael in Pajama Game with Joanna

Michael Xavier with Joanna Riding in The Pajama Game at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Pictures: Roy Tan

As someone with such great stage credits like yours, you seem to really care that that next generation of aspiring actors get the same opportunities as you did. How did you get involved as director of West End Masterclass?

I created it, I put some concerts on in local areas and myself and my business partner were putting those together with the local students who we involved in these concerts. We would rehearse for two days continuously and felt like we had got more out of the guys than we had done in two years in a local amateur dramatic company. So we decided to set up a training place and give current, up-to-date mentorship, advice and coaching to help these young performers get to the West End one day. It’s great, it’s really rewarding to see how far they’ve come. Watching the journey from raw talent – when they come in and you think ‘yep, there’s definitely something about this person’, they can sing or dance really well, they’ve got potential so we’ll take them on and train them up – and then seeing how far they go by the time they leave us.

A lot of young people right now are worried about their future and what the future of the arts is, so this is a good message to have out there.

Good. I like to think they’re hopeful that theatre is going to continue. I want theatre to continue to be great as well, so perhaps we can help with fantastic performers coming through. Quite often now theatre is created from workshops so these fantastic actors who work on these, they can really help to refine the material, put the icing on the cake. So I think performers, more so now than ever before, are an integral part of creating new musical theatre. It’s about encouragement, but it’s also about being realistic.

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Michael Xavier in character for Love Story at the Duchess Theatre

There was a young girl of 25 who came in and thought: ‘I’m going to go for it’. We heard her sing and I said: ‘Look, I’m not going to sit here and say yeah, sure, come to us and we’ll take your money. We have to be honest with you and say at your age with a lack of training and your ability, the way it is now, you’re not going to be in the West End, it’s just not going to happen. There are going to be 300 other students who have come out of drama school, who are more likely to get the part over you, so you’re being unrealistic about it.”

So I like to be honest with young performers about what their achievements can be. I think it’s very important not to blind people with the gloss of it and say: ‘Oh yeah, you’re going to be a big West End star.’ I don’t agree with that. I think it’s unethical really. We help them with their raw potential and pushing them as far as they can go. We have students who have been on the West End stage which is amazing and for us that’s a great achievement. We’ve got someone in Kinky Boots at the minute. We’ve got some really talented students, but it doesn’t matter if it’s not the West End, if we can get them working in the industry and getting paid for doing what they love, I’m a happy man.

Other than Some Enchanted Evening, have you got anything else lined up that you’re allowed to talk about?

I’m doing Friday Night is Music Night on BBC Radio 2, which is a night of Cy Coleman music, like Sweet Charity. It’s very similar in the sense of a night of Richard Rodgers music – a night of Cy Coleman music and he’s written some great scores. His range from City of Angels to Sweet Charity is very different styles all together, so that will be fun. I’ve got a couple of things in the pipeline which I can”t announce, because they’re not set in stone, so I’m just waiting for the ‘Is’ to be dotted and the ‘Ts’ to be crossed.

* Some Enchanted Evening is at Cadogan Hall on Thursday 18, Friday 19, and Saturday 20 August at 7.30pm, with a 2.30pm performance on Saturday 20 August.

Michael will also play Hookbeard in the special gala charity concert of Robert J. Sherman’s new musical Bumblescratch at the Adelphi Theatre on Sunday 4 September.

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