“To get the opportunity to play with that orchestra and chorus in that venue, I’m not aware of anyone who doesn’t want to do that.” These are the words of American actor and singer Marcus Lovett, currently performing the title role in Phantom of the Opera in the West End (a part he also played on Broadway), when describing his appearance in The Night of 1000 Stars concert which took place on May 5 at the Royal Albert Hall.
Alongside the involvement of the City of London Philharmonic and West End Chorus, this annual charity event regularly attracts an impressive line-up of performers from the world of musical theatre (this year’s concert raised funds for The Caron Keating Foundation). Indeed Lovett was joined in celebrating the life and career of legendary director/producer Hal Prince (now in his 85th year) by artists who boasted an impressive musical theatre pedigree.
These included Shona Lindsay and Tabitha Webb (Phantom), Debbie Kurup (The Bodyguard), Katie Rowley Jones (Wicked), former Chicago performers Denise van Outen and Tiffany Graves, Alex Bourne (Kiss Me, Kate), Kristen Beth Williams (Top Hat), Denmark’s leading man Christian Lund, and, from the US, Kenneth Nichols (Show Boat), in addition to Len Cariou (well-known of course for his Broadway performances in Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music).
Lovett continues: “Director Hugh Wooldridge got in touch with me when I arrived in town for Phantom last September. He very nicely offered me a spot at the Royal Albert Hall soon after. Hugh seems very young to have directed for 40 years, he has lots of experience and such a knack of putting different creative people together.”
The actor, who made his Broadway debut in Les Miserables and went on to roles in Aspects of Love, King David and Carousel, previously appeared at the Royal Albert Hall for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 50th Birthday Celebration in which he played Judas Iscariot and Joe Gillis. He believes it is one of the most exciting places he has ever performed.
“I have been fortunate enough to also play Carnegie Hall and L’Opera de Paris, but as an actor the Albert Hall really is a perfect venue for accessibility to an audience. When you’re singing you are exposed to that wonderful gallery of people.
“And while the experience of being onstage there with a large company has something of the feel of an indoor stadium, what is interesting is that backstage is very homely. Where we eat, the dressing rooms shared with several other people, it feels like having a coffee at a neighbour’s house.”
However, on the evening of the Lloyd Webber concert, there was one artist who made the dressing room atmosphere a little tenser than usual. Lovett explains: “We had a whistler in the dressing room and, as most people in the industry know, whistling is forbidden in the theatre – it is bad luck. I think I can reveal his name because he was such a nice guy, it was Antonio Banderas.
“In the midst of everything he just kept whistling without realising it and he had to take himself out of the room and wait to be invited back in. It happened at least 15 times!”
Hal Prince’s career reads like a history of musical theatre and Sunday’s audience will be treated to excerpts from Evita, West Side Story, Fiddler On the Roof, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Follies, Company, Cabaret, Candide and Parade. While Lovett didn’t want to give too much away, he did reveal to Musical Theatre Review that he was singing songs from Phantom of the Opera, Follies and Pacific Overtures.
The actor’s first experience of Mr Prince, as he tends to call him, was his first audition on Broadway: “I tried out for Candide and sang ‘It Must Be So’. Afterwards I just heard a nice big, clear voice from the darkness saying ‘Thank you’.”
Their next meeting marked a more fruitful relationship when Prince directed Lovett in the Broadway production of Phantom. “It was my first experience of the seismic energy that is Mr Prince, that level of intensity. People are not always aware, even in the business, how much he has had an impact, not just as a director on shows, but in the way he has influenced the way projects have been developed, formed, written, designed. He deserves credit for being a mentor as well as his roles as director and producer.”
So how has Lovett found his return to The Phantom of the Opera? “It’s not what I would have expected it to be, in a lot of wonderful ways. The show could so easily have become something akin to a museum piece, but it is no way that in any shape or form. Thanks to the talent of all the original creative team and the rigorous work from the troops on the ground, it is still so vital to every audience that sees it.
“When I’ve seen Phantom or been involved in it, it has been different in as many ways as it is the same. It is no accident that the show has run so long and the score is still so loved. I had someone approach me recently who said ‘Phantom is my favourite musical, I’m so pleased I’ve got a chance to see it’. She had been listening to the score for a dozen years before she had the opportunity to see it.”
Lovett also feels well taken care of inside and out of the theatre by both the company and the show’s dedicated group of fans. “It would not be an understatement to say that there is an amount of care and loyalty between the company and the audience which is nothing like I have experienced before.”
And he is enjoying being back in London (he originated the role of The Man in the West End production of another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Whistle Down the Wind) and performing Phantom at the theatre for which designer Maria Bjornson first created the show is something very special.
But what about the rumours that the first manager of Her Majesty’s, Herbert Beerbohm-Tree, has made ghostly visits to the venue? “All I can say is that I might not be the only ghost in the theatre, and one of us really likes the balcony…”
Lovett looked forward to raising some money for a “wonderful charity” and the thrill that comes with performing such a show as The Night of 1000 Stars: “On the night when you are doing a one-off concert, there is such a heightened level of excitement, it’s your only chance to get it right and it’s incredible.”