Music Promotions recently interviewed Musical theatre star Jon Robyns about his music theatre career, his current CD ‘Musical Direction’ and the west end drive in show at Brent Cross on the 25th July.
How did you first get on stage?
I began the same way as most people with school productions. It was the thing I was best at, so I like to think it chose me rather than me choosing it.
You attended Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London, what was that like?
It was wonderful! I won a scholarship when I was 18. I didn’t know much about musical theatre before I went but I certainly did when I left.
I started to learn more when I began working in the industry. It was intense as there were lots of different disciplines to try to master all at once. I’d never danced before so doing dance five mornings a week, every day, for three years was pretty intense, but I really enjoyed it.
What advice would you give anyone wanting to get into this industry? Is stage school the way forward?
It’s a recognized path but I don’t think it’s crucial. It gives you a recognised introduction to the industry rather than making your own way in but it’s certainly not the only way for people to make it.
Stage school not only teaches you skills, but what the industry expects of you. The discipline required is what you take away from it. I know plenty of professional performers who are just wonderful, and they don’t have theatre school training.
Would you like to open your own theatre school one day?
Not at the moment. I have been teaching in drama schools around the UK for over 10 years – some of my friends run drama schools and studio workshops but they are much better at being in charge than me! I like to skip in, have my three or four hours with the students and skip out. I love working with colleges but I don’t think I could run one.
What was it like to take over the role of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables?
Jean is an iconic role I’ve wanted to play for over 20 years so it was a real honour to be asked to do it. Of course, it’s a big responsibility too but it was one I was prepared for. I loved every second of it.
How does touring the UK in different shows compare to being on stage in London’s West End?
The difference between being on tour and being in the West End has nothing to do with the job, because when you enter the theatre, the job is the job. It doesn’t matter where you are performing; the difference is you’re in your home rather than someone else’s home or a hotel room. It’s more of what surrounds the job rather than the job itself.
There are pros and cons to both which is the interesting thing and something that you only discover when you actually go and do it. The company that you are working with are the only people that you see really, both at work and socially on tour, so that’s how we build up such close personal relationships.
From the West End point of view, it’s a very different deal because you work with and become very close friends with the company, but it’s not as if you can’t see other people. On tour, you only really have the people you’re working with.
What are the audiences like? Do West End audiences differ from those on tour?
They vary greatly from city to city. The audience at one venue might react very differently to an audience at a different location and from that you learn to adjust your performance slightly based on who you’re in front of. Of course, that means that on the first night at any venue, anything can happen. You have no idea what the reaction will be. It’s always interesting to find out.
With a West End audience, again night to night it can be very different. If, on one night you have a large number of foreign tourists for example, they are going to want a very different thing and react very differently to a school which might have come along to see the show. It keeps you on your toes. That’s the great thing about live theatre – it’s different every time.
How much rehearsal time do you get?
It depends on how big the show is. I’ve done pantomimes were I have rehearsed for a matter of days before we have gone out in front of the audience but on the other hand, I have done shows where we’ve had six or seven weeks so it varies. It really does depend on the size of the show.
When I was in Les Misérables, we had six weeks of rehearsals beforehand. With most West End shows, if you go into an existing show, you get around four weeks and a week for what’s called tech, which is putting the production on stage then incorporating all the lights and costumes.
I love the whole rehearsal process but the actor is never in charge of how long you get! You just take it on the chin and you’ve got however long you’re given.
Do you have any pre-show nerves?
I do get nervous but that’s mainly if I haven’t decided what I am doing. I tend to make artistic decisions before I go on stage which calms me down because when I know what I am doing, I don’t get nervous. I have something to focus on and that definitely calms any nervous feelings.
What have been some of your career highlights so far?
Les Misérables is a big highlight for me, it’s the third time I’ve done this show and each time it is different. It’s an iconic, genius piece for a whole generation and you feel that when you are in it.
I did Hamilton recently which again, is really important to a certain generation, so that was very special. My first West End job in 2006 was incredible.
Each job teaches you something different, each job is special in its own way so you can’t really compare one to the other.
Can you talk more about the West End musical drive in that you’re a part of?
I was very pleased to be asked to be a part of the first West End drive in. It will take place on 25th July at Brent Cross. It’s going to be like a music festival with the big stage screen and the show will be broadcast from an FM bandwidth, so people can sit in their cars and tune in. It’s a really innovative way to move live performances forward and I’m looking forward to it.
I think everyone is so desperate to find some sort of way back to live performances right now. The online concerts have been brilliant for two reasons; raising money for charity and so that people had a focus. I think people want live performances again and this is a nice way of easing us back into it which also adheres to all of the social distancing rules and restrictions which have been placed on live theatre.
Could you tell everyone more about your album, Musical Direction*?
Of course! I recorded it last year and my inspiration was really to celebrate the musical directors I have worked with in the past. Each track is played and arranged by a different musical director, it’s a mix of singer-songwriters, theatre numbers and pop stuff and some roles I’ve played previously, so it was really fun to do.
I toured last year, visiting three venues across the UK, which was a lot of fun. It was a lot more nerve-racking than being on stage in front of 2000 people to do Hamilton though, 200 people in a room is always scarier than 40,000 in a park, which I’ve also done! It was great fun and I loved performing. For me, it was a wonderful artistic outlet.
*Musical Direction is out now on all streaming platforms.
How did you decide which songs to record?
I made a list of the musical directors I wanted to work with and between us, we decided which songs would be good for the CD. I like to theme my albums and I did the same with my debut album. What I love the most about this CD is that every track feels very different. That was important to me as I wanted to create something eclectic and interesting.