There’s a line from the movie The Little Mermaid that often floats round and round my head, usually occurring just after I’ve watched a show. It’s from the song “Part of Your World”, when Ariel sings “I wanna be where the people are…I wanna see, wanna see them dancing…” I call it my “Howard Ashman Syndrome”: a desperate I-just-wanna-be-where-the-cool-kids-are-and-get-a-seat-right-at-their-table-and-be-part-of-it-all feeling. In my particular case, the cool kids are musical theatre performers. Performing musicals, night after night is a serious skill, especially when you consider that musicals use three art forms in various combinations live, timed- meaning that the risks basically triple in terms of what can go wrong. It's epic! My job in life revolves around music and singing and watching a performer nail a song live on stage is perhaps my favourite thing to experience.
After watching, “Lenny, Andrew, Steve and Me” at Montecasino in October this year, my Howard Ashman Syndrome went full throttle, as Jonathan Roxmouth, the star of the show, closed it by singing “Music of the Night” a capella in a pin spot. (Cue Ariel on a rock, belting “Part of your World” in my head!) The show was just Jonathan and a pianist on stage singing some of musical theatres greatest compositions. For 90 minutes, myself and a theatre full of people were able to set aside the annoying Fourways traffic and general chaos of our lives and be taken on a truly amazing singing journey.
Jonathan is currently playing The Phantom in the international tour of The Phantom of the Opera. He’s sung on stages literally around the world, which means this man KNOWS things when it comes to singing.
When I go and watch one of his shows, the magic that he creates is palpable. He can cause goosebumps on multiple levels! It’s awesome to watch and what’s so exciting is that he is getting many people to come to the theatre to watch his shows. For our small, albeit feisty musical theatre industry, this is very important and very cool!
I took Jonathan out for coffee and spent a couple of hours asking him everything about singing: the good, the bad and the downright terrifying. And man, was I in for a treat. He didn't hold back and openly shared with me what he knows and I walked away feeling so comforted because as singers, sometimes the most comforting thing to know is that 1) You’re not alone 2) Everyone struggles from time to time and 3) Everyone cracks! Even the best of them.
Here is our conversation that took place.
Ok, so when did your love of music begin?
When I was growing up, I had a red plastic piano, with musical tinkle bells in it. Apparently, the only way to get me into the car was if the piano was on the backseat. I loved that thing and the correlation between me doing something and hearing something…well, clearly it meant something.
And what was your first time on stage?
I was Prince John in Nursery School – we did a musical of Robin Hood and my best friend was the horse, and we just ran around each other. But what I remember specifically is that it wasn’t the applause, but the laughter that caught my attention. I was like, “Oooh, I like that. I like that!” and then as I went on, making people laugh became my thing, like a drug.
So, would you say that you knew very early on that you were going to be a performer?
Yip, I just knew.
So, you’ve done a truckload of shows and I want to ask you about one or two of them and anything that comes to mind about them vocally.
Beauty and the Beast:
I remember being obsessed about support. Hanlee Louw and Pauline du Plessis were in the cast, and they had just come from Phantom. I suddenly started hearing about this thing called “support”. And I thought “Ooh, that sounds great!” Because up to that point, being very young, it all just used to happen.
Because you hadn’t done any formal training by that time?
No, I hadn’t. I had done Grease, Rock Me Amadeus for the Barnyard and I’d just finished Handful of Keys. I remember constantly going to Pauline and Hanlee and saying “Did that sound supported to you?” It was the mob song, and in particular the phrase “It’s time to follow me!” The notes are a high E-F-E-F-E, with a diphthong on “time” and difficult vowels like “oo” and “oh” and “ee”. I remember being obsessed with that phrase, constantly trying to get it. So, Hanlee just took me aside, put my back against a wall, said “Sing!” and pushed me in the gut. I tried it a couple of times whilst she shoved and at first it was breathy, and then it came out as I started supporting. Then she went “thank you”.
Even now, if I hear the mob song, I remember Hanlee pushing me up against the wall. Which, in a different context, could sound awful! But it’s true.
So, now, what is your definition of breath support?
Getting a fright whilst trying to hold in a wee. That’s how I do it.
Cats: Now, you had no formal dance training, but you had to stand there in a cat suit – how did that go?