For those who may not be familiar with you work, can you tell me about yourself and some of your career highlights?
I was one of the founding members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company and directed the London production in 1996, for which we received an Olivier Award nomination. I left the alternative RSC ten years ago, and little by little I’ve been incorporating more music into my work. Dickens Abridged features music throughout – music inspired by my favourite Americana styles; bluegrass, Appalachian, the songs of Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. Dickens enjoyed a very successful Christmas run at the Arts Theatre in London. Of course, the pinnacle of my career is my newest work – Satan Sings Mostly Sondheim.
Satan Sings Mostly Sondheim is about to open at the Jermyn Street Theatre. Can you tell me what the show is about and what people can expect if they come to see it.
My wife and I saw the Barbara Cook Sings Mostly Sondheim concert a few years ago. It was wonderful, but Barbara Cook had a slight growl in her voice and I commented that she sounded a bit like Satan. That prompted a thought experiment – what would happen if Satan tried to get the rights to perform an evening of Sondheim’s songs? Obviously, Sondheim would not want his name associated with Satan. How would Satan try to win Sondheim over? We imagined Satan as a middle-aged singer/dancer/actor who had enjoyed a good career on Broadway, but had never performed anything by Sondheim. Satan becomes obsessed, and with the help of his New York manager (Robert Schifrin, played by the wonderful and incredibly talented Mark Caven), he desperately attempts to win Sondheim’s approval…but, in the meantime, Satan has to come up with his own versions of Sondheim’s songs. For legal reasons, “Send in the Clowns” becomes “I’m Just a Clown”; “Officer Krupke” becomes “Security Guard Plonski” and so forth. We’ve actually managed to reference every single show that Sondheim ever wrote. But we think the show will be highly enjoyable even to people to have absolutely no knowledge of Sondheim’s work. The relationship of the two characters is the heart of the show, and anyone will be able to identify to the story of the two misfits that bond over a shared dream…a misplaced dream, but a dream nonetheless.
Can you tell me about the character you play and if there are any similarities between you and that character in real life?
The show is a two-hander. I play Satan. Mark plays Robert, Satan’s manager. The two of them have worked together for years and they’re a real double-act – very much like a married couple. Satan has boundless energy and enthusiasm, but he’s also prone to mood swings and he’s used to getting what he wants…even when what he wants is absurd. At one point he insists that he should put up for the part of Tony in West Side Story, causing Robert to blurt out in exasperation, “You’re fifty years old, with horns and hooves – you can’t play Tony in West Side Story you stupid idiot!” That pretty much sums up both the character and the relationship.
If I asked your friends to describe you in three words, what would they be?
He’s Adele Dazeem.
Do you have a favourite Musical Theatre show or song that means a lot to you?
My favourite MT song is Move On from Sunday in the Park with George. My favourite show is Next to Normal.
What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
We were performing at the Battersea Arts Center and the floor gave way beneath me. I crashed through the splintered wood. The audience gasped. It was only about a three-foot fall. I clambered out, dusted myself off, and said to the audience, “Don’t worry – it’s just a stage I’m going through.”
Who do you prefer? Andrew Lloyd Webber or Stephen Sondheim?
Stephen Sondheim, of course – that’s why the show isn’t called Satan Sings Mostly Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Thank you for having Tea With Wilma.
Satan Sings Mostly Sondheim plays at the Jermyn Street Theatre from 11-29 March 2014
Click here to see which other West End stars have been having tea with me!