|Tony Vincent in We Will Rock You|
20 Questions With...Tony Vincent
Date: 30 December 2002
We Will Rock You's Tony Vincent, who's in strong contention for the Theatregoers' Choice Best Actor in a Musical award, loves singing with Paul McCartney & defying the critics.
Though Queen and We Will Rock You have propelled Tony Vincent to record-breaking West End success, it's been his own chart-topping records that launched his career in his native United States.
Vincent's first, and enduring, love is music. A singer/songwriter since childhood, he founded his own record company while still at university in Tennessee. That eventually led to a two-year tour of the US and a record deal with Sony.
Meanwhile, he's also achieved considerable stage success with Rent and Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway and now in the West End, where he's originated the role of Galileo in the Queen / Ben Elton rock musical We Will Rock You.
Although the show was received poorly by the critics when it opened at the Dominion Theatre in May 2002, it has proved a sell-out hit with audiences, who've nominated it for five Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers' Choice Awards, including Best New Musical and, for Vincent himself, Best Actor in a Musical.
Date & place of birth
Born 25 July 1973 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Lives now in...
Manhattan. While I'm in London, I've been staying on the South Bank.
I did a lot of theatre growing up, but singing and songwriting was always my main focus from the very beginning. I wanted to do rock 'n' roll ever since I heard my first Beatles record, but I decided early on not to focus just on a performance-based college degree because that seemed limiting. I also wanted to learn what happened behind the scenes, the stuff the fans don't see about the whole wider music industry. So I did a degree in Music Business at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.
First big break
I started a record company out of my dorm when I was still in college and that led to being signed by a small recording label out of Nashville that EMI wound up purchasing. A song I wrote went to No. 1 in the Contemporary Christian Music Chart while I was still in my second year in college. I guess that was a big break - it's something I can point at and say, that did happen at that point. That hit gave me validation that what I was doing was the right thing. I did two records and then left Nashville to pursue a straight rock deal in New York City. Three weeks after moving to New York, I got a part in Rent when it was still in its first year, playing the roles of first Roger (Davis) and then Mark (Cohen). I started using Broadway as a showcase for record companies. During the day, I was writing songs and then every night I had a gig on Broadway. That led to the video of Jesus Christ Superstar here in London and then a record contract with Epic, which is part of Sony.
Career highlights to date
Singing with Paul McCartney at the Queen's Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace. He's had one of the biggest impacts on me as to why I'm doing what I do and to be able to meet him and sing "Hey, Jude" together was incredible. I also sang "Bohemian Rhapsody" that night. From what I understand, I'm the only person to have ever sung it live in its entirety - even Queen had never done that. It was quite a surreal evening.
Favourite productions you've ever worked on
I've been blessed to have done three great shows that I have very individual feelings for. Rent I loved because Roger, this aspiring songwriter, is a lot like me. Jesus Christ Superstar because even though it's a fictitious take on the Bible, it's my faith and it was like living what grounds me on stage each night. And We Will Rock You because I get to sing some of the best rock songs ever written and because the last 20 minutes is like a snapshot of a live concert I would do if it were my own show.
I love Hannah Jane Fox (from We Will Rock You). We created these roles together from the ground up so we've developed something very special between us in the process. When you have that sort of trust in a co-star, every night is a wonderful adventure.
I have always admired the work of Sam Mendes. On film, I like Steven Spielberg - sometimes he's too middle of the road but he's also gone left of centre and created some amazing and groundbreaking work. And Mel Brooks is the king of comedy. I would love to do something straight (non-musical) next time, whether on stage, television or film. Working with Ben Elton has taught me a lot and really opened me up to drama. He's an amazing talent.
Favourite musical/song writers
My favourite songwriters are not in the musical genre. As a rule, I'm not really a fan of musicals to be honest. They so often seem very old-fashioned to me - having characters that sporadically break into song is non-sensical. I want to see characters that go on a real journey, not a journey of fluff. McCartney and Lennon were two of the greatest songwriters and, as a child of the 1980s, I love writers like Martin Gore of Depeche Mode and Roland Orzabal of Tears for Fears. I like music more melancholy and pensive.
You're talking to a guy who doesn't dance. It's almost like a language I don't speak. I have a great deal of respect for dancers, but it's not something that personally interests me.
What roles would you most like to play still?
I don't have a desire to do Shakespeare at this point. I'm more interested in working with new playwrights who break the mould in some aspect.
What does performing in the West End mean to you?
There's a lot of history here. I remember watching a film clip of Henry Fonda saying how it was every actor's dream to appear on the West End stage and I guess that's true. It wasn't in my plan, but it's an experience I'll never forget, and something I get to tell my children when I have a family.
What advice would you give the government - American or British - to secure the future of theatre?
I don't believe it's the government's role to subsidise any form of professional entertainment in any way - outside the public (ie state-run) school system, that is. It's so important to have art in the schools. In the States, there have been serious cutbacks there. But when you remove art from public schools, kids can easily miss out on a life's passion. I'm fairly sure I wouldn't be where I am if I hadn't had it in my studies.
If you hadn't become a singer/actor, what would you have done professionally?
I never gave myself an option to do anything else.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
If we're talking career, I would say Johnny Depp. He's one of my generation's greatest actors. I have a great deal of respect for the roles he takes on. I would love to experience the journey he takes in creating the characters he does for his films.
I have two favourite authors: Rudolfo Anaya, who's from New Mexico, and Arthur Nersesian, who writes these twisted dramas set in Manhattan. I like to read novels about places I've lived or travelled to. I've also just read Ben Elton's High Society, which is set in London.
Favourite holiday destinations
I've always wanted to go to Prague and Berlin. Eastern Bloc industrialism has always interested me. Maybe it's because a lot of the early 80s synth music was coming out of there, with bands like Alphaville - and I hear that there is a great underground music scene going on there. I would love to ski Switzerland as well. I'm not much of a beach person.
Favourite after-show haunts
I've been working so much on my record and the show that it takes every ounce of energy I've got so I don't go out much. Also, when we get out of the theatre, everything's pretty much closed. It makes me really pine for the New York lifestyle and not having to worry about getting a cab at any hour of the night.
I like Salon.com and the Wallpaper websites, and I use AllMusic.com to look up information about artists and bands. For the past five days, I've been up until about 5.00am every night revamping my own website - www.tonyvincent.com - with a designer back in New York. It's set to debut on 1 January 2003.
Why did you want to accept your part in We Will Rock You?
It was a brand new show, all based around rock 'n' roll. And it was a chance to work with some of most successful writing and music talent around - the Ben Elton / Queen combination was very interesting to me. It wasn't part of my plan, though. I just happened to be in London, working on some of my own material, at the time of the auditions.
Why do you think the critics hated the show while the audiences love it?
I think it was two things mainly. Our initial script was not as slick as it could have been, and stuff that should have been solved in the rehearsal space wasn't. It's a very different show now than it was when we opened in May. Over the last nine months, it hasn't been uncommon for us to have periodic rewrites and now we've streamlined the entire story. The second thing is, because we were dealing with two massive successes already in Queen and Ben Elton, we were already going to get panned from the very beginning. Hannah, Sharon, Ben Elton, Brian May and I have all hit back very hard against the critics. We are not going to lose regardless of what they say. It's one reason that we continue to sell out and get standing ovations.
What's your favourite number from We Will Rock You?
I love "Under Pressure", the moment when I get introduced to my co-star and it sparks this innocent love story. But the last 20 minutes - with "We Will Rock You", "We Are the Champions" and "Bohemian Rhapsody", which was recently voted the #1 UK song of all time - are truly my absolute favourite.
What's the funniest thing that has happened during the run to date of We Will Rock You?
It's a pretty high-tech show. One night there was a spill of brake fluid from the video screens. Both Hannah Jane and I went sliding across the stage during "Under Pressure". It was a bit like ice-skating. We both slipped on the ground but didn't miss a beat in the song. One of the things I'm most proud of, considering how high-tech the show is, is that nothing has ever made us cancel a show and no one's ever been injured.
What are your future plans?
My ultimate plan is still to do rock 'n' roll. I'm going to release a single here, called "Fall", in the first quarter of 2003, probably around March or April, and we'll see how that does then bring out the album.
With We Will Rock You, I'm contracted here until April. It's quite difficult to do a role for longer than a year because then you become known as the character rather than the actor, which can be detrimental for your career. Hannah Jane and I have been asked to do the show on Broadway, which we're thinking about, and there's talk of the sequel. We'll see. What this whole experience has given me is a desire to do a lot more acting, either in straight plays or films.
- Tony Vincent was speaking to Terri Paddock
We Will Rock You has been nominated for five Theatregoers' Choice Awards, including Best New Musical and, for Vincent himself, Best Actor in a Musical. Voting continues until 31 January 2003. CLICK HERE TO VOTE.