20 Questions With...Clive Rowe
Date: 26 August 2001
Clive Rowe, the award-winning musical star who brings his one-man cabaret to the Donmar next week, explains why there's nothing inherently feminine about being a diva.
Clive Rowe obtained his Equity card while still in drama school when he won the part of Dink in the Sheffield Crucible production of Carmen Jones. Since then, Rowe has gone on to feature in acclaimed productions of Company, Carousel, Lady Be Good, Candide, Chicago and many others.
He is best known for his role as Nicely Nicely Johnson in the National's revival of Guys and Dolls, for which he won the 1997 Olivier for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical. His turn in the number, "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat", achieved legendary status for its rapturously show-stopping encores.
While musicals such as these - in which he can exercise the voice that The Times likens to "a black Stradivarius" - have earned Rowe his reputation, he's a straight theatre veteran, too. He has also appeared in plays such as Money, Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night, The Mystery Plays, School for Scandal and Trackers.
But music is his first love and also the focus of his one-man cabaret which, from 3 September 2001, Rowe reprises for a one-week run at the Donmar Warehouse. He's followed in the "Divas at the Donmar" season by Sian Phillips and Michael Ball.
Date & place of birth
Born on 27 March 1964 in Oldham, Greater Manchester.
Now lives in...
Crouch End, north London
Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London
First big break
My first job was my first big break. In my second year of drama school, my music teacher encouraged me to audition for two black shows which were casting at the time. I didn't get Porgy and Bess but I did get Carmen Jones, which was directed by Stephen Pimlott.
Career highlightsFuenta Ovejuna, directed by Declan Donnellan at the National
Lots and lots, I've been blessed:
Trackers, directed by Tony Harrison at the National and in Greece
Carousel, directed by Nicholas Hytner at the National
Guys and Dolls, directed by Richard Eyre at the National
Company, directed by Sam Mendes at the Donmar
Favourite production that you've worked onCompany - because it was, ironically, the best company I've worked with in a piece
There are three:
Trackers - we performed this play for the first time in 2000 years to Greek people in Greece, an amazing experience
Guys and Dolls - this is the one for which I received the most acclaim and there's a real buzz to that. People still come up to me and say they were there the night we did seven encores of "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat". For the record, the most we ever did during the run was three. If you saw four or five encores, you had to have been there on the last night. It wasn't just me doing that number, of course - there were 23 others up there creating that song with me. Nicely Nicely is still the part that most people associate with me and that's not a bad thing as far as I'm concerned. I'm honoured to have been able to do it and I don't think I'll ever have a role to top that.
Favourite co-starClarke Peters - I first worked with on Carmen Jones. At the time, I didn't know many Americans or even many black people outside my own family. Clarke is one of the coolest and suavest men I know and he became a true friend. He's also a great performer and I learned a lot from watching him work.
Janie Dee - we just bonded on Carousel. She's a great performer and very generous, too. We were both nominated for the Olivier for the Best Supporting Performance in a Musical for that production. She won the award and, I can honestly say, that made me as happy as me getting it myself.
It's very hard to pick just one so, in no particular order: Sam Mendes, Nicholas Hytner, Declan Donnellan and Richard Eyre.
The Gershwins, because their music is so beautiful to sing, and Stephen Sondheim, because he wrote two of my all-time favourite musicals in Company and Sweeney Todd. The latter in particular is as close as you can get to the perfect book musical.
Although you've done many straight plays, you're best known for your musical work. Do you prefer one over the other?
I love theatre in its entirety, but I find "straight" theatre - a term I hate - more challenging for less return. I love to sing and I find it very freeing. Music is pure escapism. I get annoyed when some people say musical theatre is an inferior art form. If we take it down to its very basics, non-musical theatre actors only have to stand up and talk while musical theatre people must stand up and talk and sing and, in some cases, dance as well.
How would you rate your dance skills?
I was lucky because my mother sent me to dance school when I was young. In 1979, I was the Greater Manchester Under-16s Modern Ballroom Dancing Gold Medallist!
You've also shown an ongoing commitment to pantomime. Why do you think pantos are important?
Pantos are important because they are one of the main introductions children have to theatre. For me, they're like a busman's holiday. I get to sing and dance and be naughty. I've done a panto every year for the past three years. This year I'm appearing with Hale and Pace in Dick Whittington in Southend.
What role would you most like to play (if you haven't already)?
Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar and Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
Martin Luther King or Mother Theresa. They had such compassion and belief, I envy that.
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Favourite holiday destination
Favourite holiday destination
I've got an endless supply of "man walks into a bar" jokes. Here's a short one:
- Man walks into a bar.
- It's an iron bar.
Do you have a favourite website?
I love the Internet but I don't go to one particular site regularly. I do have my own site though - www.cliverowe.co.uk.
How did you feel when the Donmar invited you to take part in the Divas season?
I'd done benefits on my own before but I'd never done true cabaret and certainly never a show I created myself. I was scared. There's something very naked about doing cabaret and the Donmar is an even more naked space than most. There's no character or costume, nothing to hide behind. It's just you and the music.
How have you selected the songs for your show?
The songs are all lifted from my life. So it was a question of selecting the most interesting points from my life to date and then finding the songs that captured the voice of that moment.
What do you think about being called a "diva"?
I'm honoured to be considered a diva. I don't see anything inherently feminine about the term, especially in this PC age. And it's not about having the clearest tone or the best phrasing. A diva is somebody who touches an audience in a musical place in a way that nobody else can.
Will you be releasing an album from the show?
We're hoping to do a live recording of the cabaret, to be released later in the year. I've also got another, easy listening album, called "Diamond in the Rough", which is out on 3 September. People can buy it at the Donmar during the Divas season or through Dress Circle.
What are your other plans for the future?
At the end of the year, I'll be returning to Chicago (as Amos) for six months. And I'm workshopping a new musical with Sharon D Clarke that we hope to present in September 2002. It's a two-hander, a love story about how this couple meets and how their relationship develops. It will be directed by Peter Darling and Richard Eyre with musical direction by Neil McArthur.
- Clive Rowe was speaking to Terri Paddock
Clive Rowe presents his one-man cabaret at the Donmar Warehouse from 3 to 8 September 2001. The "Divas at the Donmar" season then continues with Sian Phillips (10-15 September) and Michael Ball (17-29 September).
To take advantage of our limited two-nights-only offer to see Clive Rowe at the Donmar, click here.