Evans followed that with the lead role of Billy in the premiere of Boy George musical Taboo. His other credits have included Miss Saigon, Hardcore, Minor Irritations and Dickens Unplugged. On screen, he’s recently appeared as a regular in TV’s Crossroads.
Evans is now starring, along with Denise Van Outen and former Sugababe Siobhan Donaghy, in the 21st-century remix of Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical Rent, directed by Kylie Minogue creative director William Baker and just opened at the West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre. Amongst the pop stars in attendance on opening night Will Young, Rupert Everett, Duncan James and Kylie herself.
Date & place of birth
Born April 1979 in Pontypool, Wales.
Lives now in
Central London - just two minutes from the theatre!
London Studio Centre.
What made you want to become a performer?
Since I was a very small child, I've always loved singing. When I was in secondary school, my music teacher gave me the number of a singing teacher and told me I should get lessons. I didn't think I could perform. Where I came from in South Wales, no one really did that in my little town or village. So I started having singing lessons in Cardiff and used to go for competitions and win them all! Then my singing teacher put me up for a scholarship audition for drama school in London and I won it. That was it really - my life changed overnight. I moved to London and started a three-year course when I was 17. It was quicker than I expected it to happen. I went from working in a finance company in Cardiff and having a singing lesson every week, to moving to London and starting full-time college with people unlike any people I'd never met - huge personalities and kids who'd been dancing all their lives. I was just this little Welsh boy from the Valleys who didn't have a clue.
If you hadn’t become a performer, what might you have done professionally?
When I was a teenager, I was always interested in the sciences, especially biology. I wanted to become a forensic pathologist. I used to read all the books and watch all the programmes! When I went for my work experience, they asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I wanted to work in a mortuary! I ended up at an interior design company - it was so boring.
First big break
My first job. I was in my third year at college, and we'd just done a showcase for prospective agents. I'd been signed with an agent and the following week on Wednesday, I was phoned one evening by my agent saying, "We've got you your first audition. It's for a show called La Cava and it's tomorrow morning." So I went and sang. Friday morning got the job - and Monday I started work! I left college and started rehearsals immediately. That was my break into the business I guess. But I'm thinking maybe my first proper big break was Taboo because it was this big publicised show by Boy George and I was playing the lead in that.
Career highlights to date
Other than Taboo and La Cava … When I got Chris in Miss Saigon, I learnt an awful lot about being an actor. It was a huge learning curve for me because it was such a dynamic role to play. Chris' journey through the show was incredible. He aged about eight years altogether. Miss Saigon is an incredible show, one of the best I've ever done. I also had an amazing director to work with, Matt Ryan. It has been fun working on Rent with William Baker as we've all been learning from each other the whole way through. The amount of interest from celebrities who've come to see the show has been quite bizarre at times, but it's a lot of fun. Another great experience was doing Dickens Unplugged in Edinburgh this year. It was fantastic, really special. It's coming to the West End in February, I think.
The cast of La Cava were my first real musical theatre family. They were very kind and accepted my inexperience and youth as it was my first job. When I was in Taboo, the woman who played my mum originally was Gemma Craven. One day they told us that Lyn Paul was taking over from her. I was a huge fan of Lyn Paul in Blood Brothers when I was 17 or 18. When my family came to London, I always used to take them to see Blood Brothers because I loved Lyn Paul in it. She was just amazing in the part of Mrs Johnson. I used to wait outside the stage door to get her autograph and tell her I thought she was fantastic! So I couldn't believe it... when you have respect for a fellow actor and then you get to work with them, it's really nice.
Favourite musical writers
Adam Guettel who wrote Floyd Collins and Light in the Piazza. I was introduced to his work about six months ago by a friend of mine who I was doing Dickens Unplugged with in Edinburgh. Floyd Collins was a guy who ended up dying in a cave after a boulder blocked him in. It was all documented by a journalist who went down and chatted to him. It became a huge story and was in the papers, on the radio. The music to that show is just fantastic. They did it in London at the Bridewell Theatre once, but they should bring it back and do it big! I'd kill to play that part.
What’s the last thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you? And the first?
I saw Saint Joan at the National. Anne-Marie Duff is brilliant, just absolutely brilliant - I think she should get the Olivier. I was drawn in from the moment it started. I stood up on my own at the end of a show - I've never done that! Nobody else did though. but I just thought "oh, sod you all!" We're such fuddy-duddies in this country about standing ovations. The first was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with Philip Schofield at the Bristol Hippodrome. I was hooked!
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
Luciano Pavarotti. Being a singer, and knowing how sometimes it's difficult to hit those high notes, to open your mouth and have that humungous sound come out of your mouth - I'd love to know what it's like.
I’ve got two! One is The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It’s a fantastic story about a young boy who has an amazing adventure. I really believed the whole thing until someone else who had read it told me it wasn't true, and I was like "no, really!". I got totally into it. It was of those books that changes the way you think a bit. The other is The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I Googled it and found out it was being turned into a movie with this amazing star-studded cast in 2009. It’s about a young girl who got murdered, but through her spirit she observes her family and how they’re coping with her death and she knows who the murderer was. It’s the only book I've read where I cried through it, it touched me so much.
Favourite holiday destinations
I'd love to go to that place you see on the Tube posters where you see those cottages on stilts around that tiny little island that’s going to disappear because of global warming... oh my god, I would love to go there! I think it’s the Maldives or something.
Favourite after-show haunts
This show takes a lot out of me so my social life is a little boring at the minute - I seem to just go home. I have been fortunate enough to go to a few parties recently, one with Kylie! That was very special. I like Two Brydges, that's a really sweet place.
YouTube is just fierce! It’s the best website ever and it’s free – that’s the best entertainment you could wish to have!
Why did you want to accept the part of Roger in this new version of Rent?
I knew about it two years ago and was actually approached by William Baker, the director of the show, over a year ago. It was postponed for a while so I’ve sung with quite a few different Mimis before they finally chose the one finally playing the part, Siobhan Donaghy. Roger goes through such a huge journey, and vocally it's probably the most demanding thing I've ever done. It's really intense. You feel like you've run a marathon at the end of the two-and-a-half hours. Roger's songs sit really well in my voice, they've got this sort of rocky sound. There aren’t many parts in musical theatre that allow you to sing like this. It's a dream for me to play this part.
Did you have any say in the casting of Mimi?
I was in the casting room for some of the auditions with the Mimis, because obviously we did duets and scenes together, so I was there for the whole thing. I’d never been on the panel before. It was quite a weird and disturbing experience for an actor. As soon as they’re out of the room, they’re all so honest and so blunt. I was thinking, “oh my god, is that what they say about me when I’m out the room?”. But it was fun to be around for that. I suppose I did have a tiny bit of say in it, in that the producers and casting directors could see the chemistry between me and the potential Mimi. They took over a year to cast the part as they wanted her to be less musical theatre, more of a raw character, almost an untrained voice. I suppose that’s what they’ve got with Siobhan - a beautiful raw-sounding quality which I think reflects the character of Mimi really well whilst complementing my Roger at the same time.
Had you seen Rent before?
Yeah, I saw every cast that they had in London. I saw the West End original with Joe McFadden. Last time it was here, which was about five years ago, with Adam Rickett and Caprice, I was in Taboo. I also went to the premiere of the film. That was nice because you got to see the original New York cast perform it in the context of a film. There were some great performances, Idina Menzel being one of them.
Your opening night was jam-packed with stars. Did you know they were out there?
Oh yeah, we could see them! William Baker had planted himself in the third or fourth row so we were aware of the A-listers from the word go. At the beginning of the show, it was a little bit weird, but they're just human beings and they're all there to support us. They were up on their feet as quickly as everybody else at the end which was really nice. Kylie has been to see the show about five times now. Obviously, she knows William Baker - they're quite close - so she's been to rehearsals too. It's been great to have her there because she sees things from a very different point of view and she's a lovely girl. She loved watching the show. When everyone stands up at the end, she disappears because she's so small!
Do you read reviews? How has the critical reaction differed from the audience reaction for Rent?
I didn't read the reviews on this until I went into work and then everybody started mentioning them. I have a funny opinion about reviews. You can read and think about them for awhile, but at the end of the day, you have to go in and do the show the following night, and do your best. It's one person's opinion and everyone's entitled to their opinion. So yes I have read the reviews on this. The audience reaction is completely different though - they're bawling at the end of the show, they can't wait to get on their feet. They stand before our final song and stay on their feet for the whole of it. We've had that almost every night since we've begun, so it was a little bit of a shock to see the things the critics said. But we have got an audience for this show, and time will tell. I think we've got something special here - it's a little different, but there we go.
The production is the first in the West End to have a “general admission” price on tickets. How’s this working out in practice?
People are queueing outside the theatre every night for their chance to sit in any of the however many seats there are allocated in the theatre. It's crazy, there's this very exciting buzz every night before the show. I think it's a great idea and people are really warming to it. Apparently, when the doors open, there's just mass hysteria!
What are your favourite numbers in Rent?
I really love singing "One Song Glory". The stage is lit very slightly and I'm on the stage on my own, with my guitar, and it's just a beautiful track to sing. It's quite early on in the show as well, so you feel like you're responsible for getting the audience to listen to you. Also, I think the last number when I sing "Your Eyes" with Siobhan lying in my lap, dying, is very powerful.
What was the oddest/funniest/most notable thing that happened in rehearsals?
The oddest thing was our first dress rehearsal. We were very, very nervous, and we got told that William Baker had brought Kylie to see the show. We literally were like, "what? are you joking?", we were just so nervous. The funniest thing was probably getting to the end and seeing her up on her feet and dancing - she was so happy with the show and Will. That was really quite cool. You've probably guessed I'm a bit of a Kylie fan!
What are your plans for the future?
I hope this show is going to do well and I will have a great year in the run. I would really like to do some recording as a solo artist. There are lots of parts I'd love to play in the West End so you never know. I've always wanted to play the Phantom - I knew all the music when I was seven!
- Luke Evans was speaking to Tom Atkins
Rent opened on 15 October 2007 (previews from 2 October) at the West End’s Duke of York’s theatre.