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My Top 5 Showtunes: Peter Polycarpou

The actor tells us the musical numbers he couldn't live without

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Peter Polycarpou
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Peter Polycarpou was an original cast member of Les Miserables and has also appeared in The Phantom of the Opera and Sweeney Todd alongside Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton. He is currently appearing in the European premiere of Stephen Schwartz's musical Working, which features music by Lin-Manuel Miranda and James Taylor, at the Southwark Playhouse.

We asked Peter for five showtunes he just couldn't live without.

"An impossible choice to take five showtunes… So, I have gone for the five I think I would most like to continue hearing and to be performed on any stage, rather than being my five favourite, which I just couldn't do..."

1. "I Am What I Am" (La Cage aux Folles)

This not only embodies a deeply profound idea, it's also about just being who you are and being proud of that and not giving a damn about what people think. It is also a superbly constructed emotional response to the idea that Albin must change into something he is not and never will be. The song soars at the end and becomes a passionate declaration of identity.

2. "Buddy's Blues" (Follies)

Sometimes when I sing the words ("The things that I want / I don't seem to get. / The things that I get... / You know what I mean!") they can be more personal than I'd like to admit. Every actor will understand them. This vaudevillian homage is every bit as difficult to perform as its subject matter is to portray truthfully. The underbelly is about being torn in two directions and on top of that the idea that the clown in us all, kind of echoes a Greek tragedy.

3. "The Prayer" (Les Miserables)

Claude Michel Schönberg played this to us in rehearsals during the last couple of weeks, as it hadn't been written until then and the whole cast were as transfixed then as audiences are today, when they hear it for the twentieth or thirtieth time. I was lucky enough to sit two feet behind Colm Wilkinson every night on the barricade and had the enormous privilege of listening to him singing it. It was the greatest performance I have ever heard of it then or since.

4. "Lost in the Stars" (Lost in the Stars)

It's not one that many people will know but it became a standard song I chose to sing at many auditions in my younger days as an actor. It sat well in my register, so it's been a big part of my life. It talks about being abandoned by God on this forgotten planet called Earth and I suppose it really asks the question of whether we really are alone. It comes from the pen of Kurt Weil and Maxwell Anderson and was first performed in 1949. It also has a glorious melodic line which lends itself to a very personal interpretation.

5. "By The Sea" (Sweeney Todd)

Purely because of Imelda Staunton's mesmerisingly authentic performance as Mrs Lovett. She gave this very simple melody, a childishness which is not only playful but frightening. Again, I was lucky enough to work with her on Sweeney Todd and if ever there was a musical theatre performance I learnt from, it is hers. I wasn't lucky enough to see Gypsy but it was after Sondheim saw her in Sweeney Todd that he thought she should play Gypsy Rose Lee.

Working will run at Southwark Playhouse from 7 June to 8 July, with previews from now.