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Past/Present/Future for … Mark Evans

Actor Mark Evans - recently seen in front of Andrew Lloyd Webber and millions of TV viewers on the BBC Saturday night series Your Country Needs You, competing to represent the UK at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest - returns to the stage this week to star in the new British musical comedy Jet Set Go! at London’s 70-seat Jermyn Street Theatre. Last summer, Evans starred as teen heartthrob Troy Bolton in the London premiere of High School Musical – Live on Stage at the Hammersmith Apollo. His other musical credits include Wicked and Spamalot in the West End.

PAST: High School Musical was the most bizarre theatrical experience ever. The kids in the audience – including lots of toddler cheerleaders – didn’t stop talking the whole way through. Say you get a good reaction from a normal audience, that’s kind of overwhelming. But when you get 3,500 five-year-olds squealing when you come down for your bow, it feels like a gust of wind. The funny thing is – and this is no word of a lie – I watched the movie and thought it was cool but also innocent enough for parents to feel safe that their kids could watch it. It’s good, wholesome entertainment. And I did think, that’s a great part, I’d love to play Troy if it ever came up, though it’s one of those things you never think will happen. Then six months later I was auditioning!

For me, High School Musical was important because it was my first lead role. It was a real honour actually – the kids idolise those characters, you know. And I did feel quite a lot of pressure about being compared with Zac Efron. But the director was lovely. Right at the beginning, he said to forget about the film. The lyrics and the majority of the script are the same so, of course, the purpose behind it is the same. But he said, we don’t want you to try to be anybody you’re not – we cast you because we saw that you could do the part. That was lovely because it gave me room to make Troy my own, which hopefully I did.

Confession: when I first heard about Your Country Needs You, I thought I’d never audition because of the stigma and all the rigmarole that comes with Eurovision nowadays. I didn’t want all the hard work I’ve put into my career, which I take very seriously, to be put to waste. But then I heard Andrew Lloyd Weber was involved. When you audition for Phantom or Joseph or any of the shows he’s done, you never actually get to meet him. I thought I might get to this way and I had the day free. Three auditions later, they told me I was in the final six. It wasn’t until the end of the first week’s rehearsals for the first live show that it hit me - I was like, oh my god, I’m going to perform live on Saturday night BBC TV! As a musical theatre performer, the hardest thing was to perform as myself and not be a character, I felt really exposed. It was terrifying too to do the live show, try and perform your best, and then wait and see if people were going to pick up the phones and vote for you. I never pictured myself doing anything like that. But I wouldn’t change it – and I would kind of recommend it to anyone. If nothing else, without sounding too cheesy, being involved in something constantly up and down emotionally made me a stronger and better person.

I’m still unsure whether it’ll make any difference at the Eurovision Song Contest. If we don’t get a better result this year, we might as well pull out because they could not put more effort in if they tried. I wish the best of luck to Jade, who won Your Country Needs You. She’s a phenomenal artist and a lovely girl so she deserves to have a good result. I’ll definitely be rooting for her on the night.

PRESENT: Jet Set Go! happened really quickly too. My agent called me and said there’s this cabin crew musical at the Jermyn Street Theatre. All performers have a kind of tick list of things they really want to do. One of mine was to play in an intimate venue, which I’ve never done it before. I’ve always done big theatres, which is great, but to be able to see the face of every audience member is a very different thing! So I read the script and went along. This show is just so fun. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. It’s just light-hearted comedy with characters that everyone will recognise from flights they’ve been on. We only had two weeks of rehearsals, which is the shortest rehearsal period I’ve ever had, but it’s been good fun cramming it all in. The best thing about the experience for me is the creative team. They’re all young, British writers and they’re so passionate. That really inspires you to do well.

It’s quite a simple story. It’s basically 24 hours in the life of a six-strong cabin crew and two pilots on a flight to New York. When they get there, a couple of them go shopping together, a couple go to a restaurant, and a couple go salsa dancing. Then on the way back, you get a little wrap-up of the stories between the different characters. It’s sweet. I play Richard, a straight-acting gay steward. He has big ambitions, and for him, this job is kind of a means to an end. His big dream is to have a family - meet a nice man, live in Italy and run his own restaurant. He’s a nice guy. It’s funny, I was trying to do different things with my character in rehearsal and the director, Luke Sheppard, said, just be yourself, you’re a nice guy, don’t try and make him anything else. To play someone really similar to myself is good. And it’s all so ‘real’ – no mics, no big production numbers.

Richard has connections with two other characters. Ryan is the bitchy queen who Richard loves to hate in a way. He hates being branded a stereotypical gay, and he thinks it’s because of people like Ryan that he gets that label put on him. So they have that love/hate relationship. Richard’s ‘fag hag’ is called Hayley. They have a lot of banter. It’s to her that Richard opens up and sings a gorgeous song called “If I Could Find a Boy”. It’s very light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek, but it’s really well written and sort of heartfelt too. That’s probably my favourite moment in the show.

FUTURE: For the creative team alone, I would love Jet Set Go! to go on to do something else. Because it’s such a small space at Jermyn Street, we keep joking about when we transfer to the Palladium. This is a good venue to start at in London so fingers crossed. For me personally, I’m still auditioning for lots of things and trying to make the right decisions. I’m not the sort of person who feels like I have to be in a year’s contract just so I can say I’m in work. I want to choose the right things so I can keep stepping up the ladder. I feel like I’ve progressed in every job I’ve done so far - to be in a job just for the sake of being in a job is not what it’s about. I want to be happy and feel that I’m achieving. So I’ll wait and see what happens. I have auditions coming out my ears for different things and hopefully something good will land soon.

When people ask me what roles I’d like to play, I’m not sure whether I should say my dream role or ones I’d be right for at the moment. You know, I don’t want to wish my life away and say I’d like to play Jean Valjean tomorrow. When you think of traditional musical theatre, Miss Saigon is on my list. I understudied Fiyero in Wicked and I’d love to go back and play that role in my own right. I’d also like to do Xanadu. Anything that’s young, fresh, new and exciting. Casting-wise, my main ambition would be to originate a role.

Musical theatre is my main love, but I don’t have one particular path I want my career to go down. I’d love to do some recording work and do more TV and film. I’m a very proud Welsh boy and, after being on the Eurovision programme, I’ve been offered a lot of presenting and TV things back in Wales. My dream would be to get a career going like John Barrowman. He’s a bloody good musical theatre performer, but he hasn’t let himself be pigeon-holed. He’s a huge inspiration to me. I’m only 24. I’m a really hard-working, focused person and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far. If I keep working the same way, I should get there. We’ll see what happens. I’m a positive person. I try to send positive energy out all the time so hopefully that will work.

After success at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Jet Set Go! runs for three weeks at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre from 2 to 18 April 2009 (previews from 31 March).


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