At the time of the interview, Marcus Lovett was performing as the Phantom in The Phantom of The Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre London, having previously performed the role on Broadway. His theatre credits include the original Broadway production of Les Miserables, and also on Broadway and the West End: King David (title role), Phantom of the Opera (title role), Whistle Down the Wind (The Man), Carousel (Billy Bigelow), and Aspects of Love (Alex Dillingham).
Marcus is on the cast albums for Les Misérables, Whistle Down The Wind and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Fiftieth Birthday Celebration at The Royal Albert Hall. His debut solo album, “Marcus Lovett, The Give Moment”, was released in 2008, and his second album “Marcus Lovett, Where is Love?” is to be released in January 2013.
Marcus recently took some time out to answer some questions about himself and his career. Enjoy!
What was it like growing up in Wheaton, Illinois?
In Wheaton and Glen Ellyn Illinois, arts and sports were strongly supported. There was always something to do that cost no money, and only required willingness.
When did you first become involved in performing arts?
I played a skunk in a pre-school musical, but my first serious role was as a Master of Ceremonies, dressed as a chicken, when I was nine years old.
You graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1986. What are your favourite memories of your time there?
University was as close as I ever got to a repertory company. No role too small. No billing. There were 3 or 4 fellas in my class taller, and more handsome, so I played many “character roles”, such as Sir Epicure Mammon and Nicely Nicely Johnson. I graduated from playing animals, to playing large guys.
Within a few weeks of leaving university you landed a role in the original Broadway production of Les Misérables. What did you enjoy most about being in the musical?
What I enjoyed most was learning how to change characters in three seconds. Trevor Nunn and John Caird taught me that, while detailed work is imperative, being able to throw out the work and dive in is equally vital.
I have read that in 1994 you made theatre history by performing the lead in two Broadway shows within a two-day-period: The Phantom of The Opera and Carousel. Can you tell us how this came about?
I was playing the Phantom when Nicholas Hytner called. They had shuttered Carousel the day before due to illness of the actor playing Billy Bigelow. I auditioned at 10am Thursday, Lincoln Center hired me at 3pm (Cameron Mackintosh allowed me out of my Phantom contract). We rehearsed 24 hours, had a dress rehearsal at 6 pm Friday and I went on at 2 pm Saturday. That is all I remember except that the theatre history part was an exaggeration. Cynthia Nixon and Braden Danner had both done two shows at a time.
You performed the title role in Tim Rice and Alan Menken’s King David at The New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway. What can you tell us about your role and the show?
King David had an amazing creative team and over a hundred great actors and musicians. Michael Kosarin is an expert conductor. I am enamoured of the production work on the live album.
You played the role of Alex Dillingham in the Broadway run of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Aspects of Love (377 performances) which wasn’t nearly as successful as it was in the West End (1,325 performances). Why do you think it wasn’t as successful in the US?
There are many great shows, including the original Chicago, that had fewer than 377 performances. Also, in the US at the time, the idea of a long-term love quadrangle probably seemed far-fetched. Americans believe in marriage and divorce, and re-marriage.
You have played several roles in the smaller Off-Broadway venues. What do you like most about working with the audience much closer to the performers?
Acting is the same in intimate and larger venues. I like every audience member who purchases a ticket.
Making your West End debut, you originated the role of The Man in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down the Wind at the Aldwych Theatre. What was special about originating a role and also this particular one?
It is exciting to be there, as the composer, writer and director hang their show on the actor. They rely more on the performer to tell them if their ideas are working. When an actor replaces another actor, the ideas have already worked at least once, and it is the actor’s job to recreate what worked before, obviously with no adjustments to the score or the libretto. And I worked with about sixty young actors, who were always happy to be at work. A couple of them are stars, now, and I am hoping they will hire me some day.
You are currently performing the lead role in The Phantom of The Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. How does this compare to your first time in the role on Broadway?
In Gaston Leroux’s novel, Erik, aka the Phantom, has been working on his masterwork for two decades, which would imply that the Phantom is considerably older than Christine. In Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version, the vocal demands of the role are paramount. In my twenties, my voice could handle it better than I could as an actor, given my limited life experience. Nineteen years later, I hope that the story is better served on both counts.
Are there characteristics of the Phantom that you specifically work on to perform the role in your own style?
Sense of humor. In the novel, Leroux states that the Phantom reveals himself in ways both “comic and serious.” Playing a serious story does not require the character (or actor) to always take himself seriously. Witness the letters, and Il Muto, and even Masquerade. I mean who imagines a return to the Opera House in a costume like that? (Thank you Maria Bjonson and Mr. Prince). The Phantom is capable of great harm, and great love, but I also imagine that if circumstances were wildly different, he would be great fun to be with forever.
Which is your favourite song that the Phantom sings?
Music of the Night because it is a five character scene. Christine, Phantom, Music, Night, and the surprise behind the broken mirror. Urgency is created by Raul’s surprise re-emergence. I also love the tenderness that the Phantom is capable of showing, after Christine falls asleep.
Which is your favourite scene in the show?
The one I am playing at the time.
What makes The Phantom of The Opera such a popular musical?
Phantom is true. It is full of feeling. Every character, not just Christine, the Vicomte, and the Phantom, has a specific musical and emotional journey. Meg, Giry, the wardrobe mistress, the managers. In this cast, I would love to see a whole play written for Carlotta, as portrayed by Lara Martins, and Piangi, by Jeremy Secomb, with the Phantom, Christine and Raul as supporting roles. Hey, call the boss!
Why should everyone come along and see the show?
This production, at this moment, as guided by the resident director, Sam Hiller, is in top form. The company cares deeply about the production. There is one bit of the show that could be treacherous for me, physically, but there is a team of people from four different departments who make it simple and safe. The sound, stage, and lighting departments, the people on the boards and behind the scenes make a great show as fine as we can make it.
What can you tell us about your TV productions including Andrew Lloyd Webber: The Royal Albert Hall Celebration?
I shared a dressing room with Michael Ball, Julian Lloyd Webber, Donny Osmond, and Antonio Banderas. It was like being right back at university. Antonio whistled in the dressing room, a big theatrical no-no, and we kicked him out and made him turn around three times, spit, and ask to be allowed back into the room. Standard procedure, even for big stars. I felt like an accidental tourist on that job, working with legends.
You have performed in some amazing venues including Carnegie Hall, L’opera de Paris and the Royal Albert Hall. Do you have a favourite?
I love performing outdoors to small audiences, with very little technical support. I have done this a lot in Sonoma and Napa, in Northern California.
You have released two CDs, The Give Moment (2008) and Where is Love (2012). What can you tell us about your inspiration for the choice of music on the CDs and what more can we expect from you?
We just did the “master” of “Marcus Lovett, Where is Love”, “Where is Love” is the first song that I ever sang in concert, at ten years old. While it is a collection of love songs, it is from differing points of view; from the jolted lover there is, “Say it Isn’t So” (Berlin), to the unloving partner in an unrequited relationship, “I Wish I could Forget You” (Sondheim), to the lover of life, “Feelin Groovy” (Paul Simon) There is also a surprise duet with my son Dylan Lovett. I won’t tell you what it is, but it is usually sung by two witches and it is by Stephen Schwartz.
Away from the stage what do you like to do to chill out?
Be quiet, walk and take photos.
Have you any message for those that are following your career?
Many thanks to both of you.
You can follow Marcus Lovett on Twitter at @marcuslovett_
Interviewed by Neil Cheesman who you can follow on Twitter @LondonTheatre1
Updated 11th October 2014