An article recently published in So So Gay magazine was brought to my attention a few days ago by a couple of Facebook friends who had posted a link to it. The article in question was entitled ‘Ten of the hottest West End leading men’ and featured an assortment of male actors who had performed in West End musicals and stage plays, handpicked by one of the writers for the magazine. Sure, there may be outraged accusations of sexual objectifying hurled around when articles such as these appear, particular when they have a female focus, but most red-blooded men and women appreciate an attractive face and a toned body and are capable of taking them for what they are; a little tongue-in-cheek fun.
A leading man is typically handsome, whether their face is on film, TV or stage. There are always exceptions of course, but sex appeal is part of the package for an actor in the public eye and any theatre fan will agree that there are a lot of very handsome men in the West End. Saying that someone is good-looking isn’t a crime, and neither does it mean that they can’t also be talented. There are scores of actors performing in West End musicals that are the envy of untold fans because they have the ‘whole package’; they can sing, dance and act, with the added bonus of good looks as the cherry on top.
When it comes to the West End, talent is far more important that how someone looks. For me, the theatre experience is all about the actors on the stage and how much they can make me believe in the character and the story they’re delivering. I’ve watched so many performers through the shows I’ve seen in the West End, as well as other theatre-based events, and very rarely have I seen anyone who has struck me as being terrible. I have definitely encountered a number of performers who possess something special that makes them stand out from the crowd though, and over the years, there are certain male actors who have really captured my attention. Aside from the obvious names such as Michael Ball, Ramin Karimloo, John Owen Jones, Alex Gaumond and Geronimo Rauch (the latter of which I talked about in my previous blog post), there are others who have remained at the forefront of my mind in regards to West End talent since first becoming aware of them. Inspired by So So Gay magazine’s article I decided to name some of my personal West End favourites. I could be here all day naming notable stage performers I’ve seen, but in keeping with the original article, I’ve created a list of ten West End men. The over-ruling emphasis is on talent rather than looks (although you could argue that they’re rather dishy too), and although each of them are at varying stages of their careers, they all have that special quality that makes them not just good, but potentially great.
Ten of the most talented London West End men (In alphabetical order)
I first met Simon at the MADTrust event West End Bares which he attended as a guest of Ramin Karimloo, who was performing on the night. He has appeared in a wide range of shows in the West End, including Once Upon A Time, Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat and We Will Rock You. He played rebellious student Enjolras in the 21st Anniversary cast of Les Miserables at the Queens Theatre and also played the roles of Officer Starnes and Tom Watson in the acclaimed production of Parade at the Southwark Playhouse. Most recently, he was cast as Raoul in the 25th Anniversary Tour of The Phantom of the Opera, reprising the role he first played in the West End production at Her Majesty’s Theatre. He also released his debut solo album, Looking Up, last year, which featured a mixture of cover songs from various musical genres as well as his own original material.
This very talented singer/songwriter can next be seen playing TV show host Liam O’Deary in the upcoming X Factor musical I Can’t Sing! which opens at the London Palladium in March (previews from 27th February).
I first heard of Killian during his Les Miserables days, when he was playing the role of Enjolras in the West End production and also appeared as Courfeyrac in the 25th Anniversary concert at the O2 Arena. It was probably when he turned up to a studio session I was present at to record vocals for the cast recording of My Land’s Shore that he really impressed on me though. In addition to the numerous shows the Irish actor has been involved with back in his homeland, he has also won acclaim in the West End for his roles as Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera (Her Majesty’s Theatre) and as Tony in Billy Elliot (Victoria Palace Theatre).
It wasn’t the West End that first introduced me to Hadley, but the folk/bluegrass band Sheytoons which he created with fellow performer Ramin Karimloo. Despite having such roles as Marius in Les Miserables, Tiernan in the Broadway production of The Pirate Queen and El Gallo in The Fantasticks already under his belt, the first time I saw him perform in the musical theatre world was through his involvement in the 25th Anniversary concert of Les Miserables in which he played drunken student Grantaire. He has since continued to make quite a name for himself with such notable roles as Raoul in the 25th Anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall and an appearance in the Les Miserables film adaption as the Army General of the National Guard. He also made a return to the West End production of Les Miserables following the anniversary concert, this time starring as the dogged Inspector Javert. It was during this time that I met with Hadley for a lengthy interview which revealed much about him – including what a well-versed, down-to-earth and incredibly decent person he is.
Hadley is currently appearing as Tullus Aufidius opposite stage and screen actor Tom Hiddleston in William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse.
My very first reviewing gig was for a concert showcasing the work of musical theatre composer Steven Luke Walker, performed by a line-up of West End stars and featuring Scott. He sang one of my favourite compositions on that night, a number titled ‘Justice Be Done’, and having already seen the York-born actor a few months prior in the Windsor performance of his Direct from the West End concert series, he became a name to look out for. Having already appeared in such productions as Eurobeat, Honk! The Ugly Duckling, and the Take That musical Never Forget, it wasn’t until his West End role as Feuilly in Les Miserables that I first saw him take on a character in a musical theatre production. As well as being involved in the 25th Anniversary concert of Les Miserables, he has a wealth of experience in various cabaret/concert events and recently released a music video recording of his original comedy song, ‘Self Indulgent Ballad’, which has become a big hit with theatre fans.
Scott is currently hard at work in rehearsals for the upcoming X Factor musical I Can’t Sing! at the London Palladium, alongside Simon Bailey.
The West End production of Lend Me A Tenor which ran at the Gielgud Theatre in 2011 remains to this day one of the most entertaining musicals I’ve seen, and a big part of that was due to Damian, who was starring as the hapless Max. His transformation from self-doubting nerd to assured tenor superstar was wonderful to behold and his comic timing spot-on in the farcical events that unfolded. The Australian actor has an impressive list of theatre credits to his name, including The Woman in White, Shoes, Fiddler on the Roof and Little Shop of Horrors. Some of his most recent stage appearances came in Company (Sheffield Theatre) and Dickens Abridged (Arts Theatre).
He was last seen in the acclaimed revival of Merrily We Roll Along, first at the Menier Chocolate Factory and then the subsequent West End production at the Harold Pinter Theatre.
It was Ross’ vocal contributions to the albums of various musical theatre composers that first alerted me to the awesome range of his voice, having featured as a guest vocalist on the albums of such UK writing talents as Michael Bruce, Tim Prottey-Jones, Chris Passey and Dougal Irvine. He has accrued quite a list of theatre credits in his career so far though, including performing in the Chess concert at the Royal Albert Hall. He has appeared in some of the West End’s biggest musicals, such as Legally Blonde at the Savoy Theatre and We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre. He took on his first full-time principal role with his last West End appearance, when he starred as Drew in the Broadway transfer of Rock of Ages at the Shaftesbury Theatre. He performed the role until the show’s closure in November 2013.
Ross was most recently seen at the Cambridge Arts Theatre playing the title role in a pantomime production of Robin Hood, albeit one with a twist as it combined the plot with that of Babes in the Wood.
It was perhaps on the third occasion I went to the Adelphi Theatre to see Love Never Dies, the sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, that I had the pleasure of experiencing Tam covering the lead role of The Phantom. Seeing the understudy can be a disappointment for some people, but even though Ramin Karimloo was phenomenal in the role, Tam gave a sensational performance which no-one could have been disappointed by; something which was reflected in the fact that he was later made the alternate Phantom. Impressed by his vocal ability and stage presence, I saw him then as a potential West End leading man and again, I don’t think he’s disappointed. He has built a reputation as a solid actor with every role undertaken, and since Love Never Dies, has continued to rise to greater heights through further acclaimed performances like playing Anatoly in the Toronto production of Chess.
Tam is currently starring in the West End production of Les Miserables in one of the iconic roles of musical theatre, having been part of the company at the Queens Theatre since June 2012 as principal character Javert.
I first met Nadim in 2011 at the after-party for West End Eurovision, the popular annual event staged by The Make A Difference Trust (MADTrust). It was at another MADTrust event a few months later that I got a real glimpse of something special though. Appearing in the West End production of The Phantom of the Opera at the time, he performed with his fellow cast mates as part of a fundraising cabaret at the Delfont Room and also premiered the original song ‘Complicated Love’, which he had co-written with Will Barratt. Out of the many wonderful talented performers there that night, his was one of the voices that struck a chord with me, so to speak. He has since been involved in many more charity events by/for MADTrust, but his contributions to the world of musical theatre go far beyond that. He appeared in a number of theatre productions, including his West End debut as Rolf in the musical The Sound of Music at the London Palladium, before joining Phantom at Her Majesty’s Theatre. As understudy Raoul, he played the leading role on numerous occasions and was highly praised for his performances. He has since moved on from Phantom and taken on further roles in such musical productions as Chess (Union Theatre) and Titanic (Southwark Playhouse) and released his debut solo album, We All Want The Same, in August 2013, which showcased a selection of the singer/songwriter’s work.
Nadim is currently to be found at the Theatre Royal Haymarket where he is performing in the acclaimed West End production of One Man, Two Guvnors.
It was during a visit to the Queens Theatre to see Les Miserables that I discovered the wonderful talent that is Liam, who was performing the role of Enjolras in the long-running musical and doing a mighty fine job too. Liam, who has also appeared in other classic shows such as Hair! (Gielgud Theatre), Hairspray (Shaftesbury Theatre) and Wicked (Apollo Victoria Theatre), also impressed with his strong vocals on the album of up-and-coming musical theatre writer Chris Passey. He sang an original number called ‘In My Arms’ and proved himself to be a very good choice of guest artist.
He was most recently seen on television screens around the country when he appeared on the second series of BBC1 singing competition The Voice, giving a highly successful screened audition before unfortunately being eliminated later in the show’s run, despite huge support from pop star coach Jessie J.
It was when I was covering the studio sessions for the cast recording of My Land’s Shore that I was first introduced to Jon, who was playing the lead role of working class Welsh martyr Dic Penderyn. He has a personality as wonderful as his voice, and it was instantly clear that this was a leading man that West End audiences both needed and deserved to see. He was appearing in the West End production of Les Miserables at the time, alternating the role of Jean Valjean with operatic star Alfie Boe. Where most people were clambering to see Boe on stage following his performance in the same role at the 25th Anniversary concert at the O2 Arena, I chose to see Jon on stage in the role instead when I took my daughter along for a birthday treat. Of course, it proved to be a very good choice as he was simply superb as ex-convict Valjean. He has given similarly top-quality performances in the other shows on his list of theatre credits, including The Blues Brothers, Chess, The Hired Man and the National Arena Tour of The War of the Worlds, as well as playing the lead role of Jesus in the 40th Anniversary concert of Godspell at the Palace Theatre, Manchester.
Jon has recently been dedicating his time to the all-male rock band Tenors of Rock, which were featured on the 2013 series of The X Factor and narrowly missed out on the chance to go to the judges houses and make it through to the live shows. They already have a loyal fan base though and are currently rocking audiences in venues all over the world ahead of a tour in Germany this year.
These are ten of the most talented West End men right now. Some you’ll agree with and some you won’t. I’m sure many of you will also have other names to throw into the hat. There are certainly more candidates to be found in the West End, but for me, these ten performers perfectly reflect the level of high-quality talent that audience members should expect to see gracing the stage of the West End, and long may they continue to.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Updated 7th October 2014