Wonderful Town in MK: Michael Xavier interview

WHEN the revived Leonard Bernstein musical Wonderful Town opens for an 11 week nationwide tour in Milton Keynes later this month, the show’s leading man only needs to make the short trip from east Bedfordshire to the new city’s theatre.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 5th April 2012, 12:05 pm

Liverpool-born actor Michael Xavier, who lives in The Baulk in Biggleswade, is one of West End’s best known musical talents with a pedigree few can match.

He is set to play magazine editor Bob Baker alongside Sound of Music star Connie Fisher and Lucy van Gasse (Love Never Dies) in a lavish new version of the show which won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, when it premiered in New York back in 1953. And again in 2003, Wonderful Town took further plaudits with Maureen Lipman heading up the London West End cast.

The Biggleswade Chronicle’s Alan Wooding caught up with actor Michael at Milton Keynes Theatre where he chatted about his latest role along with his two co-stars.

“I really knew nothing about the show before I went to the auditions,” Michael confessed. “I did what everybody does by thinking it was ‘On the Town’, so it was a pleasant surprise when we started rehearsals.

“The show has many different musical styles and Connie and Lucy are great to work with. We love it as it’s a show from Broadway’s golden age of musical theatre.

“I play Bob Baker who arrives in New York bidding to become a creative writer, but he ends up editing a magazine. He’s feeling frustrated with the industry while his love life never goes right. He always seems to pick the wrong kind of women.

“It’s nice to play the character as falls in love with two women... but I won’t give the plot away.”

When asked about his previous musical roles, Michael rattled of a remarkable list, starting with his most recent West End success, Love Story, directed by fellow musical theatre star Michael Ball.

In it he played Oliver Barratt IV, the role made famous by Ryan O’Neill in the blockbuster film while Michael’s portrayal led to an Olivier Award nomination for Best Actor in a musical.

His other musical credits include Raoul in Phantom of the Opera, Sir Galahad in Spamalot!, Sky in Mamma Mia, Freddy in My Fair Lady and Chris in Miss Saigon, while he also led the Chichester Festival Theatre’s 2009 revival of Oklahoma, playing the part of the romantic cowboy lead, Curly.

“A few years ago when I was playing Raoul in Phantom, Lee Mead was my understudy. He told me there was a note pinned on the theatre noticeboard saying ‘Do you know who the next Joseph is?’ and he asked me if I thought he should go for it.

“I said yes which means I can claim I was partly responsible for sending Lee to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s audition. Since then he’s been incredibly successful... and he’s also married to Denise van Outen!”

When asked why he chose to live in Biggleswade, he said: “I’ve been here about a year now. I used to live in London but when you’re on tour, Biggleswade is pretty easy to get back into town or anywhere else for that matter.”

And when asked about the length of time playing a leading musical role, he replied: “In the West End you usually sign a contract for a year, although in My Fair Lady I only did seven months. If you’re doing regional theatre, Oklahoma was only three months altogether and I almost prefer it to be shorter.

“I never get bored with shows, but three months means that you never get stale so the tour with Wonderful Town will be just right.

“We open at the Lowry in Manchester for a three-week run later this month and then start the tour in Milton Keynes. Then it’s all over by early July.”

With the cast of Wonderful Town just three weeks into rehearsals, Michael admitted that they had all been rehearsing like crazy ahead of the press preview evening. “We had to polish it up a bit, but the songs are really great.”

The show will run at Milton Keynes Theatre from Tuesday, April 24 until Saturday, April 28 before setting off for ten further weekly dates in cities as far apart as Plymouth and Glasgow.

To book, call the box office on 08448 717652 or visit www.athtickets/miltonkeynes