The all star staged, concert version of Les Miserables is in its final few weeks at the Gielgud theatre in London and it’s safe to say that it’s been a rip roaring success. One of the reasons for this level of success is the cast who are sublime and I recently had the opportunity to speak to John Owen-Jones, who is sharing the role of Jean Valjean with Alfie Boe. In John’s view, and I have to say I agree, one of the reasons this concert version feels so special is that it is very much a one off event; the cast, the venue, the short run, everything combines to produce an incredibly intimate event. The audience is very much immersed in in the production, being very much closer to the action (the orchestra is on the stage), albeit, a stripped back staging. John went on to say that ” performers often get a different sound balance than the audience but in this, with the orchestra being behind us, we get this massive wall of sound, the same as the audience…I love that the orchestra is celebrated the same.”
John, of course, is no stranger to the role of Jean Valjean, having first inhabited the character at the age of 26 (he’s still the youngest ever JVJ) at the Palace theatre, before going on tour around the UK twice. He has also played the role on Broadway twice (most recently taking over from Alfie and Ramin Karimloo) and once in Dubai. And, when the opportunity came up for this, all star version, as John says, “it’s very difficult to say no…it’s an amazing show to be a part of, it’s like a family, you’re part of a company so there’s less emphasis on you as the lead role.” John carried onto say that “the character is enormously satisfying to play, he goes on a journey and there is many ways to tell his story. I enjoy finding new things every night, bouncing off other actors…I’ll never get bored.”
When interviewing musical theatre performers, I always like to ask what their favourite songs to sing (in the show) are and John gave the same answer as Alfie Boe in a previous interview, which is ‘Who Am I?’ In fact, the majority of the previous Jean Valjeans’s I’ve spoken to had a fondness for this song, as, in John’s words, “it’s a lovely storytelling song”. In terms of songs sung by other characters, John picked ‘I Dreamed a Dream‘ and ‘Dog Eats Dog‘, from Fantine and Thenardier respectively – “Dreamed a Dream is a story in a song, it encapsulates Fantine’s whole journey in three minutes”, whilst, “in Dog Eats Dog’, we see the flip side of Thenardier. We meet him and think he’s a bit of a clown but this song shows us the horror of who he really is.”
Jean Valjean’s most famous song is ‘Bring Him Home‘, known as the prayer in the show and, like Alfie, it’s a song that John performs in almost every show he does, along with ‘Music of the Night‘ – John has also performed in numerous productions of Phantom of the Opera (he was phenomenal when I saw it a few years ago). Fittingly, for the two singers sharing the role in this concert run, John and Alfie have duetted on ‘Bring Him Home’ on Alfie’s solo dates twice before, although only one was planned. John was an audience member at the Royal Albert Hall in 2012 when Alfie caught sight of him and pulled him on stage to sing and then, in Cardiff earlier this year, John joined Alfie after being invited to sing when both were driving down the M4 and happened to pull up side by side in stationary traffic. Although John did have advance warning, they still didn’t manage any rehearsals!
After Les Miserables comes to an end, John has two trips to the Far East booked for 2020 – Three Phantoms with Earl Carpenter and Jeremy Secomb in China and Voices of the West End in Japan. I expect ‘Bring Him Home’ will be part of at least one of those shows and perhaps something from his most recent album, Spotlight – ‘Climb Every Mountain‘ is the latest single to be released.
2019 has truly been a productive year for John, as he also appears on Hayden Tee‘s new album, Face to Face, singing a duet on ‘Lily’s Eyes‘ from Secret Garden. Hayden is another musical theatre actor and singer and has played Javert in Australia (I saw him and he was fabulous), Dubai and on Broadway – as you might expect, ‘Stars‘ is the lead track and is superb rendition. Other notable tracks are ‘It All Fades Away’ and ‘The Smell of Rebellion‘.
Climb Every Mountain is available on John’s album Spotlight. Get your copy here. His duet with Hayden Tee is available on Face to Face.
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