Tag Archives: John Owen Jones

John Owen- Jones Hit the Spotlight

Exciting times for Les Mis fans as not only will Alfie Boe be starring in the West End concert version later this year, but John Owen-Jones will be sharing the role with him! John remains the youngest actor to play Jean Valjean and most recently, took over from Alfie on Broadway. Speaking since the announcement, John said “It’s been nearly ten years since the last time I played Jean Valjean in Les Miserables in London. I’m really excited to be going back to the role in what will be such a special version of the show. I am also delighted to note that when I appear in this production at the Gielgud Theatre, I shall have appeared as Jean Valjean in every London theatre in which the show has played!” John also featured as part of Club 24601, which took place to mark the thirtieth birthday of Les Mis.

Aptly, John has today released his fifth studio album, Spotlight. The songs are mostly from the world of musical theatre and have clearly been chosen to form a coherent narrative throughout, beginning with From Now On and ending with Goodbye from the Broadway musical Catch Me If You Can and Rocky Horror Show’s I’m Going Home. Choosing some classic songs that join together with newer tracks, the result is sheer class.

Beauty and the Beast’s Evermore is a song that has begun to be recorded by several artists and no wonder; the beautiful melody perfectly suit the range and strength of John’s voice. The last note alone is worth the album price – John says it might be the longest note he’s ever recorded and it surely must be!

The Prayer is a duet made famous by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli but has been sung and recorded by many artists since it’s first appearance. On Spotlight, John duets with fellow Welsh singer, Lucie Jones and the result is magical. Lucie’s lovely voice blends exquisitely with John’s and leaves the listener wanting to hear from them both. Other highlights from the album include I Dreamed a Dream, a version which has been specially arranged to incorporate musical motifs reminiscent of Jean Valjean, rather than Fantine, for whom the Les Mis song is written. It is a very restrained performance and brought to mind the eloquence of John’s Bring Him Home.

Climb Every Mountain has a very dramatic opening, whilst I defy anyone to listen to Raise Me Up without standing up and singing along at the top of their voice! The inclusion of Spandau Ballet’s Through the Barricades is a surprise but a happy one – the track is nicely understated and as John says, would work in a musical. Ending with a toned down version of I’m Going Home, John first shows us Goodbye, from the short lived musical, Catch Me If You Can, based on the movie of the same name. Upbeat and catchy, t’s a perfect musical theatre song and good to hear something that a lot of the audience might not be familiar with.

Spotlight is available to order here.

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John Owen-Jones Releases New Single – Evermore

Thoughtsofjustafan favourite John Owen-Jones has been recording his fifth album this year, to be released in 2019 and this is the first release from Spotlight:

From Beauty and the Beast, Evermore is perfectly suited to John’s beautiful voice, the soaring vocals are just sublime and really give the listener a taste of what’s to come with the album.  Alfie Boe fans will of course know that Alfie recorded Evermore as a bonus track on Together Again (with Michael Ball) and listening to the two versions one after the other, I found myself wishing for a recorded duet from Alfie and John.  After all, the impromptu duet of Bring Him Home at the Royal Albert Hall five years ago was absolutely sensational!

Spotlight will feature John’s unique take on tracks from musicals and more, with music performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of John’s long time musical collaborator, John Quirk.

Evermore is available here:

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Tiger Bay: The Musical

Monday 13 November sees new musical Tiger Bay, open in Cardiff at the Wales Millennium Centre.  Set in the early 1900’s, the show tells the story of poverty and wealth in Cardiff’s Butetown through one young woman, played by Vicky Bebb.  Welsh musical star John Owen-Jones plays John Stuart, Third Marquess of Bute in a role written for him.

When I spoke to him earlier this year around the release of his compilation album, Bring Him Home, John said that to have a part written for him was “a long held dream”.  With Tiger Bay, John also had the opportunity to be involved in a new musical right from the beginning as the show initially premiered in Cape Town in March / April this year.  This  experience was different to other shows that John’s been it was “more like a long workshop with rewrites and changes” as opposed to slotting into a long running show.

One such long running show was Les Miserables, where he most recently took over from Alfie Boe on Broadway.  John enjoys a good relationship with Alfie and joked about Alfie and Ramin Karimloo (Jean Valjean before Alfie) that “they did what I originally did and then I went and showed them how it was supposed to be done.”  Click here for our Les Miz Broadway reviews to see if you agree!

Whilst on the topic of Alfie (John knowing Alfie and me writing this blog, talking about Alfie was inevitable) we talked about the infamous night at the Royal Albert Hall when Alfie pulled John up onto the stage to sing Bring Him Home.  Of that night, John said “I wished I hadn’t had two pints of lager but it was absolutely unplanned and terrifying but perhaps the beer was helpful.  I couldn’t believe Alfie had the balls to do that.”  That was my very first Alfie concert and because of that magical moment, one of the most memorable:

John, of course, also starred in another iconic long running show, Phantom of the Opera as well as a recent short revival of The Wild Party.  When asked, John’s dream roles include Sweeney Todd, George in the Park, Man of La Mancha, Into the Woods and Company.

Tiger Bay opens on 13 November.

John’s latest album, Bring Him Home is available here:

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John Owen-Jones Brings It Home

Recently returned from Cape Town where he created the role of John Crichton-Stuart in the new musical Tiger Bay, a role written especially for him no less, John Owen-Jones tomorrow releases a compilation album, Bring Him Home.  A mix of musical theatre songs taken from three previous albums,  John Owen-Jones (2009, Unmasked (2012) and Rise (2015), there are also three new tracks to delight fans: Maria, Why God Why and Suddenly.  In addition to this, John is soon to embark on a short solo tour of Wales – click here for dates and venues.  All in all, with Tiger Bay moving to Cardiff in November and a trip stateside in September, 2017 is shaping up to be a busy year for John.

Given his super busy schedule, it was a delight to catch up with John over coffee this week to talk about the new album although of course, you’ll forgive us if we strayed onto all things Les Mis.  Like Alfie, it was through Les Mis that I first became aware of John – the Valjean Quartet at the 25th concert to be precise.  Talking about that incredible moment where Alfie first starts singing, John says that “being in the room when we first rehearsed that and everyone’s hair was blow off when Alfie hit that top note”.  Lovely to hear that the other Valjean’s thought that as it’s the same for most of us too.  As for Alfie, Les Mis is the show in which John first rose to prominence; at 26 he was the youngest actor to play Valjean.  He says of this time on Broadway that “I was very lucky at 26 that I had the chance to play Jean Valjean and I grabbed it with both hands”.   Since then he has returned to the role several times, most recently on Broadway again and for a short run in Dubai and doesn’t rule out another stint in the future “if the opportunity is there again, why not?”

Of the three new tracks on Bring Him Home, one is related to Les Mis and that is Suddenly, the song that was added to the movie version and as yet, has not been recorded by many people.  As such, it sounds fresh and exciting which is no mean feat for a song from a thirty year old musical that everyone is familiar with.  In understated style, John calls the song ” a nice little tune” and it fits in perfectly with the theme of this album which draws heavily on John’s roles with both Les Mis and Phantom, both of which are huge in Japan.  John has played several sell out shows there and in once concert last year, John says that the audience refused to leave the auditorium until he came back for a further encore – the musical director came back on stage without shoes and socks!

As for the other new tracks, Maria was chosen as West Side Story was the first show in which John was ever on stage and is a song he’s always wanted to record as a result.  Apparently it took him this long to actually do it because his mum’s not keen on the song but “she can skip that one”.  Great choice of song – despite there being many versions of this song out there, John’s acting ability enables him to bring an emotional depth that is not always heard.  Similarly personal, Why God Why from Miss Saigon was the song John performed at his audition for drama school and is a song that he has performed live for a long time.

As mentioned earlier, next week sees John embark on a short solo tour of Wales and he says that the set list will consist of mainly musical theatre songs with one or two others in the mix as well.  A number of local choirs will be joining John, not to mention Rhys Meirion in Rhyl and other guest artists.  Sounds fantastic!

Bring Him Home is released on Sain Records on 9 June and is available here:

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John Owen-Jones Takes Over in Les Mis Broadway

Tuesday 1 March saw the first night of John Owen-Jones as Jean Valjean in Broadway’s Les Mis.  As with the first nights of the previous incumbents of the role, our intrepid New York reporter, Roberta Kappus was there and I’m thrilled to bring you her review:

Years of experience on the stage were in evidence  as John Owen-Jones took over the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway. From an unrepentant convict to a dying old man, John Owen-Jones gave a masterful performance conveying  feelings and emotions flawlessly.  By a shrug of a shoulder or an added inflection on a word John changed the focus of a scene. From the beginning his skills were apparent.

On his first day of freedom when Valjean drinks from a stream you can see and feel  his sensation of release and satisfaction at the cool taste of the water. He pauses and savours both the freedom and the water and lets you feel it with him.  Most impressive was Who Am I.  John doesn’t just struggle with the question of turning himself in as another has been mistakenly identified as JVJ but  conveys the life and death consequences of his decision and includes the audience in the process. The closest I could come to this portrayal was seeing JVJ as an attorney who strongly believes in his client’s case and the audience is his jury. He strides back and forth across the front of the stage facing the audience, stretching out his arms as though to embrace the audience. It is very effective and as an audience member you feel involved.

Another striking element in his performance is the aging of JVJ. This starts almost at the beginning when he rescues the man from the runaway cart. It is not an easy task and John is winded and out of breath following the rescue. It continues through his first scene in Paris where he is no longer strong enough to fend off the thugs. In his scenes at home with Cosette his shoulders are rounded and his stride is no longer as strong and sure as in the beginning. The aging continues through his final scene when he is truly a feeble, old man. After the show I went back and read the interview with John on this blog (click here). John described his interpretation of the aging exactly as he acted it. It was masterful and no doubt came from John’s years of experience.

Les Mis is a show that is sung throughout and John does not disappoint. I almost feel as though I do not have to say anything about his singing since he is so well known through his albums and YouTube. He was excellent and his singing appeared to be effortless. Throughout he changed the impact of a line in a song by an added inflection on a word. His Bring Him Home was not only sung but also acted. His hands were clasped in prayer as he pleaded with God. He directed God’s gaze to Marius as though God was a presence on the stage.  The acting definitely strengthened the emotional impact of the song.

I have been fortunate enough to see three Jean Valjeans over the last few months – Ramin Karimloo, Alfie Boe and John Owen-Jones. Each brings his own interpretation to the role and emphasises his strengths. Each makes Les Mis his own story and each has been worth seeing.  If you have the chance, you should see John Owen-Jones in the role.

Yet another fabulous review, Roberta – thank you.  As it has been your privilege to see these three performers, it has been my pleasure and privilege to publish such gifted reviews from you.

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Win Les Mis Goodie Bag!

So, with news of Alfie’s next move (I understand the final agreements are being ironed out this week) in our minds, today it’s time to think about Les Mis.  There are just a handful of performances left to catch Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean, so it’s competition time!

The prize is a signed Les Mis playbill, a Les Mis programme (featuring Alfie), a New York City Guide featuring Alfie on the cover and a signed photo.  I’ll even throw in a stick of Classic Quadrophenia rock!

To be in with a chance of winning all you need to do is answer the following question:

How many productions of Les Mis has Alfie Boe appeared in?

Competition now closed

To be in with a chance of winning you will need to be subscribed to this blog – so do it now!

A winner will be picked at random on Saturday 27 February – good luck!

alfie les mis

To help you think, here is the next Broadway Jean Valjean, John Owen-Jones (thanks to Linda for sharing):

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Club 24601: Peter Lockyer is Jean Valjean

The end of the Club 24601 series is upon us and this week we feature the current London Jean Valjean, and the one who gave me the title, Peter Lockyer.  Although Lockyer was the first JVJ I spoke to, I left him until last in order to bookend with the current Broadway JVJ, Alfie Boe (Boe was our very first featured Club 24601 interviewee but the last to actually be interviewed!).  It just seemed apt.

Lockyer, it turns out, has considerable history with Les Mis but not on these shores.  His first Les Mis role was Marius in the 10th anniversary Broadway production and he also took this role when the show premiered in China – Colm Wilkinson was JVJ.  Roll forward a further ten years and Lockyer was directing an amateur production of Les Mis in Hawaii and there was considerable difficulty in not only casting but also retaining, an actor in the starring role so Lockyer took up the challenge.  Thus it was in an amateur production that he first played JVJ.  Shortly after this, Lockyer was approached by the Les Mis team with a view to playing JVJ on the 25th anniversary US tour and possibly in Toronto.  As we know, Toronto didn’t happen (the role went to Ramin Karimloo) but he was cast in the 25th anniversary tour and played in over fifty cities all over the USA.  The tour finished, life went on and then Cameron Mackintosh asked Lockyer to sing for him on Broadway – the audience also included Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil, both of whom Lockyer had known and worked with in Miss Saigon amongst other projects.  He was then offered the part in London and is now well into his second year as JVJ.  Recently, Lockyer sang with John Owen-Jones, Geronimo Rauch and Colm Wilkinson at the 30th anniversary gala performance:

Locker says that the role of JVJ is “the best role in musical theatre – it goes through so much of life, everything is there on the stage”.  However, the iconic nature of the role and the music means that it can be quite daunting to think about.  To combat this, Lockyer tries to empty his mind of everything but JVJ before he steps on stage in order that the audience “only sees the story, not Peter Lockyer playing the role”.    Along with everyone else interviewed, Lockyer enthuses about the incredible score and how it has the power to move people just as much today as it did when it first opened.  In Lockyer’s words, “you can’t hear the opening chords of the show and not feel something”.

Aside from the comment about the role being too daunting if you thought about it too much, there is nothing that Lockyer dislikes about the show.  He also found it difficult to choose a favourite moment, plumping instead for all the little moments on stage such as Drink with Me for being part of the ensemble and the epilogue because it is so moving.

Thank you to all the Club 24601 participants – I’ve really enjoyed this series of interviews and listening to all the various versions of Bring Him Home.  Yes, I do have a favourite (after Alfie of course!) but I’m not going to tell you yet!  Please do leave a comment though to tell me your favourite.

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Club 24601: Geronimo Rauch is Jean Valjean

Today sees the seventh interview with the members of a very exclusive club, Club 24601 – those who have played the iconic role of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.  Most have played the role in London or Broadway, one in Belgium and one in Australia but today’s interviewee, Geronimo Rauch, started his Les Mis career in Madrid.

The Spanish production was different to London (it was the 25th anniversary production) and Rauch played the role for two years before being invited to take the part in the Queens Theatre.  It wasn’t quite so simple as that however, as Cameron Macintosh wanted to hear Rauch’s English; a phone audition duly ensued and it must have gone well as he then came to London.  You won’t be surprised to hear that aside from the production differences, the main problem for Rauch in London was getting to grips with the language.  He says “I had to erase my thoughts from the Spanish version but it was easier than I thought to start again”.

One of the things Rauch says he enjoyed me most about the role was “the incredible music.  It’s so demanding, you show all your acting and singing skills.  You go from an angry prisoner to an old, sad, dying man.  It’s a beautiful journey”.   Although there are some amazing good points about the role, all the interviewees including Rauch have said that it’s incredibly hard when you’re tired with the role demanding everything, vocally, physically and emotionally.  Having said that, Rauch provided one of the most memorable quotes about the role, saying “at least we don’t have to dance”.  A dancing JVJ – can you imagine???

Asking similar questions of all the JVJ’s I spoke to, you’re bound to get some similarities of answers and the most similarities came when I asked what was their favourite song to sing.  All chose Bring Him Home without hesitation but Rauch was among those who also chose one of the most dramatic scenes of the show, the soliloquy.  Along with Alfie, Dave Willetts, Peter Karrie and Dan Koek, Rauch chose this for the vocal and acting challenge.  As for his favourite song by another character, Rauch found it hard to pin a choice down, choosing Fantine and Eponine’s songs and then going on to mention all of Javert’s songs too.

Upon leaving Les Mis, Rauch joined that band of actors who have also played the title role in Phantom of the Opera and only relinquished that role recently, to an old JVJ and Phantom, John Owen-Jones.  After three and half years, Rauch was hoping to return to Spain and record a new album, although at the time of interview, he wouldn’t say what sort of music he hoped to record!

Club 24601 will be back next week with the Australian JVJ, Simon Gleeson.

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Club 24601: Peter Karrie is Jean Valjean

Fourth in our series of Club 24601 interviews is our earliest Jean Valjean so far, Peter Karrie.  As well as JVJ, Peter is most associated with the title role of Phantom of the Opera, a distinction he shares with three other JVJ interviewees (John Owen-Jones, Geronimo Rauch and Dave Willetts).  He is also the second Welshman in succession to feature in our Club 24601, following John Owen-Jones last week.

Peter first played JVJ from 1986 for three years and returned twice more.  He first got the role after auditioning whilst appearing in the first national tour of Evita.  The musical director of the show went to see Rebecca Storm in Liverpool (where Evita was at the time) with a view to casting her as Fantine.  Upon seeing Peter in Evita, he also asked him to audition and he duly did, around the piano in the foyer of a Liverpool hotel.  He then repeated the process on the stage of the Palace theatre in London and was cast a week later.  During all this time he had not met Cameron Mackintosh and when  he did finally meet him, on his opening night, it was a rather unfortunate meeting to say the least.  After the show, Peter was in his dressing room with his family when there was a knock at the door and this man stood there telling Peter how much he had enjoyed the show and invited him to dinner.  Peter politely declined…only finding out the next day that the man was Cameron!

As the most experienced JVJ in this series of interviews, I asked Peter how his approach changed each time he revisited the role.  He said that it was like “slipping back into a pair of old slippers because I got on so well with the role”.  When he first took on the role and was in rehearsals, the role just wouldn’t click; something just wasn’t right until one day he found the inspiration.  After a particularly bad journey, in the rain, Peter said that “he walked into rehearsals trudging along” and that’s when he realised that the key to his portrayal would be a heavy footed trudge, “walking as if he was pulling a truck behind him”.  That was the key to Valjean’s character.

Obviously, with such a long run as JVJ, there would be many other cast changes and new actors to work closely with.  One actor who really sparked with Peter was Philip Quast, who in Peter’s words was “the best Javert I ever worked with”, although if you had been present in their first ever rehearsal, you might be forgiven for wondering how it would turn out.  Peter described to me how after a while in the role he had his own way of doing things and Quast came in and made it abundantly clear that he had his own ideas about the relationship between the two characters which led to some interesting rehearsal moments but some fabulous moments for the production.  The confrontation in the sewer, where Javert eventually stands to one side to let JVJ and Marius pass, was one such moment: in rehearsal, Quast was adamant that Peter would have to force his way past, whereas Peter was equally adamant that it was not right for the character and the story.  Quast eventually came round to Peter’s way of thinking and Javert continued to move aside at the vital moment.

In common with all the actors I interviewed, Peter mentioned the amazing score as the best thing about the role; it was challenging both musically and as an actor, “a very satisfying role”. This is reflected in his choice of favourite song, which (apart from the obligatory Bring Him Home) is the soliloquy.  Peter said that “musically, dramatically, everything was in that song”.  He went on to say that the role was “always emotional.  I never cried during the show even though I could hear the audience sobbing, crying but at the end of the show I would burst into tears, every time.”

Given that Peter is our longest serving JVJ, I couldn’t resist the temptation to ask about any disasters or funny moments that occurred in the show and he obligingly told me about “one Javert who made me corpse”.  After one cart scene, just before JVJ launches into Who Am I?, the Javert in question, turned his back in the audience, clicked his heels together and was supposed to then make his exit.  He did make his exit but not before he said (knowing full well that only Peter could hear him) “if you don’t have that cart moved, I’ll have it clamped”.  Peter said he laughed so much he had to feign a coughing fit and ran off stage to compose himself!

Lastly, Peter’s favourite song by another character was Empty Chairs and Empty Tables as it’s a “very poignant, very emotive song”.

Here is Peter singing in Les Mis Medley from 2011:

Club 24601 returns next week with an original cast member, Dave Willetts.

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Club 24601: John Owen-Jones is Jean Valjean

Week three of the Club 24601 Jean Valjean series and this week’s focus is the youngest JVJ, John Owen-Jones.  (Try writing lots of JOJ as JVJ and see how hard it is!)  As well as being the youngest JVJ, John also played the role in the 25th anniversary touring production of Les Mis (he is the JVJ featured in the cast recording) and on Broadway.  In addition, he of course formed one quarter of the Valjean Quartet along with Alfie Boe, Colm Wilkinson and Simon Bowman at the 25th concert.  Also, very memorably and obviously unexpectedly, John was called up on stage at the Royal Albert Hall in April 2013 to sing Bring Him Home with Alfie  – what a great moment that was for the audience!

In a previous interview, I asked John if he had plans to work with Alfie again after that night and he said that he’d had no plans to work with him then either!

He is currently playing the title role in Phantom of the Opera in the West End and is tremendously good (I saw him just over a week ago).  In the course of the interview, I asked if he would ever be tempted back to Broadway and his answer was in the affirmative, saying “I would quite like to have a crack at Phantom in the Majestic one day”.

Back to Les Mis and as he is the youngest person to play JVJ, I wanted to know what was different about the way he approached the role when he was older? John said “Well, I had a more rounded outlook on life and more life experience to draw on when I was older. I had two children in the intervening years and suffered some loss in my family and had grown up a lot. I therefore was naturally able to give the character more depth and I like to think my approach to interpreting the role was more mature than when I was 26”.  The natural next question was about the differences in playing the role in the West End, on Broadway and the touring company.  It turned out that there were considerable differences – the touring version (now the Broadway show) was re-imagined from the ground up and John was given a lot of freedom to inject ideas into the show.  Some of the new bits of staging – the hint of Valjean meeting with Petit Gervais in the prologue (a very important part of Valjean’s story in the book), the chain in the hospital fight, the bishop returning at the end of the show – all came from ideas he had in rehearsal.  John says that one idea was rejected (no beard and a shaved head – can’t think why John!).  John went on to say that “these of course all informed how I approached the role. I also worked hard to age my voice and physicality as the show moves along and tried to make Valjean rougher vocally in the beginning.”  Of course I then wanted to know if he would play the role again if asked? The answer was “yes of course but I think the time would have to be right for me to do it again and I’m not quite ready at the moment.”

Throughout the interviews with the JVJ’s there has been a consistent theme of how amazing it is to sing such an incredible score night after night and John is no exception.  When asked about the best aspect of the role, he said “when you are 100% on top of it playing the role can feel like flying”; conversely, the best part is also the worst, “sometimes the role is like climbing a mountain every night if you aren’t feeling physically or vocally up to it.”  As Geronimo Rauch memorably said, at least they don’t have to dance!

Unsurprisingly, along with most of the other JVJ’s, John chose Bring Him Home as his favourite song as a singer, and uniquely in these interviews, Who Am I as an actor.  Oneof his most memorable JVJ moments concerned a rehearsal of Bring Him Home with Claude Michel Schoenberg: John said “I was rehearsing Bring Him Home with Claude-Michel in a room backstage at the Barbican. We were running through the song when he suddenly stopped playing the piano and looked slowly around the room with a quizzical look on his face. Then he looked at me and said in that wonderful French accent of his: “Wait…zis room…it is where I wrote zis song!”  What a fabulous memory to have!  I was also interested in which non JVJ songs our JVJ’s liked (or wish they could sing in the show) and John’s choice was Fantine’s I Dreamed A Dream, saying “I think it’s the best song in the show”.

As mentioned earlier, John is currently playing the Phantom in the West End and he will shortly (this week) be appearing at Bryn Terfel’s 50th birthday celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall and in Broadway to the Bay in Cardiff (click here).   His latest album, Rise, is available here:

JOJ Rise

I had the great pleasure of reviewing it earlier this year – click here to read.

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