Valjean Quartet

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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:

thanks for reading and sharing

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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.

thanks for reading and sharing – next week’s JVJ is Peter Karrie

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