BWW Interviews: Colm Wilkinson on his Christmas Concerts, the Les Miserables Film and more

Colm Wilkinson is having an exciting holiday season. He's about to appear in Tom Hooper's much anticipated film adaptation of Les Miserables, he's embarking on a Canadian tour featuring songs from his hit album Broadway and Beyond and he was just given an honourary doctorate from Ryerson University.

Perhaps best known for originating the role of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables and for being Toronto's original Phantom in the Phantom of the Opera, Colm has had an illustrious career on worldwide stages and has begun doing more film and television work. His show Broadway and Beyond was a sold-out smash last summer in Toronto, and now he's added in some Christmas tunes and is taking it on the road.

BWW caught up with Colm to talk about his tour, as well as find out more about his honourary doctorate, the secret to his longevity and of course, the Les Miserables feature film:

First off, congratulations on your honourary doctorate! What was the highlight of the evening for you?

It was a great honour and a fantastic day. There were 350 students graduating that day and I got to deliver a speech - plus my family was on hand and my kids delivered a fantastic roast which was quite funny. Adam Brazier was on hand from Theatre 20 and he performed a piece called "What Can We Say About Colm?" that was commissioned for me as a gift and written by Nicky Phillips. It was fantastic.

This concert is called 'Christmas and Beyond', how much of it will be Christmas songs as compared to what we're used to hearing from you?

It's mostly the same line-up as the Broadway and Beyond stuff, and I've got Susan Gilmour and Patricia O'Callaghan joining me again. So it'll be a mix of Irish music and Broadway stuff, with the goal of making sure everyone has a great time and gets to sing along, dance in the aisles and enjoy themselves. I will also be including Silent Night, O Holy Night and a great Bee Gees tune called The First of May.

I saw your concert back in the summer and your energy was phenomenal, how do you do that night after night?

I do not know to be honest! I suppose I've been very fortunate in terms of my longevity and my voice and the way it has held up over the years. I hope to be able to keep on doing what I'm doing until I can't do it anymore. I also make sure to limit my talking, get enough sleep and look after myself physically. As I tell my children, the first thing is always health. Get sleep, don't party, don't do drugs or drink. If your body is right then you will be right, and if your body is wrong you will be wrong. Live like a Buddhist monk!

Is it worth it?

Sometimes! *laughs* I'm still surprised at how I sound and I know I'm very fortunate. I can still do a lot of the songs in the original key and I think that this show represents me well musically which is all I could ever ask. I've also been fortunate to have my amazing wife Deirdre by my side all these years, and she takes fantastic care of me.

What is the most challenging part of a tour like this?

Probably staying healthy while on the road. When you're getting on plans and traveling all over the place it can be very hard to keep yourself healthy and avoid catching a cold. Thankfully Deirdre comes on the road with me which I think helps a lot.

You're one of the founding artists of Theatre 20, what did you think of Bloodless, their first musical out of the gate?

I was sad to have to drop out of directing Bloodless due to scheduling conflicts, but Adam (Brazier) came on board and I think it was a huge accomplishment that they got this show on stage. It is still a work in progress but it has incredible potential and Joseph (Aragon) is very talented. The whole Theatre 20 group did an amazing job with that show, and I think they should be applauded for their efforts instead of being nit-picked and criticized. When you look at a brand new musical like that you know that there are going to be flaws, but to have a young group with limited resources stand up and take that kind of a chance is commendable.

Do you think that the fact that they were brand new and working with limited resources should have been taken into consideration when reviewing the piece?

Absolutely! This is a brand new musical, it's not like they could have YouTube'd it and looked at previous productions to get an idea about what they were going to do. They had nothing to go on and had to build it from the ground up which is a massive undertaking. I was there at the start for about five or six months and I know how much work went into this show. This group is passionate and really in tune with the business - they're eventually going to do something earth shattering.

Bloodless reminded me a bit of Les Miserables when it first came out. We were absolutely slaughtered when we first premiered in London, and now it's gone on to become the most successful musical in the world. Often these things aren't appreciated on the first go around.

Do you think Theatre 20 will keep going?

I think they have to keep going and they will keep going. I know that. Adam Brazier (and the whole group of founding artists) are powerhouses when it comes to energy and drive. I sincerely hope they hold onto that and don't let some negative reviews bring them down.

What was it like working on the Les Miserables feature film?

I've done some film and tv work before, I think The Tudors for example was a great thing for me to do because it helped me get familiar with the technical requirements of working on a movie. All the waiting that you have to do and the methodology that goes into this discipline is very different to someone who is in theatre.

I'm used to walking out on a stage, starting from that moment and going through my whole journey in a two hour period. I stay in that zone and that place. A film is more stop and start and you do different scenes out of sequence so it becomes a lot more challenging. The Bishop's role is not huge but it was very gratifying to be welcomed by these big time Hollywood actors who seemed genuinely delighted to have me there. I have a lot of respect for them, this is a difficult process with early mornings on strange locations and it is very repetitive. The thing I had to be most aware of was the way I would project. In theatre you project a lot but in movies you can't do that because of all the close up shots. I learned a lot about how to handle a camera and how much to emote. I would love to do more of it.

We've heard a lot about how the actors are all singing live - is that true? What was it like?

It is true and the first time it's ever been done. It's extremely difficult because you only have this tiny earpiece and you're singing to an electric piano in strange locations and often inclement weather. You don't have the track that they would normally have, they were matching the track to what we did after the fact. So Hugh Jackman had to sing the Prologue to just a tiny electric piano - and I can't even imagine that. For me you need that weight of the orchestra behind you for that song, it gives you a lift and a blanket and something to coast on. Hearing a tinkly piano that sounds like it's miles away is very different, and Hugh has my total admiration. It's unbelievable the discipline and work ethic they all have.

Did you give any of the film stars singing tips?

Not really - obviously Hugh Jackman and I worked together more than the others, but they didn't need vocal coaching from me. Instead the experience was a bit of coming full circle for me, because the Bishop hands the candlesticks to Valjean at the beginning of the movie and sets him off on his journey, and now I get to send Hugh off on his own journey. It's a great way to pass the torch and end my association with Les Miserables.

Finally, what do you think of the prevailing rumours that Les Miserables will be returning to Toronto? Do you think the city can support another production of the show?

I don't know to be honest, I've been out of the theatrical side of Toronto for a long time. But I'm sure the movie will generate a lot more interest in the show - Cameron Macintosh is fantastically good at marketing and I'm sure he's banking on that. In the theatre you MUST market well. If people don't hear it, they don't know about it. He knows how to keep something going and reinvent it. He's done that with anniversaries, amateur productions, playing the show in other countries and now the movie. It's brilliant the life this show has had.

When and Where?

Colm Wilkinson: Christmas, Broadway and Beyond

Currently touring across Canada with many dates in and around the GTA. For full list of cities and concert dates please visit Colm's official website at

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