BWW Interview: Ben Forster Talks ME, MYSELF AND MUSICALS at Theatre Royal Haymarket
Ben Forster has had one of the most varied stage careers in recent years, having played the roles of Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar, the Angel of Music in Phantom of the Opera, and Buddy in Elf the Musical, amongst others.
He now brings his first solo concert, Me, Myself and Musicals, to the Theatre Royal Haymarket.
Who or what inspired you growing up?
To be honest it was partly from watching my sister, who was into dance and musicals, having fun on stage and receiving admiration from our family. I thought I wanted in on that too!
My aunty also gave me an Andrew Lloyd Webber tape when I was nine or ten, and I became obsessed with it and Andrew's music in general. I suppose you could say it was a mixture of the two.
When did you decide you wanted to be a performer?
There were a few moments. When you're ever so slightly good at something at school you get applause and compliments, which ignited an inspiration in me as a child and I rolled with that. You get a buzz from people telling you you're good at something.
We also used to come from Sunderland on the bus - cheap as chips - to see musicals in the West End. I remember sitting on a coach journey home from one of these trips asking my mum what the actors in the show did during the day. I couldn't quite believe that was their full-time job when she told me. We were involved in am-dram, so I assumed the professional companies also had other jobs as we did. That inspired me to do performing as my real job.
What was the most useful thing you learned during the ITV Superstar reality process?
There were two things. I learned it was really important to have self-control, to close my eyes, focus and place my mind in a given moment. It was terrifying at times doing all those performances live and you felt the pressure to not make mistakes.
It also reminded me to stay kind to everyone because you never know who you'll come across in the future. In that process, there were people who acted like divas and those sorts of people really don't get anywhere. It's reassuring to see that our industry is full of people who are kind and I'm proud to be part of that.
What excites you most about bringing a solo show to the Theatre Royal Haymarket?
You just saying those words excites me! I've dreamt of having a concert like this forever. It was really important to me that my first concert of this sort took place in a West End Theatre. I love the West End. It's what I'm about.
When you're in a musical, some people may say they come to see you in the show but the reality is the vast majority have come to see the whole company and production. When you do a concert like this there's a particular buzz that comes from knowing everyone sitting in that theatre is there to see you.
As wonderful as it was performing as Jesus to around 28,000 people, folk coming to my own show is the biggest compliment. I know about people coming from Norway, Japan, even Australia for this show!
What can we expect at the concert? Any surprises and special guests?
The programme is still in development at the moment. I'm hoping to have an orchestra, so I'm planning how that will all work out just now.
I haven't released the details of my guests yet just to make sure they're still available nearer the time, as I'd hate to disappoint people if there are any last-minute line-up changes. The people I do have lined up though...I'm so excited. I'm so happy to have them on board.
The evening should be a lovely round-up of what I've done in my career so far, what has inspired me, and I want to make it as entertaining as I can possibly make a show on a Sunday afternoon.
The whole thing is a bit self-indulgent, but hopefully people will love the music and the interesting stories I have to tell from the 20 years I've been working in the West End. I can't wait to share the stories of the many corners my life has taken - from when I visited Andrew Lloyd Webber's house, to nearly becoming best friends with the Spice Girls - and to just celebrate musicals.
Do you prefer playing a character or being yourself on stage?
I think being yourself on stage is difficult. When you're playing a character, you have an underlying narrative of knowledge and direction about how to play them because you're acting as someone else. There's a responsibility to do it well, but at the end of the day, I can blame my director if my interpretation isn't well received.
I've known the majesty of playing Jesus, the mystery of the Phantom and the joy of playing Buddy. I love doing musical theatre and I'm so excited about now getting the chance to be myself. I hope to do more concerts like this around the country and if I'm lucky, to be able to do a mixture of musicals and concerts in the future.
Any advice for aspiring performers?
I think it's vital to really lose any sense of trying to be someone you're not. In the past, I've tried to be cooler or sexier than I actually am. There's a body self-consciousness, rather than a body confidence, that comes with that.
When you're being yourself, that translates across to other people. When you're relaxed in yourself and your performance, you come across as more truthful. Even in shows I watch now, I can see when someone is being honest in their performance. It took me a long time to learn this.
Any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I have some lovely shows coming up, such as Main Men of Musicals at Cadogan Hall; the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic and the West End Proms. I'm also in the middle of rehearsing a fantastic project with Ramin Karimloo, Carrie Hope Fletcher and Celinde Shoenmaker which I sadly can't say anything about just yet!
Out of the characters you've played, who would you go on a road trip with and where would you go?
Well, I wouldn't go anywhere with the Phantom - he's weird. I also think Jesus would be a bit heavy as a road trip companion. Buddy would certainly be a laugh, but perhaps Brad from Rocky Horror, after the castle experience, of course - he's a bit square beforehand!
I think we'd go somewhere warm for a good party. A bit of heat and fun - nothing like trekking up a mountain or anything!
It certainly is quite the range of characters you've played!
Indeed! You could say I'm a bit schizophrenic, but I'm totally blessed to have been trusted with the role of Jesus, backed up by the Superstar UK viewers who voted for me, then to play the iconic Phantom and then switch to a totally different comedy role like Buddy. It's certainly kept things interesting, and I've been so lucky in my career so far.
Why should people come to Me, Myself and Musicals?
If you've ever seen me in a show you should come to help me celebrate my career and these wonderful roles I've got to play over the years. And for those who haven't, it's your chance to hear me sing those songs you didn't get to see. It'll be a big party in the West End.
Photo credit: The Soundcheck Group