Wednesday, 12 October 2022

INTERVIEW: Anton Stephans, currently playing Leadville in Fisherman's Friends the musical on its UK and Ireland Tour

Anton is currently playing the role of Leadville in the UK and Ireland tour of the new musical Fisherman's Friends. His credits include Fizz in Bugsy Malone (West End), Monsieur Vernier in the world premiere of Conor Mitchell's Mathilde (Edinburgh Fringe), Lead Vocalist in Blues Brothers Meet Soul Sisters (Theatre Royal), Robbins in Porgy and Bess (UK Tour), Poppa in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Starlight Express (UK tour), Musical Lead in Smokey Joe's Cafe (1st UK tour/Broadway and US tour), Lead Vocalist in Hey Mr. Producer for Cameron Mackintosh (Lyceum Theatre), His one-man show, Crying for You...No More (Fortune Theatre), Musical Lead in Dancing and Singing The Blues (European Tour), Classique (Off-Broadway/US tour), Songs of Broadway (Off-Broadway/US Tour), An Evening with Anton (Congress Theatre, Eastbourne), Lead Singer in the Riverdance (Europe tour), Company of Francesca Zambello's Show Boat (Royal Albert Hall), Lead role Father in Children of Eden concert version (Prince of Wales) and Sweeney Todd (Chichester Festival Theatre).

Just as the tour kicked off, we managed to get some time with Anton to chat about the show. 

Fisherman’s Friends the musical is based on a true story and the 2019 hit film, what was your experience of the story before auditioning for the show?

Honestly, I knew zero about the show or the band ‘Fisherman’s Friends’ before the audition! I have since learnt a great deal. I’ve met the actual Fisherman’s Friends. They are a lovely bunch of very down-to-earth men. My character’s name, Leadville, is the name of one of their fathers; so it feels very special to me. He told me I honoured his father’s memory. I am really happy I am able to do this.

Tell us a little bit about the show and your character, Leadville.

Leadville is a joyous and beautiful character to play, full of hope humour and passion. A great best friend to ‘Jim’ our leading man played brilliantly by James Gaddas. Leadville is a widower who loved his wife very much. Now years on he is a wannabe ladies' man but in truth, he’s a bit lame in that department. Much happier having a pint with his mates singing songs and cracking jokes. I don’t think he cares about money fame glory. He just wants to be with his friends who he considers family. He and I are very much alike in that way.

When you received the audition, what interested you most about the show?

What interested me most is that it is a role people wouldn’t necessarily think I’d be interested in or others would not necessarily acquaint me with. I enjoy a challenge. I like to surprise folks!

This is a new piece of theatre, what are the challenges for an actor when presenting new characters to audiences around the country?

The challenge facing any actor whether it’s a new piece or a more familiar piece of theatre is to find the truth and deliver that truth passionately and effectively. Simply by telling the story honestly. Audiences, I feel, respond best to honesty. The real human experience, something I try very hard to communicate. I hope I’m getting it right every night, I do my very best too! I love that I get to tell these stories and live these lives every night 8 shows a week. Our writer Amanda Whittington has written amazingly complex and often very funny characters. Our director James Grieves has given me confidence and courage and directed the show beautifully. I love Leadville. I feel very protective of him!

And what is the most exciting thing as an actor to be touring in a new piece of theatre?

The most exciting part of being in a new work is first that it is ‘new work’ It takes a great deal of skill & effort to create and make new shows happen. This is the tremendous strength of ROYO, our producers, they aren’t afraid to take chances. I feel a profound sense of humility and gratitude to be a part of anything new. I get to share MY Leadville with the world for the first time.

You’re also heading over to Canada with the show and spending the holiday season in Toronto. What are you most looking forward to with that?

Toronto is going to be a blast. I can’t wait to be back there. I have dear friends who live there also. Although it’s bloody cold that time of year! 

As a singer, you’ve sung with some incredible and iconic performers; Tina Turner, Sting, Sir Cliff Richard and Elton John to name a few! If you had to choose one memory that you have from singing with such huge stars, which one would it be?

Gosh, yes, I have sung and performed with what many folks would and rightly do describe as legends. I guess the moments I value most are the private ones rather than public. The hugs, the laughter, the tears and the ability to survive and go on to thrive under immense pressure and an ever-changing musical theatre landscape. Those quiet intimate secrets moments I will never share openly, they are held close dear to my heart.

You’ve performed all over the world; on Broadway, on tour in the US, across the UK and in the West End. Which venue would you say has been your favourite?

I have had such a varied career, for sure! The truth is that although I love touring, there is no place like home. Getting to play Porgy at the Savoy Theatre in Porgy and Bess directed by Sir Trevor Nunn was a superb achievement. David White is a supreme Musical Director and I love him. But also being the 1st black ‘Ghost Of Christmas Present’ in ‘Scrooge’ directed by my dear friend Nikolai Foster at the Curve Theatre Leicester. In fact there is a 10-foot portrait of me as the character hanging up on the walls in that theatre! Very humbling and I am of course flattered and grateful.  I hope in a tiny way we helped support and encourage BLM. Continuing to be brave and bold in casting folks that look like me in exciting roles. Hopefully inspiring people of any age or background that anything is possible. My favourite theatre without a doubt is The Curve in Leicester. Everything they do is magic. It is a very special place. But certainly performing to 20 thousand at the O2 is a thrill I hope to get to revisit. As is Wembley Stadium to 40 thousand!

You’ve only just opened the show ahead of its UK tour, what has the reaction been like so far?

I have been staggered and delighted by the way Fisherman's Friends the musical has been received. The public really loved it! Stamping their feet cheering and standing ovations every show so far. Phenomenal response! 

And finally, in one sentence, why should people come and see Fisherman’s Friends?

If you like me are a great believer in the happy ever after this is the show to come see.

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