“I love people leaving the theatre having learned something new”: An interview with City of Angels actor Rob Houchen
Playing Jimmy Powers and Dr Mandril in the dazzling revival of West End musical City of Angels, 29-year-old actor, singer, musician and Guildford School of Acting alumnus Rob Houchen has accumulated an impressive list of credits in the UK and worldwide – including Fabrizio Naccarelli in The Light in the Piazza at the Royal Festival Hall and Marius in Les Misérables at the Gielgud Theatre and the 30th Anniversary Tour. Houchen is also an accomplished musician and songwriter, with albums such as Within Reach, RH, and his latest, RH2.
City of Angels is a musical love letter to the glamour of old Hollywood and a homage to 1940s film noir. It features a jazz score by Cy Coleman and a clever and witty storyline about the LA movie industry. The musical weaves together two tales set in the real world and the fictional “reel world” of the silver screen, stunningly presenting the action in opposing glorious full colour and monochrome.
We sat down with Houchen to discuss his role, the experience of putting on the play, and his other projects.
Hello Rob, great to chat with you. With many awards and nominations, the smart and witty City of Angels – first seen on Broadway in 1989 – has earned cult status with musical aficionados. How would you describe this new production of the show?
This production is masterfully clever and classy with its use of movement, direction, lighting and staging.
City of Angels depicts a retro film noir fantasy version of Hollywood. Is pure fun and escapist enjoyment in theatre the best medicine now in a time of crises?
This is very true, maybe not medicine as such, but a delightful way to lift your spirits and enjoy classically brilliant theatre that takes you into a fun world where you can smile and laugh.
You portray both Jimmy Powers and Dr Mandril in this production. Is it more difficult playing two characters?
It’s great fun! They are very different and both enjoyable to portray, Jimmy in particular – as I play him more in the show – is such a fun, humorous part to bring to life as he croons his way around Hollywood!
Tell us about your experience rehearsing for City of Angels.
I loved rehearsing the show, the scenes are so fragmented and with so many roles, it was only towards the end when doing full runs of the piece in rehearsal that I saw the incredible skill of the cast that reminded me of how much I loved this production when I saw it at the Donmar. The cast, as well as talented, are also so kind and funny to be around so it was an absolute joy to work alongside them and get to know them.
Olivier Award-winner Josie Rourke is the show’s director. What is it like working with her?
She is a tour de force! Her intelligence and kindness in the rehearsal room allows play and witty direction which leads to the creation of a brilliant show such as this one.
How do you prepare for a performance?
I make sure I have a full stomach and a full heart!
What inspires you most about musical theatre?
The escapist nature is an obvious appeal to the job for both actor and audience, giving you a chance to be someone and somewhere else. But I love the idea of moving people and making them leave a theatre having maybe learned something new, even about themselves, but more importantly had fun.
Of all your stage credits, is there one role that stands out for you? Why?
Marius was the role that changed my life as it gave me such amazing opportunities. Fabrizio is a role that will forever stay with me, as I never saw it in the future of my career and found it such an amazing role to portray and show to be a part of.
How much of you is in the personas you portray? Do you become that fictional individual, or does the character evolve from your personality and experience?
I put on the shoes of the character and involve elements of myself that I think will help portray that character to the best of my ability.
Is there a particular part you would love to take on, or an actor or director you have always wanted to work with?
I would love to play George in Sunday in the Park with George!
You also write and produce your own songs. How important is your music in relation to your theatre career?
I love producing and writing, it’s another passion of mine. Acting is and will always be at the forefront, but I think it is so important to keep creative on the side and have side-hustles that fulfil and enrich you in all aspects.
Have you ever considered any other profession apart from the performing arts?
I used to want to be a graphic designer and I got into Central St Martins to do a BA in it at the same time as getting into GSA, so still arty but another route!
What motivates you besides your career?
My parents and their hard work and love are big motivators for me.
Do you have plans for future projects you’d like to share?
I am producing a concert of Children of Eden which has two shows on the 3rd of May at Cadogan Hall, which I will be starring in as Cain and assisting John Caird in directing, so that’s mega exciting.
Thanks again for your time, Rob.
Photo: Johan Persson
City of Angels is at the Garrick Theatre from 5th March until 5th September 2020. For more information or to book visit the show’s website here.
Read about Rob Houchen’s new EP here.
Watch a City of Angels meet-the-cast photoshoot here: