It’s only a matter of time before South Africa loses its best musical actor to Broadway. For Jonathan Roxmouth (29), a starring role on Broadway is inevitable. Hopefully as the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, he says, which is still the role he’s best remembered for on home turf.
He’s also starred as Sweeney Todd, Tony in West Side Story, Bertie Wooster in Jeeves and Wooster and owned the stage in numerous smaller, more intimate productions, a lot of them self-penned. The man has even upstaged Jesus, with his stunning performance of Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. His latest role is the Pharaoh in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
He’s as comfortable on a huge stage filled with razzmatazz as he is in a tiny theatre as a raconteur and piano player. “It’s nice to mix things up. I never want to do the same sort of show twice in a row — you get predictable and boring and that kills you more than anything else. It’s nice to flip between those worlds and keep the audience guessing and that’s the challenge for any actor, to do something brand new.”
He’s swift to credit those who have helped his career including Pieter-Dirk Uys, Ian von Memerty and Pieter Toerien. The latter advised him to use his time between big performances to start writing material himself.
“The thing I am most proud of and grateful for is that I have been around people who have encouraged me to do my own stuff, not just wait for a phone call for auditions for an overseas musical,” he says. “We don’t want to become an import-only industry, that’s very dangerous.”
His first original show was Call Me Lee, a tribute to the flamboyant pianist Liberace. “The biggest thing I have tried to straddle is doing what you want to do without making the audience feel like you are telling them what they should watch,” he says. “The secret of a great show is when everyone — the writer, actors and audience — all leave feeling like they got what they wanted.”
Among those local productions were From The Footlights, a concert of songs from hit musicals, which he also released as an album, and another album is in process.
The theatre can thank the dullness of South Africa’s legal system for Roxmouth’s presence. He originally planned a career in law, until he realised there’s no jury to perform to. “We don’t have a jury system or an audience, just some dozy fart in a red robe, so what’s the point?” he jokes. — Lesley Stones
Photo: Renee Frouws