John Owen-Jones is a Welsh musical theatre actor and singer, best known for his portrayals of Jean Valjean in Alain Boublil & Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Les Misérables and of The Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. Returning to the role of Jean Valjean in LES MISÉRABLES: THE ALL-STAR STAGED CONCERT we got to speak to John Owen-Jones about his career and latest album.
How did you get into theatre, was there a particular performance you saw that resonated with you?
I started out doing school plays and then joined a local amateur youth theatre group. The first musical I ever saw in the West End was Chess – and it wowed me so much and looked like such fun that I immediately knew I wanted to take up acting professionally.
What has been your favourite role you have played and why?
Probably Valjean in Les Misérables. The character goes on such a satisfying journey emotionally and it is enjoyable telling that story as an actor. Plus, in a physical sense, it’s a hugely satisfying role to sing.
Where did you train?
I trained as an actor at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
Can you tell us about your current, show LES MISÉRABLES: THE ALL-STAR STAGED CONCERT how will this differ to the production people are familiar with?
I don’t know too much about the new concert production to be honest. I don’t start rehearsals for a while. One of the best parts of the rehearsal process is seeing the set model on the first day – it’s inspiring and exciting. So I can’t really say anything about the concept of this version until I’ve seen the set design. If I were to guess though, I think it will be some kind of blend of the current West End show, the new staging of the show (which will be starting at the Queens Theatre in the winter) and the 25th anniversary concert at the O2. Of course, knowing Cameron Mackintosh as I do, I am sure it will be nothing short of spectacular.
Why do you think Les Misérables is such a beloved show?
I think it’s the story primarily – its themes really touch you emotionally and it carries a universal message which everyone who watches it can connect to – and the brilliant music and lyrics bring that story to life. It’s incredible how the authors have managed to accurately distil the essence of such a massive novel into a succinct and entertaining show. It’s a masterpiece of musical theatre.
Your sixth album, Spotlight, was released in February. How did you find the process of making the album and what is your favourite track on it?
This is the first album on my brand new label JOJ Music and it was made using a crowdfunding platform (an interesting experience). This is the first time I have used a full symphony orchestra on an album too. I was lucky enough to secure the services of the world famous City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and I couldn’t be happier with how the finished album sounds. I’ve acted as producer on all my albums which means I don’t just sing my tracks and leave – I get involved in the minutiae of the studio process of polishing and perfecting the album’s sonic tapestry. I have complete control over the finished sound. That way I can ensure that all my albums are the finest quality that they can be, and even though it’s a cliché to say it – this is my finest album yet! As for my favourite track? Well it varies every time I listen to it. My current favourite is my version of From Now from The Greatest Showman.
Where has been your favourite place to perform on stage and why?
There have been several but the standout ones for me have been Carnegie Hall in New York and the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Both were pretty special due to the rich history and legacy of each building. And they are places I’d dreamed of performing in.
What is the most rewarding thing about your work?
Making people happy. It’s very satisfying being told by an audience member after a performance that you transported them for a few hours away from their life and they were able to forget their troubles.
What’s been a funny moment for you on stage? Any mishaps you want to share!?
There are literally too many to mention but one particular memory that always amuses me is when I was playing The Phantom at a special memorial concert at Her Majesty’s theatre celebrating the life of Phantom’s original set designer the late, great Maria Bjornson. I was performing the “Phantom of the Opera” song during famous “boat journey through the lake of candles into the Phantom’s lair” – one of Maria’s most iconic and atmospheric set pieces – when the radio controlled mechanism that steered and powered the boat started behaving erratically. It began to veer wildly off course and started zigzagging all over the stage before coming to a dead stop in the “lake”. Myself and the actress playing Christine then had to get out and walk. The audience found this very funny of course (was this a new plot twist? The Phantom is a drunk driver who can walk on water?!) especially as it was at an event celebrating the life of the person who designed the set. It turns out the radio signal that controlled the boat journey was being interfered with by the radios in minicabs driving down the Haymarket outside! I imagine Maria was looking down on us and chuckling to herself that night…
Who are your influences and inspirations?
Mandy Patinkin (Broadway actor, singer, film and TV star), Tom Jones (legendary Welsh singing superstar) and polymath Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, (heavy metal singer, author, broadcaster, Olympic standard fencer, entrepreneur and airline pilot)
What’s your go to song for auditions or just singing in the shower?
Usually something by Iron Maiden in the shower or something by Rodgers and Hammerstein for auditions!
Is there a role (regardless of gender) you would love to play in a show?
Sweeney in Sweeney Todd would be nice but I’m hoping there’s a perfect role for me that has yet to be written…
Where can people follow your work on Twitter/Facebook/YouTube etc?