From Saigon to Norwich
EMMA OUTTEN Steven Houghton will be starring at Norwich Theatre Royal in Miss Saigon, the epic love story set in the Vietnam War. He spoke to Emma Outten about the intimacy of the new presentation.
The last time I interviewed Steven Houghton it was face-to-face at the Theatre Royal, his hair was dyed jet black for his role as Danny Zuko in Grease and his head was full of cold.
That was in 2000. This year, with spring officially sprung, Steven sounded as though he had a spring in his step and assured me that his hair was back to normal: blond (just the way housewives across the UK like it).
When Miss Saigon comes to Norwich Theatre Royal on Tuesday, Steven will, once again, be playing an American in a musical, but that is where the similarity with Grease ends.
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“This one is hard work,” said Steven of his role as American GI Chris in Cameron Mackintosh's new production of Miss Saigon. “That one was quite light work!”
“It's just much, much tougher singing and acting... much harder going.”
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With a company of more than 50 actors and musicians, Miss Saigon will be quite simply the biggest production ever to have been seen on the Theatre Royal's stage.
In comparison, Steven said: “Grease was just a bit of fun really.”
The same thing could hardly be said of Miss Saigon.
Set in 1975 during the final days leading up to the American evacuation of Saigon, Miss Saigon is an epic love story about the relationship between an American GI and a young Vietnamese woman.
Steven's reputation as a musical man rather than just a TV actor strengthens by the year. Remember when he had housewives' hearts fluttering with his single Wind Beneath My Wings (it received Gold Status, along with his Album Steven Houghton)? Remind Steven of that time and his response is an almost inaudible: “Gosh...”
Would he be releasing another single ever again? “Maybe, maybe... it will depend on the way my career goes.”
On stage, he has already notched up 10 musicals to date – he received an Olivier nomination for Keith Nicholson in Spend Spend Spend – so not everything written about him needs to include the line 'Firefighter Gregg Blake in London's Burning'!
Steven started off in musicals. And musicals are his safety net, especially, as he said, “if there isn't much TV work around”.
So was theatre really his big love? “Because I've got two children and a house in London it's not a case of whether I like TV or theatre most,” said Steven, whose children are Daniel, eight, and Ella, five.
At the end of the day he is doing something he loves and because he is an all-singing, all-dancing actor, he can dip into both TV and musicals.
Between the two fields he is lucky enough to enjoy an all-year round job. And these days, he said: “It's the only way to be.”
Steven will be no stranger to the big production that is Miss Saigon. He was Munkustrap in Cats and Arnaud Du Thil in Martin Guerre, after all.
If singing in Martin Guerre was hard work, then so is Miss Saigon.
“It's just so challenging,” he said. “I found it very hard when I first started. I haven't sung like that in years: full-on singing.”
It took Steven a “good month”, he said, “to get my stamina up”. In fact, he admitted: “It was a bit worrying!”
Although Miss Saigon at Norwich Theatre Royal will have “exactly the same score and exactly the same story”, a completely new design had to be created for cities such as Norwich, to stage the production.
It may not have the “big, big set”, said Steven, but he added: “it's far more intimate”.
But what about the memorable final helicopter flight from the roof of the American Embassy?
Well, using cutting edge visual techniques this new production still vividly re-creates it.
“It's better,” said Steven, decidedly.
As for that old helicopter, he said: “I thought it was rubbish. It was really clumsy!”
He has been on national tour with Miss Saigon since June last year but July 4 this year will be his very own independence day as that is when the tour ends.
Two days later, he plans to get on a plane and take a well-deserved three-week break at his second home in Spain. Then he'll get in contact with his agent.
But he is looking forward to coming to Norwich.
After touring here with Grease, he came to Norwich to star as the pantomime Prince Casper in Jack and the Beanstalk in 2002. “I loved it,” he said, “I had a right laugh.”
Co-star Rikki Jay has become a good friend. “We got drunk on many occasions!” said Steven.
It was not the first time he has starred in pantomime but he singled out Norwich as being especially good fun.
In the run-up to the pantomime season he made a guest appearance on the picket line of striking fire crews outside Bethel Street fire station in Norwich.
“It's part of the job,” he said of being ushered over the road to offer his support. His brother is a firefighter, so he was more than happy to oblige.
Ask Steven what he is looking forward to most over the next four weeks and it sounds like it will be getting reacquainted with the nearby Coach and Horses pub!
t Miss Saigon is at Norwich Theatre Royal, from Tuesday, April 5 to Saturday, April 30. Box office, 01603 630000. Further details at www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk