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by Michael Portantiere



    Julian Ovenden plays Frances O'Connor's husband in the eagerly anticipated new ABC-TV series Cashmere Mafia, a gig that should gain him quite a bit of attention when the show finally begins airing. (Its premiere has been delayed, partly because of the current writers' strike.) The handsome British actor -- son of the chaplain to the Queen of England! -- has starred in the Donmar Warehouse productions of Merrily We Roll Along and Grand Hotel, and he worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company in King Lear, starring Nigel Hawthorne. He made his Broadway debut as Joseph Keyston in last season's revival of Simon Gray's Butley, starring Nathan Lane; his cabaret debut was in January at the Metropolitan Room on West 22nd Street, in a show that ran the musical gamut from Sondheim's "Finishing the Hat" to Leiber & Stoller's "I Who Have Nothing" to the theme songs for the James Bond movies and Thunderball and For Your Eyes Only. Now, he's set to return to that popular venue on December 10 and 17 with a whole new act titled "A Wand'ring Minstrel's Eye," after premiering it in Hollywood on December 3. I recently spoke with him about this endeavor and other matters.


    BROADWAYSTARS: You got some excellent notices for you cabaret debut. I guess you must have enjoyed yourself, since you're diving back into the water.

    JULIAN OVENDEN: It was absolutely terrifying, but great fun. I had a wonderful pianist, Paul Ford, and Scott Wittman helped me put the thing together. So I was in very good hands. I had done song recitals and concerts before -- but when it's just you and a piano, and you have to talk as well, it's quite a vulnerable experience! Still, I really enjoyed it. And I'm looking forward to enjoying it more, now that I know what it's about.

    STARS: What's the concept of the new show?

    JULIAN: It's going to be completely different from the last one. It's not necessarily a cabaret act. I don't really know what "cabaret" is; I grew up in England, and there's not that sort of tradition there. The title of the show is a play on the Gilbert and Sullivan song from The Mikado. A lot of the songs I've chosen are about travel. I was scrambling around for a title, and I came up with A Wand'ring Minstrel's Eye. I thought it summed up the evening pretty well.

    STARS: Can you name some of the songs you've picked?

    JULIAN: I trained an an opera singer before I trained as an actor. There will be some Neapolitan songs, Spanish songs. As for musical theater, I'll be doing some Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Noël Coward, and Ivor Novello. There's a song by Rufus Wainwright, and one by Randy Crawford. My pianist this time is Joseph Thalken, who's terrific. We've had fun choosing numbers. I have no idea whether it will work, but I hope it will be slightly different and interesting.

    STARS: Have you scripted the show yourself?

    JULIAN: [Pauses] Yeah. I mean, I haven't really written what I'm gonna say yet. I'll try to get some help with that, maybe. There aren't going to be all these great theatrical anecdotes, and I'm not going to be cracking any gags. I was in Butley with Nathan Lane when I did my show last year, and he was always taking the piss out of me. He'd say, "I'm looking forward to your comedy routines!" He offered to write jokes for the show, and he got me so nervous about the whole process. But I don't think you have to have a lot of jokes in an act. You should let it happen naturally, go with the spontaneity of it, and show as much of your personality as possible through the songs.

    STARS: You mentioned that you studied opera. If you had continued in that field, what would your fach have been?

    JULIAN: I was a baritone in my late teens and early twenties, then I sort of moved up to tenor. I'm just guessing, but I probably would have started off singing Massenet and Bizet before moving into some of the Italian stuff in my thirties. I love singing from the old school musicals because they're all about legato and melody. I'm going to do a song from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Allegro, "Come Home." It's a great, romantic song with beautiful, long lines to it. Right after that, I'm doing a Sondheim song. Funnily enough, I didn't realize until I did some research the other day that Sondheim was a production assistant on Allegro.

    STARS: That should give you a nice segue.

    JULIAN: Yes! It's weird. You choose songs and then you think, "How the hell am I gonna join these together?" But then you start doing research, and you find connections. For example, I had the idea to do a Mario Lanza song right after a number that was made famous by Kitty Kallen, and it happens that they were both born in Philadelphia in the same year. So there was a strange sort of synchronicity at work there.

    STARS: What else is on your calendar? What's the latest on Cashmere Mafia?

    JULIAN: Everything is in complete confusion and turmoil. We had only completed seven episodes by the time we stopped, and the transmission date keeps being pushed back. But I think the writers are absolutely entitled to strike, and it will benefit everyone to sort it out now.

    STARS: Is there anything else on the horizon for you?

    JULIAN: It really depends on how the TV show goes down. We won't know anything until the strike gets settled and we start airing. However, I have an offer of doing a new musical in the West End this spring or summer -- something I workshopped earlier this year, entitled Marguerite. It's written by Michel Legrand, Claude-Michel Schönberg, and Alain Boublil, directed by Jonathan Kent. It's a retelling of Dumas' Camille updated to Paris in the second World War. Ruthie Henshall is definitely playing the female lead. Obviously, I would love to do it if the dates work out.

    Monday, November 26, 2007 at 8:42 PM | Item Link

    Michael Portantiere comes to BroadwayStars with more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for such media outlets as TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has also contributed articles and reviews to AfterElton.com, Playbill, and Stagebill, and has written notes for several major cast albums. Additionally, Michael is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several notable websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.)
    He can be reached at michael@broadwaystars.com

    The last five columns written by Michael Portantiere:

    07/13/2010: Presidential Material

    07/04/2010: Hardy Boy

    06/29/2010: High School Stars

    06/21/2010: Falling in Love Again

    06/17/2010: A Meeting of the 'mos (and Their Friends)

    For a listing of all features written by Michael, click here.