Rob Houchen talks new upcoming show ‘At Last, It’s Summer’: “It’s the crème de la crème of musical theatre”

From fighting on the barricades to defeating the most powerful supervillains in the galaxy, Rob Houchen has starred in some of the most popular musicals both in London and across the world. Now, in just a couple of weeks, this acclaimed actor and singer will be starring in a new concert musical playing at the Palladium for one day only. Join us as we discuss the most interesting facts about this charitable production in support of Parkinson’s UK – featuring some of the biggest names in the West End.

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How does it feel to be part of the birth of a new show?

I think it’s really an honor, to be honest, because I feel like that’s what I’ve always wanted: to start new things and open new shows and create roles. There’s something really special about putting your own mark on something brand new and having all the options and decisions open for you. When people say: “What do you want to play?” I was like: “Well, I mostly just want to create something”. So it’s great to be given that kind of opportunity, especially when someone obviously put a lot of their heart and soul into something. I think it’s pressure, but it’s honourable pressure.

What can you tell us about this show and your character?

It’s wacky, it’s bonkers – in a good way. It’s fun, and the music is great. And the show itself takes twists and turns that you don’t expect. And that’s going to keep you on your toes and make you laugh. And maybe sometimes the music, because it’s so beautiful, is going to make you cry. My character is Russian, which is great and very fun and interesting. I’ve never played a Russian character before, so I’m excited about that. I’ll have to get working on my accent. But it’s going to be fun. I think I’m especially excited to also be with all the talent in the room.

Since your character is Russian, are you doing any kind of cultural research?

I’m going to. We start proper rehearsals this week. So for now, I’m getting my head around the material. And then this week, when we’re looking at who he is – because it’s a concert version, who knows what will happen to the show? I wonder if I’m going to end up portraying it on stage in a full production. But for now, I’m going to look at where he’s come from and his kind of background and yeah, in that period that we’re working in and see how I can apply that into the work that we’ve got.

Acting wise, do you find any particular challenges that a concert version has in comparison to a full stage production of a musical as an actor?

I think that when they cut a script down and stuff, you find that you have to piece together some of your journey and try and make things clear in performing a concert – acting through song is obviously number one for me. I feel like you have to think about that when you’re doing any kind of performance. And I feel like even when I sing pop, I’m giving you some kind of acting. I mean, most of the time. Not all the time. Let’s be honest, if I’m having a ball singing Whitney Houston… But I feel like in this, from doing labours in concert, we had a very specific way of working through it and talking to each other on stage – making sure that the audience could see your stories and your connections and your relationships throughout the piece without having any set and things to assist that. But if something is written well, it can just work and you deliver what you’ve been given and it can come across pretty clear – sometimes be like even more hard hitting because it’s just straight on, like bare bones, just the music and the material.

We were talking about how exciting it is to be part of a new show and originating a character. How much do you feel that you’re contributing to the development of the character?

I think I’m going to be given some creative input. I don’t know how much they’ve created with any other actors in terms of this role. I think there was a workshop, or a couple,
years ago. But I feel like they’re going to give me freedom. I feel like when it comes to the music, it’s quite specific, so that’s fine. That’s just like respecting the writer’s musical choices. But when it comes to the character, I think that if I’m right in saying I’ve worked with Ian Talbot before when I did Eugenius, and I was taking over from someone else before, and he really let me bring myself to it and my new take to the role. So I’m pretty sure he’s going to let me do that with this brand new role and do what I can with what I’m given and what kind of backstory I can work out for him.

What kind of music are we going to listen to in this show?

So I have heard a few demos of other songs, but mainly just mine. My songs are, I would say, quite a legit musical theater style – quite soaring and romantic. But then you have a couple of dramatic scenes with some more well, I’m in one of them where it’s a bit more spoken song vibes, interchanging characters and interjecting characters, and then you have some really nice harmony moments. And me and Kelly Mathison have a gorgeous duet that we’re going to do that I’m excited about. And I’m excited to hear the orchestrations and everything from Larry because I think it’s going to soar it’s going to sound nice.

You say musical feature style in the style of traditional 60s musicals or more contemporary musicals?

I would say I’d say it’s quite traditional. I’d say we’re looking at kind of when Andrew Lord Weber would nod to old school Rogers and Hammerstein, that kind of vibe. But it’s got some ideas of its – like contemporary, but classical at the same time. It’s not anything fix or we’re not talking pop, we’re not talking fist in the air, but it’s traditional musical theatre, I would say. When you heard it and quite sometimes quite British, which is quite nice.

What would you say that are the highest points of this musical?

I think this duet with me and Kelly is nice. I really enjoy the fact that I’ve only sung it a couple of times and I haven’t sung it with her yet, so I’m looking forward to that when she gets better, bless her. But yeah, it’s singing that duet is quite I think it’s going to be a nice moment. And it’s always great when you have a full orchestra and you have all those instruments and like I love strings, so I’m looking forward to hearing that underneath us. But I feel like there’s going to be some big numbers. We have dancers and I am not sure if I’m really in them, hopefully not as I don’t want to move, thank you very much. They should be fun. And the big final number, I think is quite complicated. It looks quite nice and meaty and rich, so that’d be good.

Do you find any other particular challenges in this show?

I think there’s going to be a challenge in being Russian and not I don’t want it to be a kind of parody – I don’t want it to be like ridiculous. I just want a bit of a touch of it. I don’t want to go crazy, but we’ve got Anne-Marie Speed and she’s a very well known vocal teacher, so she’s going to help with that. But yeah, that might be a little bit of a challenge. And from some of the notes I’m learning, I think he wants it quite specific, which I respect completely. And it’s not like, thank God, it’s not like learning pages and pages of Sondheim, but some of it is quite specific. So I’m going to make sure I honour that and do it right because I don’t want to get any of the notes wrong for the writer.

Apart from the fact that also through this concert, people are going to be supporting charitable foundation, could you pick some additional reason to come see the show in particular?

I think for one thing, seeing a new musical is always so exciting. I think that like, what, watching something that no one’s ever seen before and hearing something that no one’s ever heard before, as well as that they’ve really got a great cast. Like I’ve worked with Louise Dearman before – she’s fantastic. You’ve got Jac Yarrow and me and Kelly and Gary and Joe – absolute legends. It’s really the creme de la creme of musical theatre, so I’m excited to be alongside them and I think you want to come and see anything those guys do. I believe with the orchestrations as well, these kind of things, you don’t often get that amount of that musical beef you don’t get that often. I am a pescatarian, though, so I don’t eat beef. But it’s good to get that kind of sound in that theater – it is going to be really special with brand new show.

At Last, It’s Summer will play at the London Palladium on 16 April. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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