Colm Wilkinson –The Singing, Acting face of Fiction

Cover, Aug 12, 2011

Story: Lenny Stoute


Some men achieve greatness, some have it thrust upon them and some slip into it for two shows every night, matinee on Wednesdays and Saturdays.


Some might argue Colm Wilkinson has had the cake and eaten it all three ways. For one thing, he entered show business through the world of music. Growing up as Dublin lad in the rockin’ Seventies, Colm played in a number of bands, most notably The Action. While the groups as such did not amount to much, the macho, sex-appealing front man began attracting attention outside the confines of Dublin pub rock.


In 1972 Wilkinson went to an audition on a dare and landed the plum role of Judas Iscariot in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Chris Superstar. The part put a fictional spin on a real historical person, becoming the template for the kind of role that would catapult Colm Wilkinson to international fame.


Thrust into the role, Wilkinson came up with an interpretation so strong he wuld henceforth ‘own’ the character. He reprised the part in the London production and took it on the road for the British national tour. The next ficto-historical part for Colm was that of Cuban proto-revolutionary Che Guevara in the 1976 musical production of Evita. This time around, he was on-board to sing Che’s part in the concept album which came out of the show.


Instead of auditioning for the role, as was expected, Wilkinson took a sharp left turn and launched a solo career as a singer/songwriter. After another singing role as Dr. Jekyll in the original Jekyll and Hyde Concept Album,In 1977, Wilkinson's phenomenal talent was revealed when his self-titled L.P. shot to #1 in the Irish charts and stayed there for eight weeks. His composition, There Was a Dream, went on to become a chart topping hit in Ireland.


Having tested the waters of stage musicals, cabaret, records, radio, and television, Colm Wilkinson took his talents as singer and composer to viewers in over twenty countries worldwide representing Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest in Paris in 1978 with Born to Sing.


By the early Eighties Wilkinson was recognized as one of the finest singers of popular songs and a bona fide theatre superstar.


Photo Credit: Margaret MalandroccoloPhoto Credit: Margaret MalandroccoloSpeaking of that period, Wilkinson told a reporter” “It was strange because I’d had success in the theatre and when I had success with the album, I thought that was it, I had it all.


“ Of course I didn’t have it all because what I didn’t yet have was that defining role that would test my abilities as both singer and actor”.


It took a stunning turn as an unlikeable character in an unlikely French novel to do the trick. The part of the scheming and conflicted convict Jean Valjean was to power Wilkinson to international fame in the hit musical, Les Misérables. He instinctively knew that this was the role he'd been waiting for. "I knew that I was part of something very special," explains Wilkinson.

The London production of Les Misérables opened in October 1985, and transferred to Broadway in March 1987. Originally, the American Actors’ Equity Association refused to allow Wilkinson to play the part of Valjean in New York, due to their policy of hiring only American actors. Producer Cameron MacIntosh responded by refusing to open the show unless Wilkinson played Valjean.


Actor's Equity subsequently relented and Wilkinson went on to win the Helen Hays Award, the Outer Critics Circke award, the Theatre World Award, a Drama Desk Award for Best Actor in a Musical and scored a Tony nomination for the part.


Amazing as all that was, there was yet another memorable character up the man’s musical sleeve.


Wilkinson also created the role of The Phantom in the workshop of The Phantom of the Opera in Sydmonton. Upon concluding his run in Les Misérables, he then went on to star in the Toronto production of The Phantom of the Opera for four and a half years, giving 1,653 performances and earning nightly standing ovations from more than 3.5 million theatre-goers. Wilkinson earned the Dora Mavor Moore award for his portrayal of the Phantom in 1989-90. He also received the Dora award for the role of Valjean in 1998-99 in Toronto.
In 1989, Wilkinson relocated his family to Toronto, where he has lived ever since.


When he takes the stage at the Toronto Centre For The Arts this Friday (Aug, 12) and Saturday (Aug, 13) it will be a homecoming of sorts. The show, Broadway and Beyond, is centered around the material on his most recent CD of that name. That in turn came from a cross-Canada concert tour in October–November of 2007, which Wilkinson played along with Susan Gilmour and Gretha Boston.


Broadway And Beyond follows Wilkinson’s recent sold out tour of Ireland. This exceptional evening of song, with a great band and guest singers will provide us with yet another side of the award-winning stage actor, outside of the roles of Jean Valjean and The Phantom.


Among the Wilkinson classics he’ll be singing are “This Is The Moment”, “Tennessee Waltz”, “The Music of the Night” and the stirring and patriotic “Bring Him Home”.