Alexander Lewis is starring as a brilliant Raoul in Phantom of the Opera with Anthony Warlow and Ana Marina. He is one of Australia’s rising stars of musical theatre and opera and agreed to submit to the StageNoise Q&A rack ...
Q: You come from a musical family (dad is opera singer Michael Lewis, mother Patricia Price was a singer and now teaches singing, brother Ben has just finished performing as Sir Galahad in Spamalot) so can you remember when you decided to sing?
A: I think the moment I was born was when I first wanted to sing, possibly even before that. My mother was performing the role of Iolanthe when she was very pregnant with me and I think I must have quite enjoyed being on the stage even then!
Q: Did you ever want to be an astronaut or a fashion designer, or anything else?
A: The only other professions I've ever contemplated (very momentarily) were Osteopathy and Hotel Management. Somehow, I always knew that I'd be spending most of my time singing, which probably explains why I was so hopeless at sitting down to study at school.
Q:What was it like being in the St Alban’s Cathedral Choir?
A: It was an honour. I attribute most of my musical skill and instinct to the time I spent in the choir. When you're young you absorb so much information and I was lucky enough to be under the guidance of one of Europe's finest choral masters, Dr Barry Rose. It was hard work, with only one day off a week, rehearsals before school and up to seven services a week, but we were all paid and we were able to travel the world and perform in some of the finest churches and concert venues. It was a blessed childhood.
Q: Were you a good boy? Did you ever climb trees in your surplice or get into scrapes?
A: I was a little mischievous. Dr Rose always accused me of having verbal diarrhoea because I would often talk away before, after and during services. I also managed to break my wrist when I was having running races with some of the other choristers...
Q: Does singing in a choir open you up to religion or put you off?
A: It certainly brings your attention to spiritual life as a whole. Performing inspirational vocal works on a daily basis in an awe-inspiring building can only make you feel closer to “God”. I guess it’s ultimately up to you and the other influences in your teenage years and beyond that dictate your religious preferences.
Q: What sort of kid were you at school?
A: I think in my early schooling I was a little bit on the loud side but once I arrived at high school, most of which was spent at Newington College Stanmore, I mellowed a little bit. I was heavily involved in music and drama, neither of which was terribly “cool” but thankfully I could hold my head up on the sporting field as well. I think I’d be considered a bit of an all-rounder at school. I did get into trouble occasionally, mainly because I was a little too opinionated for my age. Still am ...
Q: You’ve sung the roles of Third Apparition in Verdi’s Macbeth (State Opera of South Australia) and Cobweb in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Opera Australia). Can you talk us through the difference between being an apparition and a cobweb?
A: Make-up! Lot's of it! The Apparition was performed off stage whereas as Cobweb was very much on stage in blue satin pants and head to toe pink body make-up! Try explaining pink toe nails to the guys in the changing rooms at school!
Q: Do you remember the year your voice broke? What was it like? Traumatic? Interesting? Weird?
A: I certainly do. It happened two weeks before I opened in Dream for OA. It was very traumatic as I had several solo lines to sing, some of which I had to mime by the end of the season whilst someone else sang and some I belted as a mini-juvenile tenor. When you've been identified by your voice as a child the change is always going to be traumatic, even if you don't won’t to be a singer afterwards. You simply don’t know how long it’s going to take to settle nor what quality it’s going to be. I was very lucky. The week after Dream closed I was singing the tenor line in choir and shortly after that the baritone, where I’ve been ever since.
Q: Would you tell us about singing as a soloist at Huntington with the Australian Chamber Orchestra (with no role, other choristers or make up to hide behind, I mean)?
A: It was a huge thrill, not only because I was the only member of my family to have performed with the ACO, but also because it was a world premiere. I wasn’t bothered too much by the fact that it was just me out there because it was just like doing solos back in England in one of the many concerts we gave. When you’re a kid you don’t know fear and so you let your instincts govern you. You get nervous but I remember it being so exciting to be around so many wonderful instruments (I think I stood near the tubular-bells) that I just jumped in and did it. I’m sure I would be far more stressed if I had to do it now!
Q: Given that you were a finalist in the Neue Stimmen International Singing Competition in Germany in 2007 and have sung in Italian opera too, are you much of a linguist or do you learn what you need to learn?
A: Sadly, I’m rubbish ... I was terrible at French back at school and I’ve not had the opportunity to head over to study the languages in country. I’ve got a good ear so making the language sound authentic when I’m singing has never been too difficult for me but it takes me a while to translate everything so I know what I’m singing about. I’ve actually just started doing German and Italian study programs so that the language barrier isn’t so great in the future.[page]
Q: What do you like to do when you’re not performing, rehearsing or learning a role?
A: Relax with friends and family, watch sport, rollerblade, meditate and drink plenty of coffee and beer.
Q: Are you much of a traveller outside going places to perform?
A: I love travelling. It’s one of the great perks of the job. I especially love road trips.
Q: How much did you know about Phantom before you auditioned for Raoul?
A: I guess I knew enough. I’d seen the show, the movie and done all the standard research. It’s hard to be involved in this industry and not know a lot about Phantom. It's the original Spectacular and the benchmark in so many ways.
Q: Is the experience different than your expectations?
A: Not terribly. I new it would be hard work but a lot of fun and it sure is.
Q: Would you like to have a go at the title role some day?
A: It’s a fantastic role and I’d love to have a chance to face the challenges it poses as an actor. I’ve seen how demanding it is so it would be a daunting prospect. But for now I’m more than content getting the girl at the end of every show! Phantom 0 – Raoul 99999999 ... and counting!
Q: How is it to do eight shows a week rather than the stretched timeframe of an opera?
A: When you perform only a couple of times a week the romance of performing remains whereas the eight-show-a-week schedule feels like a real job. You have to go in every day and put your best foot forward regardless of how tired or unwell you feel. When you have a splitting headache or head cold the last thing you want to do is perform for thousands of people, but as soon as you step onto the stage “Dr Footlights” intervenes (often with the help of some Panadol) and you give the show everything you’ve got as per usual. The benefit of doing so many shows a week is that your fitness levels improve and you are able to truly become comfortable with your show. When you have a few days off in between shows you are always a little bit nervous as the curtain rises.
Q: If you were a car what make and model would you be?
A: Tough question. I'd love to say an Aston Martin DB9 just because I’d love to own one, but I don’t think in the world of Transformers I would be one. I think I’d be the New Falcon G6E Turbo. It perform wells, sounds great, is comfortable and looks as classy and refined as its European competitors but at its heart it’s a down to earth Aussie.