Music of the Night’s Craig Urbani is exactly where he’s supposed to be

Music of the Night’s Craig Urbani is exactly where he’s supposed to be

Something happened on Friday night that hasn’t happened in nearly two years. My husband (Damian) and I were in a theatre! An actual theatre! With seats and tickets and lights and a show and a cast!

We picked a truly great show to break the ice with – Music of the Night! All the feel good songs and upbeat movement of Andrew Lloyd Webber which was exactly what we needed after such a long dearth of any live entertainment.

The cast of Music of the Night at Centurion Theatre. Photo credit: Xavier Saer

Adding to the experience was the fact that it’s in the cutest theatre – one which we had never been to before – The Centurion Theatre. It’s a well run, neat complex which offers plenty of safe parking and the opportunity to take your drink into the show! There’s also a restaurant in the complex so you can make a real night’s experience if like us this is your first foray back to live entertainment.

The show’s cast is made up of Craig Urbani, Carly Graeme, Adrian Galliard, and “getroud met Rugby” star Stephanie Baartman – and introduces Emma-Jean Galliard. This cast gels well together from the word go and presents the flawless and seamless story of Andrew Lloyd Webber while dazzling us with his sparkling, uplifting music.

Highlights for me consisted of seeing the wonderful new talent of Emma-Jean Galliard faultlessly sing her part in Pie Jesu.  She’s only 13! And I love a nice male voice and Adrian Galliard and Craig Urbani, who also provides some comedy, were fantastic.

I got to chat to Craig a few weeks ago.

Tell us about Music of the Night.

It’s Lloyd Weber songs and what Colin Law (who produced it for Ticket to the Moon Productions) has cleverly looked at here is One Composer Many Lyricists. We always associate ALW with Tim Rice but he’s worked with so many lyricists. We look at his relationship with some of the lyricists and where the songs came from. Some sound like other songs, so there’s a tongue in cheek “do you recognize this melody”. There’s songs that I didn’t know about that we touch on. People are going to walk away not only having been entertained but having learned something about these classic songs we’ve been listening to all our lives. And Music of the Night is a wonderful title that sums it all up.

Craig Urbani, Artist: Gaynor Paynter. Source photo: Elysian Management

We are so grateful to Ticket to the Moon Productions and Colin Law who gave me my first job in the Rocky Horror Show. It’s great to be working with him again. He’s a life long friend and a big contributor to theatre in this country.

I’m excited about the Dome at NSA! I mean open-air theatre, that’s awesome!

It was such a bold move and I’m looking forward to it but the rain is a factor so we’re doing it in a closed theatre environment first, nice and intimate and I think it’s setting it up as something that can go to other theatres around the country. and then later the open air. Open air lends itself to a beautiful form of entertainment. Older folks tend to love it. There’s something quite magical about being outside under the African sky. Nice and intimate and I think it’s setting it up as something that can go to other theatres around the country.

You’ve done Rock of Ages,  Chicago, Peter Pan and The Rocky Horror Show and many others – movies, TV, theatre both in South Africa and abroad. Is there any format that stands out most as your favourite?

It’s such a different energy, live, to TV and film and I think live theatre is where I feel most at home. I’m doing what I was meant to be doing in its purest form. Although I love TV and film I feel like I’m still learning there. I by no means feel accomplished with it, but there’s something about being in a show, being part of a cast. Being live on stage hearing the overture, singing those songs, having that sound and having that one shot. The energy on a TV set is very different Very hurry up and wait I find it actually quite draining. And I find the live action very exhilarating. Contrasting energy.

I imagine like all entertainers you might have found the pandemic stressful. What did you do to keep yourself motivated during the time, and is there any lesson you took from it?

I was quite lucky there was TV right though and I did a few appearances on as a doctor here and there, so that helped. Plus a friend of mine who has a company called Live Stream Events started doing a lot of online corporate stuff and that sustained me – tapping the corporate juices. It was all about online corporate and making a few rand and keeping going. But the TV is actually what kind of really sustained me. And then just gigs. Whenever we moved to a kind of level three, level four, I picked up my guitar and sang my heart out.

You’re probably quite tired of Buddy Holly, but .. tell us about that. How did that come about? That must have been a super fun show, what was the most fun about it?

Craig Urbani as Buddy Holly. Source

No not at all. It’s a nice full circle. I was playing Rocky in the Rocky Horror Show when I went to audition for Buddy so my first job was the created creature by Frankenfurter and my last job was Frankenfurter. So it’s kind of gone full circle over 21 years. And it was just amazing. I didn’t know much about it, I’d just been told the day before I didn’t get the part of Curly in Oklahoma! So I felt quite dejected and quite down. I phoned my dad and I said what does this guy sing, Buddy Holly, and he said Oh Boy. It’s all A, D and E. Because I’m a drummer I went in and knew how to play the chords and they took a gamble on me and so began this legacy in my life which took me all over the world. Took me to London. I did two years in the West End, a year in Australia, Singapore, Denmark. It was a great springboard, a great gift.

The premise of the blog is to celebrate those who tweak the golden thread that connects all human beings together, When we tweak it, we affect everyone else. We can make them laugh or cry or give them something to think about. Is that something you think about when performing?

Something that I have learned later in my life, we must remember that we’re telling a story and that’s an honour and a privilege to be in the position to do that, and we have the power to teach, to change people’s lives, to make them feel things, experience things and emotions. We must remember to stand in service of the piece. It’s not about Craig Urbani, it’s about Buddy Holly. It’s not about Craig Urbani, it’s about the Rocky Horror Show. It’s an ego driven business. We’re seen as confident and arrogant but we’re such an insecure lot because we put ourselves out there. A lot of us have to conquer a lot of fear, but if you remember that it’s a privilege and what an honour it is, and what a powerful position it is to be up there and be in front of people and change them, alter their way of thinking, make them feel something, it’s a beautiful gift. I know it was my calling, I know I was meant to be involved in it somehow and I try to stand in service of whatever show I’m in. We are going to do honour to these fantastic songs.

There are so many good things that have come out of the negative experience of Covid and one of them is people’s appreciation of art. Never have we needed it more.

One interesting tidbit I found is that you played the role of The Fonz in the Happy Days musical. I’m quite a big fan of Henry Winkler and the entire generation of stars around that time so I’d love to know more about that.

It influenced what came after so hugely. Henry Winkler came out to the UK and directed us. He’s such a kind loving, beautiful man and he was entrusting me with his iconic role. He was very gracious with it and he taught me the power of doing nothing, the power of stillness. Just being there, he kept saying to me you don’t have to do anything, you’re just there. Fonz is just there. He said all you’ve got to do is stand. And everyone would move around you and you would be still. There’s a lot of strength and power in stillness. I life I’m quite a frenetic character, but there’s a lot of strength and power in stillness and doing less and that’s what they always tell me when I’m on camera. So these are lessons I’m trying to learn every day.

What tips do you have for anyone wanting to get into entertaining today.

Don’t be a jack of all trades, learn to read music, go for singing lessons, learn how to do voiceovers, learn how to auditions, go to online acting things. Hone your talent, become the best you can so that you’re not a busker and have as many strings to your bow as possible, it makes you more employable. That helped me through Covid, I act and I sing a bit.

Your own daughter is a talented performer.

While on the one hand you couldn’t be happier, because you can’t crush someone’s shine, someone’s destiny, someone’s talent then the other side as a dad, I don’t want her to have rejection, I don’t want her to suffer an battle with money, be in a cut throat industry and the negative stuff comes up but let’s put that aside for a second. To be given a talent and an opportunity to use it is a gift.  I was meant to be an entertainer in some form or capacity and if my child is meant to as well I will be there to support and not to crush that. And should the pitfalls and the hardships come hopefully I will have learnt enough to ease her through those as well.

With tickets from just R190, book for Music of the Night now on the 3rd, 4th or 5th of March at Centurion Theatre:

Or on the 17th, 18th, 19th or 20th of March at The Dome on Melle, Braamfontein

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Writer, transcriber, proofreader, editor, lover of the arts.

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