With his long-running entertainment career, Adrian Hansel has appeared in many stage roles including Rusty in Starlight Express, Seaweed in Hairspray and more recently in Five Guys Named Moe, which ended March 2018. As a vocalist, Adrian has toured with Aljaž Škorjanec and Janette Manrara’s Remembering Fred shows and on numerous occasions with Michael Ball. Adrian can currently be seen on stage in the London revival of Ain’t Misbehavin’ until the 1st June at Southwark Playhouse. Meeting with Adrian recently, he chats to us about playing Seaweed in Hairspray, touring with Michael Ball and his current production Ain’t Misbehavin’.
Where did your musical theatre career start?
I did local drama classes when I was at school and at the age of around six or seven, the head teacher told my mum, “your son’s quite talented, maybe he should go to drama school”. Then I went to Redroofs Theatre School every Saturday, which was also an agency, and I did auditions and worked as a kid through there. I then went full time and did drama, singing, acting and dancing and I got quite a lot of work through them. I probably started professionally, where I was getting paid, around the age of eleven or twelve and that was through stage school.
Is there anything in particular you look for in a role?
It’s hard because all roles are different. I think sometimes you can get something sent through where you think it’s not really for you and then you read through it or you’ll get sent the music and it gives you that feeling or your heart skips a beat and then you realise it’s something you’d really like to do. I just look for something that’s challenging, maybe something that I wouldn’t think I’d normally do. I think it’s really important to feel connected to the show otherwise you can’t give it your best so I look for something where I can bring the show and the part to life.
Can you tell us what the experience was like in Starlight Express as Rusty?
That was one of my favourite experiences and also one of my favourite jobs just because I hadn’t really done a show like that before. It’s hard enough with all of the singing, dancing and acting and then the roller skating just put a whole different element on the show. Rusty was one of the biggest juvenile leaders of that time and I absolutely loved it, it was brilliant. It was a really fun show with great music. It was a really good experience working with Trevor Nunn and Arlene Phillips and also, Andrew Lloyd Webber popped in a few times, so it was fantastic. I loved it.
You’re currently starring in Ain’t Misbehavin’, what can you say about the production?
Ain’t Misbehavin’ is such a fun show. It’s a musical revue so it doesn’t really have a strong storyline. There’s three girls in it and two guys, not necessarily telling Fats Waller’s story, just performing his famous songs which are Harlem Renaissance songs and black American jazz music. It’s not really character-based but there are a few comedy moments in it. It takes different turns through the show but it’s really good fun. It’s gone down a storm.
Have you done anything like this previously?
Yes, I have. Last year I did Five Guys Named Moe and that’s similar but there’s more of a storyline in that. It is the same genre as it’s Louis Jordan music and Ain’t Misbehavin’ is Fats Waller. It was a really fun show and that was on this time last year.
The show recently opened in London, how was this?
Thankfully very good as we worked very hard on it. It’s Tyrone Huntley’s directorial debut and also, it’s Oti Mabuse’s first time choreographing a musical, so that’s two elements of people who haven’t done that before, but they worked really hard. Tyrone is a fantastic singer and actor himself and he knows where he’s coming from, he knows his vision, he knows what works and what doesn’t work. It was nice to work with Oti because she came in with such a fresh approach and there were no boundaries which was really refreshing to have. We opened at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester and then we came to London and it’s been a great experience.
With Ain’t Misbehavin’ being directed by Tyrone Huntley and choreographed by Oti Mabuse, have you worked with any of them before?
I haven’t. I’ve known Tyrone for a long time and we’ve done quite a few concerts together and I’ve seen him in a lot of stuff. I’ve always been a fan of him and his voice and just how good he is in shows, but I’ve never actually worked with him before. I did a show called Remembering Fred, which was starring Aljaž (Škorjanec) and Janette (Manrara) from Strictly, and I met Oti through them but I didn’t know I’d be working with her six months later. It’s been good fun but I’ve not worked with them until now.
What was it like being a vocalist on the Remembering Fred tour?
Really good fun! I’ve not done anything like that before so when I was asked to do it, I actually thought it was going to be like Strictly and I’d be walking on at the back with the band. I was a lot more involved, there were two vocalists and over twenty songs and it was quite nice as there were some numbers where it was just us on stage. I was involved in some of the numbers dance-wise as well. It made me respect how amazing dancers work because of their work ethic. Aljaž, Janette and the whole of the ensemble dance team were incredible.
The show was directed and choreographed by Gareth Walker, who’s also directed and choreographed Rip It Up, which is in the West End at the Garrick Theatre at the moment, and he is a force of nature. Anyone who can direct a show and choreograph over 100 numbers is just talent in abundance. Remembering Fred was a surprise show and one that I absolutely loved, it was great.
Do you have a favourite memory from this show?
One of my favourite memories from Remembering Fred was getting to dance with the best dancers. I’m not a dancer so it’s quite nice to be in their world and to experience what they do to a certain extent. Dancing with those guys was a really nice memory for me.
Would you like to do another tour like this?
Yes, I would actually. I’ve mainly done touring for other singers, like I’ve done a lot of touring with Michael Ball. Remembering Fred was a fun tour and I definitely would do something like that again as I really enjoyed it.
Can you say more about touring with Michael Ball?
Michael Ball is the most generous, nicest, ultimate veteran performer. I worked with him on Hairspray and he was very lovely and took me under his wing. He said that he was doing a solo tour and that he was looking for guest singers and asked if I’d like to go on tour with him. Obviously, I said yes! It was an amazing experience and I learnt a lot from that tour because he’s like an old school professional – he was always on time, he would always do warm-ups, he knew everyone’s name… he’s the friendliest person. He would sing twenty-five to thirty of his biggest songs every single night without fault, even if he was a bit under the weather.
I did the first tour with a really good friend of mine, Louise Dearman, who is an amazing singer, also Emma Williams, who was fantastic. I’ve been lucky enough to do four of his tours and have even been abroad. He’s on tour at the moment, which I was meant to do but it unfortunately clashes with Ain’t Misbehavin’, and he was very generous about it and said that I must do the show and that they’re lucky to have me. He said good luck and gave me his blessing for Ain’t Misbehavin’, which was very nice.
What was it like to play Seaweed in Hairspray?
Amazing! That was definitely one of my favourites and there was nothing bad about that show from beginning to end. I think it did so well and people remember it so much and are still in love with it now. We had the comedian, Mel Smith, Tracie Bennett, who is an absolutely phenomenal actress and singer, and then we were lucky enough to have Michael Ball lead the show, who is a force of nature and the ultimate professional. It was incredible. I had done a fair few shows before then but I learnt a lot in that show just from the people I was working with. It was fantastic to originate the role of Seaweed in London.
Working with the composers and writers of Hairspray, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (who have just done the Mary Poppins Returns film), was fantastic. It was great being able to sit at a piano and go through stuff with them and change certain parts of the songs and put my own little bits in them. It was an amazing time.
Seaweed was such a great part and the whole show is positive from beginning to end, it was a massive highlight. It’s been a long time now but people still ask me about it and say they’ve seen me in it and that it’s their favourite show. I think Hairspray was my seventh or eighth show in my career but it was such a special show for so many people so I hold it dear to my heart, it was a good one.
How long were you recording for Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns?
I think it may have been about two and a half weeks. That was actually an amazing experience because we got to go to the actual set at Shepperton and watch the rehearsals, I got to see Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and even Meryl Streep. Working with Marc and Scott again was brilliant. Mary Poppins Returns was a really fun experience and we sang all the chorus parts, it was nice to be involved with something like that, it was great.
Would you like to host your own concert?
I’ve had this quite a lot actually. There are some lovely venues in London and I have a lot of friends who do concerts and I go to them all the time. There’s a beautiful venue called The Crazy Coqs at Live at Zédel in Piccadilly Circus. I’ve seen so many friends do their own concerts there so it’s something I’m thinking about because I do get asked a lot. It takes a lot of time and I don’t know if people will come and pay to watch me sing for an hour and a half! If I go into another big show then, off the back of that, I might think about it. It is something I’m thinking about and I think it could happen in the next year or so.
What are your plans for after the run at Southwark Playhouse?
I haven’t even really thought about it. The good thing about what we do, depending how positive you are, is that you never really know what’s around the corner. I had no idea Ain’t Misbehavin’ was even a thing and I didn’t know it was coming, I knew nothing about it, and then I got the offer and that was amazing. Even though I had the Michael Ball thing already lined up. I’ve got a few projects that I’m working on and quite a lot of backing singing for other singers, but I have no contract show-wise. There are a few things coming up so it’s quite exciting.
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