Brandon Lee Sears has enjoyed a long career in musical theatre so far, which has included Motown the Musical and last year’s London production of Heathers. Currently, Brandon is part of the cast of the multi-award-winning Come From Away at the Phoenix Theatre as standby and Assistant Dance Captain, the show has recently extended its run in the West End until 15th February 2020. Earlier this month, we chatted with Brandon to find out about his previous roles, being in the cast of Come From Away and reading the script for the first time.
For those that haven’t seen Come From Away, can you tell them more about it?
It is a story about human kindness and what happened when thirty-eight planes were diverted after the World Trade Centre tragedy and sent to a place called Gander Newfoundland. It’s about how the people of that town took in 7000 passengers, who were stranded and showed them human kindness and it’s about the adventures that they experienced over the several days when it happened.
Do you remember how you felt reading the script for the first time?
Yes, I was a bit apprehensive because I didn’t know anything about it. I generally like to listen to the music so normally I’ll read a musical script in one sitting and then try and place the songs where they go. I remember thinking it was a beautiful story and I got goose bumps about halfway through during a song called Me and the Sky, performed by the character Captain Beverley Bass. After hearing that, I really understood what the show was about and was really moved emotionally. Previously, I’d experienced my own personal loss in my family, and so reading it gave me a sense of inspiration and I felt uplifted, so that was amazing.
Have you met the people the show is inspired by?
Yes, we’ve met a lot of them and we’ve participated in a tradition as well, which you’ll see in the show. We’ve had a really good time meeting people from the show and getting to know them. It’s really cool because we’ve become part of a global international community just from playing characters on stage, which is unusual when you’re doing a musical.
What are you enjoying most about being a standby in the show?
The challenge of it because it can be incredibly difficult. I enjoy the triumph of the challenge, it takes a lot of focus to be an understudy. The reception from the audience is so enjoyable as well.
📷 : Matthew Murphy
How different is this show to your previous roles?
Previous roles I’ve done before in the West End have involved a lot more dancing. I have a classical ballet dance background, so most of the West End musicals I’ve been in in the past have been huge dance roles, so this is a bit different in the fact it’s heavy acting based with real characters. It’s interesting, it’s a much more emotional show and based on a real event. I was in Motown, which is also based on an actual story. I think having a limited set as well is different. There’s less scenery and there’s so much choreography involved with sets and props which is built into the show, it makes it so different. I think the emotional connection to this show is much more different than any other show that I’ve ever done before – it’s deeply emotional, yet so spirit inspiring and uplifting at the same time.
How was it making your debut performance earlier this year?
Exhilarating. Satisfying. Nerve-racking. You rehearse so much that you just want to do well. It felt really good being able to go onstage and the audience is lovely here. I performed after the Olivier nominations so I think all of the coverage from that caused there to be a sense of responsibility, so I just really wanted to do well. It was a massive release, I felt really good.
Do you have any set dates confirmed that you’ll be covering?
Yes, I do have set dates. The ones in May until the 24th and then I have more dates in June and then more throughout the year.
What was it like attending the Olivier Awards?
The coolest, most exciting event that I’ve been at in a very long time. Anybody who performs or is an aspiring performer should try and find a way to go as I don’t think you can buy tickets to the Oliviers. It was the most amazing experience and you’re in a huge community with the best of the best in London theatre. I think being in a beautiful place like that with so much tradition and history, and feeling the love and the sense of community, broadens your horizon as a performer. There is nothing like it. It was amazing to see the performances and the beautiful outfits that people were wearing. It was such an elegant, sophisticated and awesome experience, I won’t ever forget it.
📷 : Matthew Murphy
What does your role as Assistant Dance Captain consist of?
It consists of being an assistant to the dance captain, Kirsty Malpass, watching the show, knowing the show as well as I can, assisting the associate choreographer and director, Tara Overfield-Wilkinson, and basically helping them out with whatever they need. It also involves helping to teach standbys the cover roles that they don’t know and keeping the choreography and set movement intact.
You recently did an Instagram takeover with the London Theatre Reviews, how did this go and would you like to do more?
I love doing Instagram takeovers. It went really well and I think London Theatre Reviews were really pleased with it. The cool thing about that is you’re just trying to get people engaged as much as possible. Instagram is such a huge platform, I didn’t understand that it would grow into what it has, but it’s brilliant for giving insight into what we do every day and showing our personalities off stage. I really enjoyed it.
I would love to do more of them. I also had an opportunity to present for WhatsOnStage on our opening night and that was really fun. When I don’t have my acting duties, I definitely enjoy taking over Instagram accounts and sharing with people in this way, I think it’s such an interesting way to connect. I loved it and I would certainly like to do more.
What originally got you interested in an entertainment career and what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I think what got me interested in an entertainment career was seeking approval and recognition, to be honest. I grew up as a foster kid and I liked being in front of people. Whenever I would sing at school, teachers would grab me and put me in front of people and I liked the attention, especially as the teachers I was working with kind of served as the patriarchs and matriarchs that I looked up to so because it got their approval, I just did it more.
I love being able to communicate emotions and feelings and become someone else, especially with dance and singing – learning a technique and expressing myself in a structured safe way. I think I’m allowed as an actor, singer and dancer to behave in ways that may not be acceptable in normal life. I can sometimes be quite repressed in normal life and so it’s a way to let loose, so that’s why I love being in front of people like that.
In my spare time I love teaching, studying and learning and I also love reading.
When did you start training in ballet?
I started training in ballet very late. I was at a school called the Boston Conservatory and I auditioned for a musical theatre show. Someone said I had an ability to dance and I’d heard that before. I had my first ballet class when I was eighteen and I didn’t take it seriously until I was twenty/twenty-one. I then went on to study at Boston Ballet School and I fell in love with it. I’ve always loved technique and I love being taught that there’s a certain way to do something and using a formula to try and figure something out. I appreciated the challenge of it as well. You can’t really get your hands around it as you can’t perfect it, there’s always room to grow. That’s what drew me to ballet.
📷 : Matthew Murphy
Can you say what the experience is like on a theatre tour?
Theatre tours can be interesting. I love being in town because I love having my set schedule and routine. When I’m in town, I can do my work and also take dance classes at Pineapple and study with my voice teacher and acting coach. I still have a voice teacher and acting coach because I want to try and get better. I don’t only perform and work at the theatre, but I actually live it because I love it, it’s not just a job for me. I love being here in London because I can take advantage of what there is to offer. I enjoy seeing places when I’m on tour, however, I feel like the show that I’m in takes over my life. I lose the experience of London when I’m on tour. Touring was really fun and I do like it, but I much prefer being in town.
How did your time in Heathers and Motown go?
Motown was really fun, it was a relationship that lasted for a very long time because I left the show but then I went back to help them out which was really nice. The production company for Motown was lovely and so my experience with the show was great. It’s a story about African-American history, which was really lovely to see portrayed. Not only was it about Berry Gordy and Motown, there was a sense of culture and tradition that I was connected with. Motown stands for more than just music, it stands for African-American culture in the United States. It was my first West End experience, so it was bizarre to have my worlds collide being involved with the show. I loved performing in Motown for those reasons.
Heathers was really fun and cool. I was in the original cast but I was taking over from someone. I love the cast of Heathers because they are so young, energetic, fun and talented. Heathers was a different experience for me because the fans of the show are quite loyal and committed and it had a cult following. I’d never been in a show like that before, so that was really interesting but also really fun to experience. There were people lining up every day wanting signatures. It was really fun working with the American creators of Heathers, Laurence O’Keefe and Andy Fickman, because they’re hilarious, awesome and really talented.
Can you give some advice to anyone becoming a standby for the first time?
Take care of your emotional well-being in the following ways – sleep, be incredibly organised, take time out for yourself, reward yourself with the work that you’re doing, watch the show as much as you can, do your research about the show as much as possible, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You have to be incredibly organised and detailed in your learning. I would say – read the script and literally write it out. Also, learn about learning. I think sometimes people don’t know how they learn best and so a lot of times, people will start learning something because they’re told to work in a certain way, when that way of learning doesn’t work for them. It may be beneficial for you to watch the show over and over again to get it in your head, it may be beneficial for you to actually close your eyes and listen to the show if you’re an auditory learner. I would just say – figure out how you learn, and then do whatever you can to learn it that way.
You can currently book to see COME FROM AWAY until 15th February 2020 at the Phoenix Theatre. www.comefromawaylondon.co.uk
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