As an original cast member of Dear Evan Hansen in the West End, James Winter is understudy Larry Murphy and also Dance Captain for the musical, and he is currently preparing for the show’s reopening at the Noël Coward Theatre later this month. In 2018, James toured in Jersey Boys, a show he previously booked at the Prince Edward Theatre for his first professional job after training, where he played Hank Majewski and covered the roles of Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe and got to perform at West End Live, Proms in the Park and Children in Need. James was part of the Original UK & Ireland Tour of Shrek the Musical as Pied Piper and cover Lord Farquaad and Shrek, and his other shows have included Carnaby Street the Musical, Les Misérables, Lucky Stiff and The Full Monty. Speaking with James, he tells us about being an original London cast member of Dear Evan Hansen, understudying the role of Larry Murphy and his time with Jersey Boys.
What is it like being an original cast member of Dear Evan Hansen at the Noël Coward Theatre in the West End and how is it returning to the show ready for reopening?
It was a bit of a career milestone to be honest, being able to say Original London Cast! It was something I’d always wanted to do so I was very proud and honoured to have been cast back in 2019. Returning to the show is going to be special – we were only there for six months when we closed on March 16th 2020, and then we’ve spent eighteen months away! So it really feels like we’re all returning with fresh eyes and a lot of gratitude to be able to reopen, especially after that last eighteen months!
What was it like preparing for the show and what did you know about Dear Evan Hansen before auditioning?
I actually knew very little about the show prior to auditioning, only a couple of the songs, but as soon as I properly listened and did some research, I got very excited about the writing and prospect of being cast! I drove my wife crazy talking about it!
Can you tell us about being understudy Larry Murphy and how was it making your debut as the character?
It’s the first time I’ve ever been an offstage understudy/standby, so it was a very different rehearsal process to anything I’d experienced before. Lots of watching Rupert Young (who plays Larry), and learning the role through observation, which is HARD! I have a newfound respect for Swings who cover multiple roles and often get very little rehearsal time! Getting to go on was incredible – some family and friends came in to watch too which made it even more special.
How is it being Dance Captain for the musical?
It’s a funny one to DC on, as on paper there doesn’t appear to be much “choreography” but in reality the entire show is choreographed and minutely detailed – every move is precise and exact, which is mirrored by the lighting and SFX. The actors have to be so exact with how they move and where they move to as the staging is so slick.
You toured with Jersey Boys in 2018 and also previously appeared in the show at Prince Edward Theatre, what are some of your favourite memories from both?
Honestly, too many to recall. Some of the best years of my professional life were spent on both of those productions, and as it was my first job out of college in 2009, it will always hold a very special place for me. Some stand-out moments would be performing at West End Live twice, Proms in the Park, Children in Need, and getting to play Bob Gaudio so much. The audiences LOVE that show, and we all loved it too. It was very special.
What was your character Hank Majewski like to play and how was it covering the roles of Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe?
Hank was fun as it was lots of different small characters, and in the original production at the Prince Edward I played guitar and Mandolin live onstage too.
Both covers were a lot of fun for very different reasons, but playing Bob Gaudio, and getting on regularly, was honestly the highlight of my career so far. I LOVE that role.
Can you tell us about being in the Original UK & Ireland Tour of Shrek the Musical as Pied Piper and cover Lord Farquaad and Shrek?
Shrek was both a lot of fun, and also the hardest show physically I’ve ever done! In rehearsals we started every day in warmup with a forty-five-minute Body Attack class to build stamina, and oh boy did we need it! It was the sweatiest show I’ve ever done, with all the big heavy costumes, and makeup and prosthetics and wigs, and also the energy you had to bring for every second onstage as you’re playing larger than life, fairytale characters.
Farquaad was SO much fun – such a naughty character, and the first time I’d ever played a villain! And being inside the Shrek suit and prosthetics was just crazy – the only bit of your entire body that is exposed is your eyes!
You booked your first tour with Carnaby Street the Musical, how was this?
Wow, blast from the past! It was my first experience of tour life, only three months and weekly venues so a bit of a whirlwind. I also met and worked with Tricia Adele-Turner, who I’m now getting to work with and rehearse opposite at Dear Evan Hansen! Small world!
How was the experience performing in Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre?
Les Mis is one of those bucket list shows – I had been desperate to do it since I was about ten years old, so it was great to get the opportunity in 2012. It was also the year the film came out, so we got to go to the premiere in Leicester Square and walk the red carpet, which was an incredible experience!
What was Harry Witherspoon like to play in Lucky Stiff?
Wow, you’ve really done your research! Lucky Stiff is one of those hidden gems of a show. I had been in and loved A Man of No Importance by the same writers (Ahrens and Flaherty) at GSA, so when the opportunity came up to play Harry Witherspoon I couldn’t turn it down. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in such a short space of time! It was only a six-week job, but we had a LOT of fun and the writing is so clever and witty.
You had your first musical role as Ethan Girard in The Full Monty in 2008, what do you remember most from your time in the show?
Well, this was a return to the theatre I grew up in, the Key Theatre in Peterborough, and as a fresh graduate performer, so that was quite special. Also terrifying to be quite literally doing The Full Monty in front of a home crowd straight out of college, but the show is fantastic. So funny and full of heart, and the cast, who were all incredibly experienced, really took me under their wings and taught me a lot.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
My mum is a dance teacher and choreographer – she runs a dance school in Peterborough now called Tu Danse (https://www.facebook.com/104422201705/) and she used to choreograph Am Dram societies when we were kids, so my brother and I (Jason Winter, currently in Frozen) used to be in the shows, and then we attended Summer Schools and Youth Theatre at the Key Theatre in Peterborough, taught by a brilliant director called Michael Cross, who really gave us that launchpad and the discipline and passion for the craft.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch?
I loved Waitress, and loved Something Rotten on Broadway (would love to see it in the West End!).
I also loved The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q – both of which are bucket list shows to be in one day!
Is there anything you’re looking forward to most for Dear Evan Hansen reopening on 26th October?
I think just reconnecting with an audience, hearing that audience response and knowing we’ve told an incredible story for a few hours and engaged people.
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