For Ako Mitchell’s next musical project, he will be playing Preacher in the recently announced West End production of Bonnie & Clyde, which is set to start previews at the Arts Theatre on 9th April and currently booking until 10th July. Last year, Ako played Larry in Indecent Proposal at Southwark Playhouse, Bob Baker in Wonderful Town and Raymond for the MT Fest workshop Far From Heaven. During the pandemic, Ako was part of The Color Purple – At Home, a show he previously performed in 2019, and he played Papa Who in NBC’s The Grinch Musical LIVE. Over his extensive theatre career so far, Ako has worked on many shows including Caroline, or Change in Chichester, Hampstead and the West End, Guys and Dolls as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Klook’s Last Stand, which was his first two-hander show and led to an Offie Award nomination, Sister Act alongside Whoopi Goldberg and he made his West End debut in The Lion King as Mufasa. Ako is also a voice actor, having worked on TV shows and video games, and he has co-written short film Two and a Half Minutes with fellow actor Alex Gaumond. We talked to Ako about his upcoming role of Preacher in Bonnie & Clyde, playing Larry in Indecent Proposal and filming for NBC’s The Grinch Musical LIVE as Papa Who.
It’s been announced you are playing Preacher in the upcoming Bonnie & Clyde musical in the West End, what are you looking forward to most for opening with the show at the Arts Theatre?
Firstly, I’m very excited to work with our incredible creative team and perform such an exquisitely rendered piece of theatre. I’m excited to help tell this story examining strife, depravation, consequence and redemption in the extremely volatile time we are all now facing.
What drew you to the musical and why would you recommend booking tickets?
I think the story is very timely and topical – and the music is a wonder. It is lyrical, moving, and authentic. And the cast is simply ace! I think people will be in for a stunning evening of theatre.
Can you tell us about playing Larry in last year’s production of Indecent Proposal at Southwark Playhouse?
It was quite a challenge AND slightly delicious to play a bit of an awful, manipulative, selfish cad and look at such a twisted story through a modern lens. Also, it was an absolute JOY every day to work with that cast and creative team AND our brilliant backstage team.
You appeared in Wonderful Town as Bob Baker, also last year, what was the character like to play?
Bob was a very well-meaning, occasionally misdirected guy caught in the whirlwind surrounding these fascinating sisters from Ohio. It was quite a challenge staying relatively calm as a character in the midst of wonderfully chaotic characters. And ultimately, Bob finds someone and falls in love and who doesn’t like a bit of romance and happiness.
What did you enjoy most about playing Raymond in Far From Heaven in MT Fest 2021?
Raymond was really interesting as he is possibly the closest to myself I’ve ever played. He operates quite often in worlds where he is outside and he follows the beat of his own drum 😉. Also, the music was gentle, delicate, moving and insightful. And, again, the team assembled to tell that story was indeed astonishing.
Can you say about being involved with The Color Purple in 2019 and The Color Purple – At Home last year?
The Color Purple was extraordinary in so many ways. I’d already felt very privileged to be a part of that glorious company. But as we performed the ‘At Home’ version in the midst of the early stages of a global pandemic, there was something truly magical sparked within us all. We carried the disruption and pain of the pandemic within us and it brought another dimension to that wondrous story of hope, redemption and love.
How was it being in the cast of NBC’s The Grinch Musical LIVE as Papa Who?
My goodness, this was soooo incredibly exciting. I think doing something so joyous and glorious at such a dark time just felt so incredibly redemptive. I think we all shared the sense and responsibility of bringing a little love and light to people’s homes – at Christmas nonetheless. Also, the sets, the costumes, the cameras were almost all overwhelming.
Having appeared in Caroline, or Change in Chichester, Hampstead and the West End, do you have any stand-out highlights from your time in the show?
There are probably too many stand-out memories from that show to narrow into highlights but I’d say during rehearsals – each time – just sitting and watching Sharon (D. Clarke) deliver Lot’s Wife gave me an education – really a masterclass – each and every time I watched. Sharon is a blessing and a wonder.
In 2017, you played Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls, how did you find your time playing the character?
I really loved that production. Guys and Dolls is set in Harlem and just as hip as it could be – what’s not to love. And c’mon, singing Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat set in a Harlem church! Wow! I also met a group of beautiful, generous souls, many of whom I still contact regularly. And, most importantly, I met my incredible, gorgeous girlfriend during that run.
How was it playing Klook in Klook’s Last Stand at Park Theatre, which saw you be nominated for an Offie Award for Best Actor?
Klook was a stunning show. It was the first (and only) time I’d done a two-hander and also was my introduction to the very special and generous Sheila (Atim). The book and music (by Ché Walker, Anoushka Lucas and Omar) were stunning. I also think I grew up a bit doing that show. I was asked to do a very hyper-alpha character for the first time and the challenge of that very much helped me grow as a performer.
You made your West End debut in The Lion King as Mufasa, what do you remember most from being in the musical?
Yikes. Loads. I guess my most exciting memory was going to my first costume fitting and seeing the costumes and set from behind the scenes. It was truly magical. I was in absolute awe. I also met Andrew Hume that very first day in wardrobe – he was just the loveliest, kindest person. I have never forgotten that.
Can you tell us about some of the other shows you’ve appeared in over the years which has included The Wild Party, Little Shop of Horrors and Sister Act?
My, my. Loads. Again, these were all amazing memories and include lots of lovely people – a few of whom I’ve come across again and again. Sister Act was particularly special as we had Whoopi Goldberg perform with us for a period of time. She was just a solid, loving human. Also, Alan Menken was in the vocal booth with me during the Sister Act cast recording – that was pretty damn cool.
What is it like voicing characters on video games and TV shows?
I love it. I think what’s most interesting in that world is that my appearance is not a factor in voicing characters. I can be just about anyone – which can be very liberating and loads of fun. I’ve, at times, had a conversation technically with myself as I’ve voiced different characters appearing in the same scene. The only limit is my imagination.
As a writer, you have co-written and directed short film Two and a Half Minutes, can you tell us about this project?
This film came about because my friend Alex Gaumond asked me about doing a micro-short together. We’d been wanting to do something together – of our own – for some time and Alex challenged us to do something VERY short but impactful. I’d heard a story about a beautiful older couple who’d come into contact with my girlfriend’s old friend Joe (Potts), who is an NHS nurse and had volunteered to vaccinate people at the height of the pandemic. I wanted to do something based on Joe and this inspiring couple and we kind of went from there. I’m hoping to work with our team, which included our brilliant DOP Mari Yamamura and my super creative girlfriend Kelly (Jackson), again soon on something longer form but just as meaningful.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
I’m an only child so I spent loads of time as a kid stuck in my own imagination, making up stories and then playing all the characters. I subjected my parents to my own radio show that I wrote and recorded. We all listened to my show on route to visit my dad’s grandmother out of state. I later had an opportunity to do a TV commercial as a child and I just loved being on set and the palpable buzz of creating art. I haven’t stopped loving it ever since.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
I love going to the theatre, a habit formed by my mom and dad. We went to the theatre quite regularly when I was growing up. I don’t necessarily repeat watch, UNLESS I’m seeing a friend perform, which can be lovely. I guess I’m actually looking very much forward to seeing “Daddy” at The Almeida. I think Jeremy O. Harris is a genius.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I love photography. I’ve spent many a weekend randomly roaming around London and taking-in and capturing the myriad of sites with my girlfriend – who has an excellent eye. I also love to sit in a cinema and be told a good story. That’s a very happy place for me.
Thanks for taking me down memory lane!
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