Currently, Femi Akinfolarin is in the original London cast of Moulin Rouge! The Musical as Ensemble and cover Toulouse-Lautrec, with the show running at the Piccadilly Theatre, booking into 2023. Femi has previously played Peter in Sally Cookson’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at The Bridge Theatre alongside Shalisha James-Davis, John Leader and Keziah Joseph, who played the rest of Pevensie siblings. In 2019, Femi was in the cast of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London Palladium and his other projects include Man of La Mancha at the London Coliseum with Kelsey Grammer, and he had his tour debut with Doctor Dolittle. For his training, Femi attended both Bird College and the BRIT School, and whilst training, he performed in shows such as The Wedding Singer and Curtains. We caught up with Femi about being in the original London cast of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, his time as Peter in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and performing at the London Palladium with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
You are currently in the original London cast of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, what is the show like to be part of?
The show is honestly amazing, a real spectacle. Every night before a show, I always get a buzz just before going on as I know the audience don’t know what’s about to hit them. It’s very different to the shows I have done in the past. Having the privilege to dance Sonya Tayeh’s choreography eight times a week is so rewarding. I just love that there are so many dance styles in the show which enables me to really grow as a mover.
How is it covering the role of Toulouse-Lautrec and what is he like to play?
Covering the role of Lautrec has been an absolute blast. Having to think about both my ensemble track and Lautrec is a great challenge mentally and creatively. I see Lautrec as a bold, charismatic, playful character which is always fun to play. To be specific, I admire how he leads The Pitch Song, and getting to connect with the love and passion he feels for his artistry and fellow Bohemians is very fulfilling.
Was there anything that originally drew you to the production and how was it preparing for opening night?
Once I first heard the soundtrack, I was intrigued with the the amount of songs in the show. I thought, “How the hell do you fit around 75 songs in one musical and make it work?”. Justine Levine’s musical arrangement is so clever. There are so many hits which makes the show engaging, while helping to tell the story beautifully. Another part of the show that drew me into the production was the opening of Act 2 – Backstage Romance. I just adore how the ensemble shine. To me, it’s the most iconic number in the show.
What do you enjoy most performing in the musical and what are you looking forward to for the rest of your run?
I’m in love with the fact that as soon as I get on stage I’m so engrossed with the performance that I forget about everything that is going on outside of work. It really allows me to just live in the moment, tell the story and let the emotional journey take over.
What I’m looking forward to for the rest of this run is sharing the stage with such talented friends. I learn so much from each of them. It’s a beast of a show and everyone does their best to give the audiences a night to remember, it makes me proud to be a part of.
How was your time playing Peter in Sally Cookson’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?
I learnt so much as an actor during my time playing Peter at The Bridge Theatre. With Sally Cookson’s work comes with a lot of devising, improvisation and movement, which I adored.
How much did you know about the franchise before auditioning and do you have any favourite memories from your time in the role?
I’d only seen the film, which I loved as a kid. I’m not usually a reader but once I started rehearsals I ordered the books straight away so I could get the detail on what the characters were like.
Getting to play siblings alongside Shalisha James-Davis, John Leader and Keziah Joseph was really something special to me. They all had this fire about them, which I admired.
In 2019, you were performing at the London Palladium in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, what was this like?
Three words… ENERGETIC, CRAZY AND FULL-OUT.
Joseph was so fun! I think actually the most rigorous show I’ve done so far. The amount of energy and stamina that is required is another level but it’s so much fun and the cast made my experience even more enjoyable (I miss them all).
How was it playing a Brother and covering the role of Calypso?
I really enjoyed playing one of the brothers. There’s room to play with the characterisation and bring your own personality into them. There isn’t a set way of how to portray them, which creativity is always nice. Playing one of the brothers is so much fun that I always get carried away. I love Calypso because the song is so catchy. It has a groove to it, which I enjoy.
What are some of your highlights from your time in Man of La Mancha at the London Coliseum?
Definitely working with Kelsey Grammer. He is such a legend and a lovely guy inside and outside work. I loved being part of such a diverse cast, and it was fulfilling getting to work with people from many different backgrounds.
How did you find the experience touring for the first time in Doctor Dolittle?
Such a great experience. Although we only toured for a few months, getting to move from city to city around the UK was exciting.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
I’ve loved performing since I was a little child. It’s what my heart was set on without even knowing what was out there for me. From performing for my church with my cousins, to being in school plays. My training started at BRIT School. I actually thought about just going into straight acting until my drama teacher at school told me not to waste my other talents that I had, so I decided to study musical theatre instead.
Was there anything that encouraged you to train at Bird College and how was your time there, which saw you perform in shows such as The Wedding Singer and Curtains?
Whilst auditioning for drama schools, I was never really specific in where I wanted to train, I just wanted to be at one of the best. To be honest, I had a lot of friends going to Bird College, so I knew we’d push each other to be our best and it made me look forward to it more. Training at colleges is very mentally and physically draining, so having strong-minded and determined people around got me through. I learnt so much at Bird. I most certainly wouldn’t be the performer I am today without both BRIT and Bird.
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 have a few favourites. Hamilton being one of them. I mean, 13 Olivier nominations says it all, haha. Its music and choreographer really won me over. Using rap and hip-hop to tell a story in musical theatre really is the game changer.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I love sport activities. Anything physical, count me in. Invite me to a game of tennis or crazy golf and I’ll be there in a heartbeat.
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