Currently, Marcus Billany is playing Knuckles on the Bugsy Malone tour, where he also covers the role of Bugsy, with the musical having recently opened for a six-week run at Alexandra Palace Theatre for the Christmas season, and the show is choreographed by Drew McOnie. Previously, Marcus has played Nigel at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical at the Cambridge Theatre, made his West End debut as Gavroche in Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre, toured with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Evita and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and he was in the cast of Children of Eden as Young Abel for a one-night-only performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre. We chatted to Marcus about performing as Knuckles in Bugsy Malone, his time as Nigel in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical and training with Laine Theatre Arts and Sylvia Young Theatre School.
You are currently on tour with Bugsy Malone as Knuckles, what is the musical like to be part of and how is the run going so far?
Knuckles could well be the most enjoyable and challenging character that I’ve had the opportunity of playing. Enjoyable because Knuckles is a role that has the freedom to change and adapt each night, in terms of humour and keeping intentions fresh. Knuckles has given me the practice that I needed to work on comedy and I really believe it’s paid off.
I couldn’t be more happier with the people that I am performing next to every night, as every one of them deserves to be there.
The run itself is going as good as I expected from day one in the rehearsal room, from then, I knew that I was going to be a part of something special.
We understand you are first cover Bugsy Malone, how has it been learning the role?
I think Bugsy is a lot more complicated than most people seem to think. Sure, he’s a kid playing pretend gangsters with all his school friends, running around with whipped cream cans or his dad’s shaving cream that he probably shouldn’t have taken. But, I can’t help but feel that there are more questions than answers, and that maybe Alan Parker wanted some mystery to his character. For example, ‘Is Bugsy Malone a good person?’. I’ve had a lot of fun toying with these ideas and really making sure that there is a clear difference between Bugsy and Knuckles.
What is it like seeing the audience response to the musical and how is it performing the music and choreography?
The audience’s reception has been overwhelmingly positive which has given us more confidence to make every show better than the last. The music of Bugsy Malone has been a part of me from the age of around eight years old, I can’t quite remember. My brother and I had a VHS TV in our shed that we watched lots of films on. And one of them was Bugsy Malone. We re-enacted splurge fights, wearing our dad’s suits, and trilbies that we found in charity shops, so the music was engraved into our memories, also.
Now, the choreography is by Drew McOnie and is one of the highlights of the show. Each number shows completely different styles that compliments the music perfectly. It has been a pleasure to work with him, and I hope to work with more creatives like him in the future.
What are you enjoying most about touring with Bugsy Malone and working with the rest of the cast?
I’m very fond of travelling and history. Seeing cities in England that I haven’t yet been to in the past has been very special and is something I always look forward to, as every city has their own major or minor differences that I get a kick out of. And I’m very lucky to travel and work with some of the warmest, caring and talented people I’ll ever meet.
The show has recently opened for a six-week run at the Alexandra Palace Theatre over Christmas, what are you looking forward to for performing there?
Alexandra Palace Theatre is a room that has been lost to time as it struggled competing with the West End theatres. It is one of the most spectacular theatres I have ever seen and it is worth visiting just to experience the theatre’s atmosphere.
Why would you recommend booking tickets to see this production of Bugsy Malone?
Bugsy Malone is a family-friendly show. No matter how old you are, you leave the theatre with a smile on your face, and uncontrollably singing all the songs on your way home. Splurge fights, beautiful dancing, brilliant acting and singing from children who will soon be stars. What’s not to love?
You played Nigel in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End, what are some of your favourite memories from your time in the musical?
Being part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical is something I still cherish to this day. I remember the rehearsal process being very full-on and intense, but it was all worth it. I still find myself remembering and going over the choreography in my head, because the choreography and the music in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical can never leave you.
What was Nigel like to play and do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role?
Nigel was a great role to play. Much like Knuckles, it’s quite a comedic role. Being able to get a laugh from an audience when I was 13/14 years old was an amazing feeling that I still remember to this day.
I remember the day I got the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical, I was exhausted and run down from the numerous recalls I had to attend to get the show. It was such a relief and one of the first experiences where I felt like I accomplished something.
What do you remember from performing with Children of Eden as Young Abel in the West End?
Children of Eden was a one-night-only performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre. It was exciting for me to be performing on stage with many famous and accomplished performers that I looked up to. I only wished we could’ve had more shows as it was such a special show with a brilliant cast.
How was it making your West End debut in Les Misérables as Gavroche at the Queen’s Theatre?
Being 11 years old, having the opportunity to play Gavroche in Les Mis in the West End will forever be one of my greatest achievements. Not many people are able to say that. I remember having to dirt my face up before every show and spending lots of time with the other kids in the show and chaperones. It was a blast!
How did you find the experience being involved with touring productions of shows such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Evita and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at a young age?
Those shows were my first experiences on what it’s like to be a part of a show. I learnt a lot, as in remembering lines, staging, and most of all, discovering the hecticness of what goes on backstage of a show, quick changes, rushing to get to the other side of stage in time for your next entrance. It was chaos, but I loved it.
What are pantomimes like to be part of and can you say about some of the ones you’ve performed in?
My introduction to theatre started with pantomimes, as is with most children in England. Every year we would go to watch the pantomimes in Scarborough. So to now be on the other side of the table is very special. I started as being an ensemble dancer in some pantos across the UK. But now, I’ve had the opportunity to play Peter Pan in some pantos which has been a great lesson for me. To lead a show comes with great responsibilities. It takes years to perfect being a lead, and I’m getting there!
Where does your love of acting and performing come from and how did you get into it?
I think it started when I was in Year 2 in primary school. We had to do the Nativity and my teacher picked me to play Joseph. I don’t remember much of it as it was so long ago, but from what I was told by my mother was that after the performance, my teacher told my mother that I had talent and that there was something special about me. From then on, I wanted to continue performing so I joined the local Stagecoach, joined their agency and started working.
Was there anything that encouraged you to train with Laine Theatre Arts and can you tell us about your training with them and Sylvia Young Theatre School?
I knew that I needed to continue training after Stagecoach, so my dance teacher told me about Sylvia Young. It sounded like a dream school so I knew I had to audition. Training there gave me all the tools I needed to get into theatre colleges, like Laine. I visited as many colleges as I could, but Laine felt like the one that was for me, and it was. I knew I could handle the intense three-year training because I survived the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical rehearsals many years prior. Now after Laine, I am ready for anything the industry throws at me.
What are some of your favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
I’m a huge fan of The Bridges of Madison County, the music is perfectly written for the show and the story is heartbreakingly beautiful. I also love Floyd Collins, although I’ve never seen it, the music transports me and makes me feel like I have. I hope one day to see a production of it, but I think it’s a very hard musical to pull off.
I’m also in love with classic musicals such as On The Town, West Side Story and Carousel.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
Music is my second love, I write music and play as many instruments that I can get my hands on, but mainly guitar. I also love reading and watching as many films as possible from all over the world. I’m interested in and wanting to get into woodwork, so I may be doing that in the near future!
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