John Owen-Jones has an impressive career that includes having performed the role of Jean Valjean in productions of Les Misérables both in the West End and on Broadway. In an online poll, John Owen-Jones was voted the “Best Ever Valjean” and “Best Ever Performer in Les Misérables” by fans of the show.
John Owen-Jones grew up in Wales, and like many children in the UK, his earliest exposure to theatre was pantomime. He recalls going to the local cinema, which also happened to be a theatre. He would watch the cinema curtains open to reveal the screen and watch the film. But one day the curtains parted to reveal a whole stage with actors and a set; the young John Owen-Jones was completely surprised!
“I’d never seen anything like it, and it blew me away!”
Owen-Jones reflected, “That’s probably where my excitement for working in theatre came from.”
However, John Owen-Jones says theatre is something he “kind of fell into”.
“I enjoyed making my school mates laugh, and entertaining them in class. Then I did a school play and then joined a local youth theatre, because a friend of mine said it was a great way to meet girls – and as it turned out, it was, because I’ve been married now for nearly 23 years and I met my wife when working in Les Mis, so it’s worked out all right!” Owen-Jones laughed.
“So I wasn’t born wanting to do it. It was just something I fell into, and found out by accident, that people thought I was quite good at it, so I stuck to it, you know.”
I quickly added, “And it turns out you are very good at it John!”
“Oh I don’t know about that, but thank you,” replied a humbled Owen-Jones.
I reminded John Owen-Jones that he’d been voted the “Best Ever Valjean” and “Best Ever Performer in Les Misérables” by Les Mis fans.
“They obviously have excellent taste!” he laughed.
“It’s very flattering. Obviously that kind of thing is subjective, It’s lovely to be told that, but I always try to be the best at what I do.”
John Owen-Jones admits the pursuit of perfection is impossible but he is always learning how to improve. But taking to the stage for a concert presentation of songs, is a very different process to performing an entire show.
“When I first started doing concerts I very much thought that you just had to sings the songs. Then I found the best way to do it was to inhabit it as a character and take on the aspects of the character and the story, and tell story through the song. In that way it was less about me as John Owen-Jones singing the song and more about me, John Owen-Jones, being the character in the song.”
He said it also made it easier for him to connect with the audience and for the audience to connect to the song.
John Owen-Jones is currently in Australia to perform in Do You Hear The People Sing? a once in a lifetime celebration of the music of Les Misérables, Miss Saigon and more.
Do You Hear The People Sing? is an opportunity for John Owen-Jones to perform songs he would never have the opportunity to do in the West End or on Broadway.
“They’re just characters I would never play.”
In order to bring his best performance, John Owen-Jones undertakes considerable research about each song.
“I want to know what I’m singing and where it comes in the story and who the character is that I’m performing. It’s the only way I can do it. I have to listen to the entire soundtrack, not just the song, read the synopsis, and if I can get hold of the script then I’ll read all that before I sing a song in concert.”
Do You Hear The People Sing? is also another opportunity to work with the composers. John Owen-Jones regards working directly with Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schönberg as a privilege.
“I’ve been friends with Claude-Michel and Alain going on 20 years. We’ve always got on and they’re very open to new ideas. They’re very easy going with their material. Some composers are very strict and they don’t like you messing around with their original idea, but if you bring an idea that’s fresh and new to Claude-Michel and Alain, and they like it, they’ll encourage you to do it because they know music and theatre is a living breathing art form and it changes,” explained Owen-Jones.
“They’re also very funny to work with! They’ll take the mickey out of you in their very dry, French way – it keeps the rehearsal room buoyant and happy.”
Do You Hear The People Sing? brings together a range of international and local performers.
“It’s quite an eclectic line up really!” remarked Owen-Jones.
That line up includes Michel Ball, Rachel Tucker and David Harris – all whom John Owen-Jones has worked with in the past.
“And I know Maria Zamora, who is actually Alain Boulbil’s wife. I’ve known her socially for a long time. It’s really nice to be in the room with such an international cast.”
The set list for the concert was determined by Alain Boubil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and producer Enda Markey.
Do You Hear The People Sing? has been staged internationally in the past, this is a very new version.
“There’s a lot more people in it and there’s even a brand new song that we’re premiering!”
That song will be from the newly revised musical Martin Guerre, which Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schönberg hope to stage in the West End in 2024.
“One of the songs is going to be performed for the first time in Do You Hear The People Sing? so that’s very exciting! The audience is going to hear something brand new from them.”
While John Owen-Jones is not performing this new song, he does get to sing one of his crowd-favourite, must-do songs: ‘Bring Him Home’.
“I am singing ‘Bring Him Home’ but we’re doing a different version. It’s become a trio between myself, David Harris and Michael Ball.”
“And then I’m singing songs from Miss Saigon – a show I’ve never been in, and The Pirate Queen – a show I’ve never been in!” he laughed.
The concert will be supported by an incredibly strong ensemble and orchestra under the musical direction of Guy Simpson.
The cast have been busy in rehearsals ahead of the opening performance on Tuesday 27th September at Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne.
“It’s sounding amazing! You’ve got some of the best musical theatre songs, with some of the best musical theatre singers, and they’re going to be in two of the best venues in the world! You’ll only see this concert in Australia, at this moment in time. You won’t see it anywhere else in the word with this line up. It’s a one off. It’s a once in a lifetime concert, it really, truly is.”
“To have Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schönberg in the room, with the original Marius – Michael Ball, the original Cosette from the French production – Maria Zamora, and me, possibly the greatest actor and singer of all time … ,” Owen-Jones laughed. “That’s me being funny there!”
“It really is a privilege – not just for us doing it. I think it’s also a privilege for the audience to be there as well. if you’re living in this part of the world, and you’re into musicals, you’d be a fool not to come!
For tickets and more information, visit thepeoplesing.com
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DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING? PERFORMANCE DETAILS
Venue: Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: Tuesday 27 September 7:30pm, Wednesday 28 Sept at 2:00pm and 7:30pm
Prices: From $99 (Transaction fees apply)
Bookings: thepeoplesing.com or call 1300 182 183
Venue: Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
Season: Friday 30 September at 8:00pm, Saturday 1 October at 8:00pm, Sunday 2 October at 2:00pm
Prices: From $99 (Transaction fees apply)
Bookings: thepeoplesing.com or (02) 9250 7777