Luke Brady on becoming Moses in 'The Prince of Egypt' in the West End
Luke Brady had barely opened in the starring role of Moses in The Prince of Egypt before the Stephen Schwartz musical epic at the Dominion Theatre, directed by the composer’s son Scott, was shuttered by the pandemic. Some 16 months later, the production survived a second, much-shorter hiatus due to COVID-19 and is now back up and running, much to the delight of its gifted and amiable leading man, who was keen to chat one recent day about the renewed thrill of being back on the boards.
The Prince of Egypt is at the Dominion Theatre.
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How does it feel to have resumed performances after such a lengthy and unforeseen break?
Everyone’s just so grateful to be back in the building and to be back at work at a time when we’re told that two percent of people have been able to put on a show again. Also, because we hadn’t been open that long pre-pandemic, the show still feels very fresh. This new start has given us an opportunity to continue to grow the relationships and elevate the material in a new way; it feels a bit freer.
What was your own experience of the various lockdowns?
Well, I grew my hair – and lost weight! My family are labourers, so I did some building work here and there and a fair amount of rock climbing. As far as the show is concerned, we would have once-a-month Zoom calls with our producers who would update us every time as to what was going on. It was quite lonely for a lot of us to even consider that we might not be coming back, so we just had to hold it together: everybody’s commitment to the piece was lovely, it really was. Now that we’re back, I think people have really taken stock of what’s important; it’s made everyone step up in a new way.
Was it a challenge to rediscover the necessary vocal stamina?
If I were an athlete, I’d have had a training camp where I could go to build it up [laughs]! Everyone, I think, was a little bit nervous about how we might sound after so long away, but fortunately I’ve found that the voice is still there. The job now, of course, is maintenance because this role really does take its toll: I try not to give a B show and to give each performance as much as I can, which means removing yourself from temptation and going home after the show to get some sleep.
The musical itself confronts any number of catastrophes, including plague: has that given the work a stronger resonance in our own time of plague?
It does feel in a sense as if a prophecy has been foretold, but what I think the pandemic has really done for our show is to highlight the element of the human spirit. We’ve experienced first-hand the need to help each other through in order to stay on track and the importance of care and being there to lift each other through this time. It feels as if our story and life itself have partnered up to give the piece a new fire.
How did your training at London’s renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) prepare you for a job like this?
I didn’t train to be a singer but to understand text and story and classical work and to have the training to back that up. At the same time, we were taught to embrace whatever comes our way: I did get to play Mr Peachum in The Beggar’s Opera while I was there, which was very different from any musical I’d done before.
What were your thoughts about playing as iconic a character as Moses, about whom theatregoers may have numerous preconceptions of their own?
You nailed it: how do you play a prophet and try and represent someone that means to so much to people from so many different faiths? The thing I was worried about was, "Am I telling this story respectfully, and do I have a voice in telling this story at all?" What helped me was to realise that Moses in The Prince of Egypt is a person and if you can tap into that humanity, that gives you a starting point from where you can then build the performance from the inside out. Otherwise, it becomes an overwhelming exercise and you start playing the prophet, which I don’t think is a particularly helpful thing to latch on to.
How well did you know the 1998 DreamWorks Animation film before taking on the stage show?
I didn’t if I’m totally honest. I had a lot of the Disney movies on VHS but this one hadn’t made my collection, so my first encounter with the story was going in to read it; I came in with no preconceived idea, and in a way I’m glad things happened that way round. I was able to create my own imagery and relationships around what I was reading and then when I saw the film afterwards, I thought, "Oh, that’s why it is what it is: I get it now."
It’s terrific that you seem able to have bridged a divide between classical training and West End extravaganzas.
I’m glad to hear you say that, but, you know, I look at people like Imelda Staunton and Bertie Carvel and I think, "They’ve done it," and that’s given me confidence, as well. Musicals are so integral to the London scene that I don’t see why the two worlds can’t come together.
What was it like appearing opposite Imelda in the 2012 West End revival of Sweeney Todd?
I owe so much to Imelda just in terms of her work ethic, and what she represented at the time is why I went to RADA: I watched her rehearsal process on Sweeney and thought, "How are you finding such nuance and detail in something like picking up a cup or a rolling pin," and she said, "Look, there are no shortcuts, and if you’re asking those questions, maybe you should consider going to drama school." So I did, and there at the end of three years was Imelda handing me my degree: the synchronicity of it all just fell into place.
You had done a previous West End run of that fabled New York mainstay The Fantasticks in 2010 too.
Yes, playing the young lover, Matt. That was my first proper gig and the show that really planted the seed that I could do this. We had a Japanese director, Amon Miyamato, who brought his physical performance style which he wanted to transform for a Western audience: he encouraged us to be quite expressive, and even though it was such a short run, I loved working with Clive Rowe and David Burt and Hadley Fraser: I made lifelong friends, which was brilliant.
You’ve also been writing your own music.
I’ve done an instrumental lo-fi album, entitled Time and Place, which was really an experiment for me in learning how to be a producer and to build an album from the ground up. It was designed purely for background relaxation after the tough 16 months we’ve all gone on to hopefully offer some light relief.
Photo credit: Luke Brady (Photo by Matt Crockett)