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Last summer the reviews for Jesus Christ Superstar could have seen the show re-dubbed Tyrone Huntley Superstar. In the Guardian, Lyn Gardner declared, "Tyrone Huntley is brilliant as Judas, a young fanatic who is watchful and isolated from the start." In the Independent, Paul Taylor amplified and enthused: "The damned-either-way dilemma of Judas is conveyed with terrific ferocity by Tyrone Huntley, whose voice can slice and swing and soar into tormented falsetto."
The young actor, who is now 27 and was raised in the cathedral city of Lincoln in the East Midlands, had only graduated from Mountview drama school five years earlier, and he wasn't even supposed to be playing the role of Judas; he'd originally won a job to appear in the production as one of the priests.
He was thrust in the deep end then, and although it was a career-changing moment, he is able to relax and enjoy returning to the role this year much more. "It's strange, last year I was a lot more nervous as I brought in to play Judas very late in the process. I didn't know what I was doing, but having done it last year and coming back now, I'm feeling a lot more confident in my abilities and it feels more enjoyable. I'm really excited to be stepping back onto the stage."
How did it all happen? "I got a phone call about three weeks before rehearsals asking me if I wanted to re-audition for the role of Judas as the guy who was going to do it couldn't do it anymore. I went in, thinking they're not going to give it to me because I'm already in the show and it would just mean more stress for them to then find a replacement for me. But my agent said give it a go and see what happens." It wasn't handed to him on a platter: "I had to go in to see them about five or six times; it wasn't until Thursday before we started rehearsals on the Monday, just as I was about to go onstage in Memphis, that I got the call from my agent that they wanted me. I couldn't believe it. It was obviously an opportunity I'm so thankful came around!"
He is counting his blessings in many ways. "I've had a really, really great career. When I was training I didn't think I'd ever be as successful as I've been, but this one was really a shock to me, I never thought I'd be leading a company in a lead role, and for it to be received so well, that I got nominated for an Olivier Award and won the Evening Standard Award for emerging talent. It was far beyond what I ever thought would happen in my career."
He started his acting career in youth and amateur theatre in his home town. "When I was younger, the whole performing thing was never a really serious career option - I never thought I'd be able to make a living from it. I thought my only career option was to be a lawyer, so I did a GCE in law, hoping to go to university to study it. But when I was 16 and about to do my A levels, I was involved in school shows and drama clubs in Lincoln, and my teachers encouraged me to pursue that a bit more seriously. GSE in drama and A level as well. They encouraged me to audition for drama school, and I auditioned for RADA as that was the only one I'd really heard of, but I didn't get in. I was more upset than I thought I'd be; I didn't realise that I wanted to get in so badly, and I had further discussions with my drama teachers. They said you can sing and have done musicals, so you'd probably be better off to study musical theatre as you'd have more of a chance to get into a course. I typed musical theatre degree courses on google, and Mountview is the first one that came up. I'd missed the deadline by a couple of weeks, but I rang them up and asked if I could audition." They let him, and the rest is now history.
He's barely been out of work since graduating - after making his debut on a UK tour of Sister Act, he won a role in the ensemble of the original West End cast of The Book of Mormon. Yet even then he hedged his bets: while appearing in the show by night, he was busy completing an Open University degree in law.
But he's not had to seek out work in law. After The Book of Mormon came Memphis, in which he had his first featured role, and then Jesus Christ Superstar before joining the original London cast of Dreamgirls last year: "It's a 35 year old show, and I never thought in a million years it would come to London. When it finally did, it was amazing being part of the original cast, bringing this classic renowned musical with incredible music to London. I played CC White, brother of Effie, and Amber Riley and I sang a duet in act two I'd look forward to every night. It was a really great show with some amazing people."
He was released from Dreamgirls to return to Jesus Christ Superstar, but has nothing lined up next yet. "I've worked for six years non-stop and I've managed to get to this point where I'm now playing lead roles. It's been a lot of hard work, but it's been absolutely incredible. It does feel strange that I'm here already, but I'm looking forward to challenging myself more in the future, so I'm looking for the next great role that I can take on."
Jesus Christ Superstar Tickets are available now.
Photo courtesy: Johan Persson