This February Norwich Theatre Royal has the pleasure of welcoming Britt Quentin, the Michigan born star of Thriller: Live to its stage.
Though Britt has already performed the lead role 2,320 times in the West End, I wondered if he still gets nervous. After all Michael Jacksons was, and is, a legendary and extremely influential musician. ‘Often I do get nervous’, Britt admits . ‘I have those feelings before the show starts. But the way the audience react to you and what you’re doing quickly changes that. Especially because Michael isn’t with us anymore, people just want to experience his music. And when you feel that reaction from the audience those feelings of nerves tend to go away’.
Despite always having wanted to be a performer, (he was in a children’s choir when he was young, and tells me he ‘hasn’t stopped singing since!’) Britt surprises me by admitting that he didn’t always look at Michael Jackson as an inspiration: ‘Because of my high voice and the way I looked, people always compared me to him. But I didn’t want to be Michael Jackson, I wanted to be Britt’. He tells me, a little sadly. ‘It wasn’t until I got older I decided to embrace it.
And it seems Britt has embraced it, in a big way. He tells me that it is a ‘love for the music, and a passion for what we do’ that keeps his energy levels and enthusiasm up after every performance. It also helps that occasionally the performance is slightly altered. ‘You can’t fit all of Michael Jackson’s songs into a two hour show, so over the years we have had to swap things out’.
And Britt’s favourite song to perform? ‘Generally the newest one we’ve added!’ he jokes ‘so it’s human nature at the moment. But ask me again in a few months and it will be something different’.
Though Britt has experience as a both a director and a performer, it is on stage he is the most comfortable. ‘I’ve been performing so long it’s become second nature. There’s been times I’ve gone on stage to perform something five minutes after I’ve learnt it, but I’ve only been directing for the last decade’. Though directing is becoming second nature, Britt admits that he ‘hasn’t quite gotten there yet’.
I wonder if he will get much time to explore Norwich while he is her; he sounds a little disappointed as he tells me this is not the case. ‘After six and a half years of performing in London, I have only just started touring. My schedule is usually jam packed – you can’t rest like you usually rest! Days off are often spent on the road or in airports. As I director I often have to hold rehearsals, so when other cast members get to go and explore the city, usually I’m still working’.
We shouldn’t expect to bump into him in Chapelfields or the Lanes anytime soon then!
I am interested to hear about Britt’s early musical career and about his childhood growing up in Detroit; a city that is both the home of Motown and in terrible decline. He tells me that it was a conflicting place to grow up as a musician, and talks animatedly and fondly of the musical inspirations that came from the area.
‘Early on I realised I was growing up in an era where music was thriving. Detroit is my foundations: it was a privilege to be trained there and grow up around that sort of music. But I also realised that, because of the decline, I had to get out of there and go somewhere where music was still thriving’.
Sadly, my time with Britt was coming to an end, but I still had one more burning question to ask him: how did he manage to master the moonwalk? ‘You know,’ begins Britt ‘we don’t all have to do it. The moonwalk was very specific to one era of Michael Jackson, so it’s only showcased in one part of the performance. There’s only five people in the show who have to do it, and luckily for me, I’m not one of them!’
So, after seven years performing in Thriller as both a performer and a director, two years as the lead counter tenor soloist for the contemporary classical work Café Desire (2002-2004), and the conductor of the All State Jazz Choir of Colorado (2007), Britt certainly has an impressive résumé. What could the future possibly hold? ‘I’m currently working on a solo album, and my own tribute show. I also still do vocal arranging for performance groups’. I ask him if he sees himself staying in the performance industry indefinitely. ‘Absolutely’, he tells me with conviction. ‘I want to stay until I can’t d oit anymore. What I’m doing may change, I may move on to full-time directing. But I’ll always be in the performance industry. This industry is where my heart is’.
Thriller: Live is being performed at Norwich Theatre Royal Feb 13-18