The one who was the clever and unforgettable Marius in Les Miserables almost ten years ago and Judas in the new video version of Jesus Christ Superstar, is not so well known in his own country, France, but Jerome Pradon is a star of the London stage.
Taking advantage of a few days off from his current run in Whistle Down The Wind, Jerome Pradon met us in his small Paris flat. He, who has made a name for himself in London confides though that his career in musicals started by chance. He thought at first that "musicals were kind of old fashioned -a typical reaction the French have towards musicals". But he had always loved to sing. At the time he was studying acting at the Cours Florent, he sang in bars a repertoire of French songs (Trénet, Aznavour, Brel) and recent American songs and soul music. One day a friend told him of auditions for Les Miserables, the Boublil and Schonberg musical, in Paris. Without him knowing what the musical was about, he went to audition.
Les Miserables, Martin Guerre and Miss Saigon: the Boublil & Schonberg connection
For Jerome, it was a revelation. "After listening to it, I fell down, I was in a dream state, I absolutely wanted to do this". After three auditions, he got the role of Marius "I was over the moon!" The great adventure began. "I adored doing Les Miserables, I discovered a passionate world, it was a real work in acting and singing". Still today, he has fond memories of this time: "it was my first big role, a marvellous experience". Sadly, after only 71/2 months at the Mogador Theatre, the show closed prematurely. "We didn't always have full halls, so for the producers this wasn't sufficient, they were losing too much money". He then asked to audition for the English company. "They looked at me with a vague smile thinking "he is nice, but he must have an accent you can cut with a knife'!" He then worked relentlessly to sing the English version of Marius' song with the help of an American teacher, especially the accent. The final result was convincing since a month or so later he was asked to play one of the principal roles in Miss Saigon, another musical by Boublil & Schonberg that was a hit at that time in London. "To debut in London in a lead role was a great opportunity!" For a whole year, he played Chris "the most stressful role I ever had to play, I was constantly working on the American accent and the voice, but I am happy I played and sang it, I like the music of Miss Saigon very much".
Further afield, Jerome left for Toronto, to create the title role of Napoleon, a Williams and Sabiston musical, but doesn't have too many fond memories: "The show wasn't a success, it still hasn't been transferred to London as planned". He returned to France and joined the troupe of Roger Louret to play in La Java des Mémoires in Paris.
Sometime after, he returned to London to create the role of Guillaume in Martin Guerre, the new Boublil & Schonberg musical. "It is the role which I am most proud of. I had a lot of fun. I had to be the bastard for a change! Martin Guerre has been very positive for me. As I created the role, the professionals came to see me and they appreciated my work."
Nine, the missed rendez-vous with the Paris audience
After staying a year in Martin Guerre, Jerome is contacted to play the sole male role in the French version of "Nine" a Maury Yeston musical at the Folies Bergère in Paris. "I had seen the English production of "Nine" a few months earlier, I had really liked the text, the music. I had said to myself that it could be a role for me, but only in ten years!" And yet, he was the one chosen for the Paris production. "I have kept a good memory because I had a great time but also a bitter memory because the show was such a flop, and because it was completely ignored by the professionals". But Jerome also blames the production team. "It was a little bit of a mess in terms of preparation, infrastructure and rehearsals. They were not serious enough, and compared with the ways in the English speaking world of musicals, I thought their way of working was a bit unprofessional". Yet, he doesn't forget the good moments with the cast. "We were all together, we stayed side by side, we truly formed a team". He admits to have been suffering from the failure of "Nine" "Contrary to what I had hoped, this role hasn't been a great thing for my career in France, I had thought it would be a springboard".
After Nine, he is momentarily devoted to the cinema. He starred in Simon Sez, "an outstanding third rate" American movie, The Dancer, produced by Luc Besson, and Vatel, a film by Roland Joffé with Gérard Depardieu. But he didn't hesitate to participate in a more modest production, La Jeune Fille et la Tortue, a short musical film by Stéphane Ly-Cuong. "I have found this very refreshing, a pleasant tale, simple and moving. We had fun doing the film, it was tender and very enjoyable to make". But again London is calling him back.
Jesus Christ Superstar, story of a video
Right after Martin Guerre, Jerome Pradon had already been asked to play the part of Judas in the second cast of Jesus Christ Superstar, a new production of the celebrated 1970's musical and the first success of Andrew Lloyd-Webber. But the role wasn't what he wanted, and he auditioned many times for the part of Jesus, which he found more interesting. "I have a tendency to choose the roles I would like to do, I prefer something that really brings out my career instead of money and security" but the production insisted that Judas was the part for him. They even took him to audition in front of Webber himself (rarely done) in his castle! They still offered the role of Judas "I had to refuse the role, I had just got a positive answer to do Nine". In retrospect, he doesn't regret his choosing Nine even with its failure. "I have always thought and I am still thinking that Judas is an impossible role to sing on stage, particularly for me, I am absolutely not a tenor... I would have broken my voice completely!"
Without rancour, Really Useful, the production house of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, came back some time later on for him to do screen-tests for the preparation of the filming of the video version. "I stared wide-eyed, I went to the tests and got the role... of Judas! This has been a long process, especially for me, I spent my time telling them that I didn't have the voice to sing Judas. I had a lot of vocal training with the musical director, every day for a whole month, until we went to the studio to record the master voice. Then we rehearsed for five weeks, as in a theatre play, and then we shot the video at the Pinewood Studios near London for four weeks ".
He can't stop giving praise to the director: "Gale Edwards is a genius, to work with someone like her, it is a gift. She made us look into our character's thoughts, make an introspection. This way of working with a character is worth any acting lessons. Also, she is full of staging ideas which I find brilliant. For example, I found the last scene -the descent of the cross- amazing". The song "Superstar" is completely hysterical, there is real discomfort, it is true sensationalism of Jesus, like the nauseating American preacher shows". As for shooting, it is an excellent recollection to keep. "The shooting was brilliant, evidently full of tension but also full of pleasure". Although Andrew Lloyd-Webber never came on the set, he watched the rushes every day. As Jerome says smiling "He is like the phantom of the opera, we don't see him but he is pulling the strings!".
Jerome is very happy with this experience and "very impressed with the result, it is a true theatre work, it tells a real story with very moving moments". He regrets however a little of the commercial aspect in certain passages "designed a bit like video-clips", while recognising that "this is probably necessary to lighten the gloomy side of some things". The video has been out a little over a month in England. "This hasn't had much media coverage, but until now the professionals reaction has been excellent regarding me, it is positive" Jerome adds, "it is quietly getting known".
In any case, he is now well thought of by Lloyd-Webber's entourage.
After shooting Jesus Christ Superstar, they asked him to play the leading role (The Man) in Whistle Down The Wind, the penultimate Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical. "Of course, I would have preferred to be a part of the original cast but I did not get the role, there were only two of us left back then". He had seen the show with the original cast but didn't like it. But since then the libretto has evolved a little: "now the show is much closer to what it should be, it has more power and drama, that's what was needed to make the plot work and be truly emotional". Jerome finds the role very interesting. Also "this coincided with the Jesus Christ Superstar video coming out, I admit that also to be slightly self-motivated!" he recognises with honesty.
The English musical and the French musicals
Between Boublil/Schonberg and Andrew Lloyd-Webber, he doesn't have a real preference. He has the same appreciation for them, though he finds that their works are both a bit "commercial". But he explains immediately "this is not belittling in my mind, I just see their shows to be deliberately melodramatic". But after all "they are great at it: we go see their shows, we cry, we are completely taken in, and that's great".
This "commercial" aspect we don't see in the works of Stephen Sondheim, a musical writer that Jerome considers as "the intellectual, the Proust of the musical, he makes "avant-garde" shows, without any concessions, his approach is always very ingenious and intelligent". Continuing: "he unfortunately knows less public success but he has something that the others haven't: recognition from the "intellectual" circles". With so much admiration, we understand that Jerome regrets only having played Sondheim once, this being in Assassins in Derby, England, for two months. "Musically it is complicated to learn but a pleasure to sing".
His tastes in musicals are therefore very diverse as confirmed with his "Top 5" he gave us (not in any order): Into the woods, Sweeney Todd, Les Miserables, Evita and Rent. Generally speaking, with the exception "of a few shows a bit unsubstantial, a bit glittery", he is a very big fan of English and American musicals. "Over there, the musical has evolved into a separate artistic form that comes from theatre, the actors sing but they are actors more than they are singers. And also, most directors are eminent theatre personalities". He is enthusiastic to play and sing in a true drama, a true comedy, it is like having two pleasures at the same time, two climaxes!" According to him, this certainly won't happen with the musicals currently playing in France!
He feels like a complete stranger to this kind of productions "for me, it is another world, it is planet Mars". He doesn't think that these shows, which he thinks will be short-lived, will open the way to the musicals the way he likes them. "Here in France the audience come first to be at a concert, more than at a musical theatre show". Despite everything, he keeps hoping to see a "true" musical in his own country. And suggests that "a great director, like Chéreau for example, makes a great musical with real actors in a subsidised theatre. In case of success, it would be transferred to a private theatre as they do in England"
Another way, according to him, to bring the French theatre audience towards a more musical form of theatre, is to mount small intimate shows with few actors and a piano, as for example, the very intimate musical, Killing Rasputin, that he happily played in London for two months.
His taste for the more sombre subjects and more intimate, we find in Road Movie, the play that he wrote and in which one actor portrays five people (two men and three women) "I have already performed it one night in Paris but I want to take my time and wait for the best moment to play it".
For the moment, he admits to being a little melancholic "it saddens me a lot to have a career in England but not here". That is why he has decided to come back to France for a little while, and do some acting. "Just to play hard-to-get in London!" he ends laughing.
REGARD EN COULISSE, The Musical Theatre news magazine (IN FRENCH).