London Free Press

Irish Born Star To Sing In Petrolia
Songs from Colm Wilkinson's New CD Will Be Featured Tonight

Noel Gallagher

The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables' Jean Valjean will take the stage at a sold-out Victoria Playhouse Petrolia tonight.

Both reside in the person and voice of Colm WIlkinson, the Irish-born singer who originated the now-classic theatre roles in England and on Broadway.

Signature tunes from those musicals will be included in tonight's concert, Victoria Playhouse's 2004 fundraising gala, which will also feature selections from Wilkinson's new CD, Some Of My Best Friends Are Songs.

"I named it that because these are the tunes that mean the most to me personally," explains the performer. "The album's my tribute to my ma and da, a way of thanking them for giving me the opportunity to have a career in making music."

Born 59 years ago in Dublin, Wilkinson grew up in a house filled with a broad spectrum of musical sounds.

"I heard everything from Caruso to South Pacific to Elvis," recalls the singer, whose Petrolia show will include the likes of Willie Nelson's Funny How Time Slips Away; the Eddy Arnold hit You Don't Know Me; and Cat Stevens' Father And Son.

The latter will be performed by Wilkinson and his 30-year-old son Aaron, who will open the concert with a country music set.

Wilkinson's professional career began in the 1960s and he was a member of the Action, a major Irish show band of the 1970s. Wilkinson made his theatrical debut in 1972, playing Judas Iscariot in the British and Irish productions of Jesus Christ Superstar.

His impressive portrayal of Barach, the Shylock character in Fire Angel, a musical version of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, drew an invitation to join Britain's elite National Theatre company.

"To me, acting and singing are actually all one because, as a singer, you really become an actor trying to tell a story or create some emotion."

In 1986, Wilkinson drew international attention when he played Valjean in the Royal Shakespeare Company's staging of Les Misérables in London and reprised the role on Broadway and then in Toronto.

He was also the first actor cast as the mysterious masked man in The Phantom of the Opera, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that set box office records in England before a 4½ year run in Toronto, where its star won the 1989 Dora Mavor Moore Award as best actor.

"As much as I loved doing Phantom, I preferred playing Jean Valjean. He's such a wonderful character and Victor Hugo's novel is one of my all-time favourite stories. I was carrying a copy of Les Misérables around with me long before the musical came along," recalls the performer who, with his wife Deirdre has called Toronto home for 14 years.

Currently choosing to concentrate on his solo concert tours and songwriting/recording career, Wilkinson says he's reluctant to commit to the gruelling grind of starring in another major stage musical, "...but a really great part could come along and change my mind."

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