JES­SICA DUCHEN

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - COM­PO­SI­TION

a flop. Luck­ily he was un­daunted and to­day, about to turn 50, Wax is one of the coun­try’s top the­atri­cal pro­duc­ers.

The Play That Goes Wrong is a supremely funny tour de force about an am­a­teur dra­matic group from Corn­ley Polytech­nic as they try to stage a 1920s mur­der mys­tery.

First writ­ten and staged by the No one could have fore­seen this suc­cess Mis­chief Theatre, the play opened at the Old Red Lion in Is­ling­ton in 2013 and on one night played to just four peo­ple.

Its set was built for £300 and Mis­chief were still us­ing it when Wax first saw it at the Trafal­gar Stu­dios. The au­di­ence were laugh­ing so much he thought some must be in on the act.

“What I saw was to­tal plea­sure. There is even a real mink coat worth thou­sands.”

Though he de­scribes all the back­stage de­tails (“Our tap shoes are wired with mi­cro­phones that run down our trouser legs”) with the en­thu­si­asm of a new­bie tread­ing the boards, Kings­bury-raised Greg is any­thing but. As a baby he bounced to Michael Jack­son and, as soon as he was old enough, par­ents An­drew and Jackie en­cour­aged his mu­si­cal­ity by send­ing him to Stage­coach from where he was signed by Sylvia Young’s agency and promptly hired to be a young Gary Lineker in a Walker’s crisps com­mer­cial.

As one of the orig­i­nal cast in Billy El­liot, Greg got to en­joy the gen­eros­ity of its com­poser El­ton John who lav­ished iPods, gift vouch­ers and en­graved neck­laces on his young artistes.

“I was just 12 and to sud­denly be in some­thing so big and im­por­tant was in­cred­i­ble,” says Greg, who very nearly landed the part of Billy. “I was in train­ing for the role for six months work­ing on my bal­let, tap and street danc­ing with Peter Dar­ling the chore­og­ra­pher, who went on to do Matilda and The au­di­ence was lit­er­ally cry­ing with laugh­ter.” he says. He de­cided to or­gan­ise a Bri­tish tour.

“No­body could have fore­seen this suc­cess,” he says. “It has a mas­sive fan base and ap­peals to all gen­er­a­tions, from six year olds to grand­par­ents. It’s in­ter­na­tional too. We’ve cur­rently got it play­ing un­der li­cence in 30 coun­tries.

“My wife Daniella and I went to see it in Bu­dapest re­cently. It was all in Hun­gar­ian but the com­edy re­mains and ev­ery laugh was just as big.”

The play has gath­ered a clutch of awards in­clud­ing the 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Com­edy, and the 2015 Broad­wayWorld UK Best New Play.

This month it opened on Broad­way, and in Mel­bourne.

It’s a long way from the £300 set. The New York pro­duc­tion is cost­ing $4 mil­lion to stage: “We could have raised the money three times over, we were turn­ing peo­ple away.”

The play has spawned a brand with another com­edy The Com­edy About A Bank Rob­bery do­ing brisk busi­ness.

The Apollo Theatre staged the “al­ter­na­tive pan­tomime” Peter Pan Goes Wrong last Christ­mas.

Wax is also cur­rently stag­ing a tour of La Strada, taken from the Fellini film, along with a tour of Around The World in Eighty Days.

But his most im­por­tant pro­duc­tion comes in Au­gust when his son Jasper is bar­mitz­vah. The Waxes have two other chil­dren, Joseph and Jemima.

With all this go­ing on, you won­der how well Wax is sleep­ing. “I sleep fine” he says.

“Although I’m prob­a­bly more ner­vous about the bar­mitz­vah. It’s the last one and we’ll start on the weddings in a few years!” Groundhog Day. I wanted the part so badly but when it came to the fi­nal au­di­tion they just felt I wasn’t gritty enough. My won­der­fully com­fort­able North West Lon­don up­bring­ing held me back.”

But not for long. Billy El­liot’s cast­ing direc­tor liked Greg enough to sug­gest him for the main role of Noah in Tony Kush­ner’s Caro­line or Change at the Na­tional Theatre and Kush­ner cast him ten min­utes after his au­di­tion.

“I was about to do my GCSEs at JFS, but Dame Ruth Rob­bins, then the head­teacher was very sup­port­ive and I re­vised dur­ing re­hearsals and amaz­ingly came out with high grades.” Com­bined with the stand­ing ova­tions, a schol­ar­ship for Guild­ford School of Act­ing and later land­ing Bar­num in 2014 along­side Brian Con­ley, it was quite the time for Greg. Not that 2017 isn’t show­ing prom­ise.

“Drury Lane has so much history that even when I’m on stage I can’t be­lieve I’m there,” he says — even though he has eight pairs of tap shoes to prove it.

42nd Street is at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

BRIAN ELIAS has a packed sched­ule this year — and that is a big­ger state­ment than it sounds. An elu­sive com­poser, now 68, who lives qui­etly in Gold­ers Green, he has never been pro­lific. Yet now his star is in the as­cen­dant. This au­tumn, his score for The Ju­das Tree re­turns to the Royal Bal­let; the last bal­let chore­ographed by Ken­neth MacMil­lan, it was pre­miered 25 years ago. Be­fore that, a cello con­certo is due for its first air­ing. A new CD of his works is re­leased this spring on the NMC la­bel. And next week at the Wig­more Hall, the oboist Ni­cholas Daniel and the Brit­ten Sin­fo­nia pre­miere his new Oboe Quin­tet.

Why so few pieces? Partly, Elias sug­gests, be­cause he is con­vinced mu­sic needs a real, ur­gent pur­pose be­hind it. This re­al­i­sa­tion, he says, was a break­through when he wrote L’Ey­lah (pre­miered at the Proms in 1984), pay­ing tribute to his sis­ter, who had died trag­i­cally of a drugs over­dose. The ti­tle is a quo­ta­tion from the Kad­dish. “I be­came con­scious that a piece has to have a rea­son for its ex­is­tence and that it should be writ­ten out of real need, not sim­ply to fill up pa­per or to ful­fil a com­mis­sion,” says Elias. L’Ey­lah was also the first oc­ca­sion on which his mu­sic drew on his un­usual Iraqi Jewish In­dian back­ground: “A solo vi­ola quotes an Iraqi Jewish love song that our grand­mother used to sing to us as a lul­laby.”

He was born in Bom­bay and in child­hood ab­sorbed a rich sound­world from the sur­round­ing melt­ing pot of In­dian street mu­sic, dif­fer­ent lan­guages and colour­ful di­alects. He be­gan try­ing to com­pose as soon as he started pi­ano lessons, aged seven, “but it was only when I was sent to school in Eng­land that peo­ple re­ally be­gan to en­cour­age me,” he says.

Later, hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced dis­ap­point­ments at the Royal Col­lege of Mu­sic (“my teacher was usu­ally drunk”) and Cam­bridge, which ended with a ner­vous break­down, he took pri­vate lessons with the com­poser El­iz­a­beth Lu­tyens, whom he met at the Dart­ing­ton In­ter­na­tional Sum­mer School of Mu­sic and who pro­vided the in­tense, prac­ti­cal guid­ance he needed. “My first les­son with her lasted five hours,” he re­mem­bers, “as she showed me how to lay out an or­ches­tral score prop­erly.”

Suc­cess­ful broad­casts of his early works on BBC Ra­dio 3 at­tracted the in­ter­est of the pub­lisher Ch­ester Mu­sic, and Elias found him­self in a strong po­si­tion that en­abled him to pick his projects. One of his great­est suc­cesses, Five Songs to Po­ems by Irina Ra­tush-

PHOTO: HE­LEN MUR­RAY

PHOTO: BEN EALOVEGA

Elu­sive com­poser: Brian Elias

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