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-
Elusive composer: Brian Elias