With Top Hat The Musical coming to Oxford later this month, we caught up with actor Sebastien Torkia who plays fabulous fashion designer, Alberto Beddini, in the show. Based on the film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the production won the Olivier award for Best New Musical in 2013, and is now part-way through its national tour.
Having trained at the London Studio Theatre, Torkia has had a successful career in the theatre world. He has been in a complete range of shows from The Lion King in the West End, Singin’ in the Rain and even the film of the much-loved musical, Mamma Mia. For anyone hoping to do the same, he recommends complete commitment and dedication to survive in what he calls a “competitive and insecure industry”. “It has to be the only thing you want to do,” he says “and there will be times it won’t go well.”
To sustain a career in musical theatre he advises mastering as many skills as you can: “Try to have as many strings to your bow as possible, different types of dance and several instruments to give yourself the best possible chance.” For those of you considering musical theatre after your degree, Sebastien thinks attending a performing arts college can help as it gives a good insider knowledge of the theatre industry.
As a younger boy he “always knew he wanted to go on stage,” and he was inspired by the likes of Travolta and Fred Astaire, so his role in Top Hat is apt. He says he was also inspired by Gene Kelly, but from the interview I can tell you for sure Torkia’s a much nicer guy and would be far easier to work with!
Torkia tells us that Top Hat’s plot is actually very similar to the original film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It follows an American dancer, Jerry Travers, who comes to London to be in a show and falls in love with local girl Dale Tremont. Jerry pursues Dale all the way to Venice where she is visiting her friend Madge and modelling for designer Alberto Beddini, which is where Torkia comes in.
Sebastien plays this fantastic Italian designer, who becomes a rival for Dale’s affections due to a series of comic misunderstandings. The characters are given much more depth in this musical version, which Sebastien thinks is actually much funnier than the original film. The musical is set in 1935: “It’s a beautiful and glamorous period” and “the story doesn’t feel stayed or dated,” he adds.
Having dabbled in films in his career, Sebastien says that he finds it fascinating seeing how the scenes all come together, but that as an actor you are much less in control of what is shown.He finds he’s much more removed from the final product as you don’t get the immediate response from the audience. Having said that, for him, it is not the reactions but “discovering a character” that is his favourite thing about acting onstage. He says he enjoys playing Alberto because he is so different from himself and is a very “over the top and flamboyant character.”
Having had a long career onstage he has been lucky enough to have been proud of all the roles he’s had. For Sebastien there has been no worst role he’s had to play onstage; whatever he’s done he just throws himself completely into the character. “I’ve been very fortunate,” he says. For him, every part that he has had the chance to play has had an element of fun to it, especially playing the bad-guy. He played Scar in The Lion King, a role that he found particularly enjoyable.
His current character Alberto is very high energy. Torkia does not dance in the show but he says that it is a very physical role and he has to keep fit to keep up. “This touring production has all the West End values,” he tells us, adding that “sometimes touring productions scale down sets but not here. It feels like a full West End show.” With a cast of over 30 people Top Hat certainly does sound like an impressive spectacle that is highly entertaining and energetic.
Going on tour means that naturally the cast members become very close and they share entertaining moments together as they travel around the country. However performing in different theatres can have some problems, as each one has a different layout backstage. Sebastien recounts one theatre with a particularly confusing layout that meant one actor couldn’t find the stage and missed his cue because he got so lost! The actors on stage were wondering where he was and had to keep going but he came out on stage in the end.
The interview with Torkia certainly convinced me to want to go and see the musical, a fun and larger than life show. As for joining the performing arts industry, however, I think I’ll give that one a miss.
Top Hat The Musical is coming to the New Theatre in Oxford from the 28th January to 7th February.