Liam Forde is a musical theatre performer and cabaret artist from Connecticut, now based in New York. He is performing the lead role of Eugene in the tour de force musical Eugenius!, all about superheroes, the ’80s and comic books, at The Other Palace Theatre. (My four-star review here.) I caught up with him to discuss his role as Eugene as it comes towards the end of the run. He also talked to me about his journey to becoming a musical theatre star, advice he’d give to aspiring theatre performers and his love for Noël Coward, and polenta.
(Reading time: 11 minutes.)
(Header photo by Billy Bustamante.)
How are you Liam?
Everything is well. I’ve had my exercise and it’s a brand new day.
There’s less than 10 days left until Eugenius! ends. How do you feel about it?
I feel very sad, actually. I love running. I use it as a time to reflect and meditate. It dawned on me while I was running, like wow, after Saturday it’s going to be the final week and I know it’s going to go by in a flash. I’ve learnt so much doing this in London with this type of musical. The cast is so lovely and it’s been so much fun. It’s definitely sad. Everyone is feeling sad.
Are there any challenges you face when performing the role of Eugene in this explosive musical?
From my point of view, yes. I’m nervous every night.
You certainly don’t look like it.
Thanks. I think it’s a big sing for Laura (Baldwin), Daniel (Buckley) and myself. Singing doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to work at it. A couple of months before I got this job, which was in late October, I pretty much started working on the music. The vocals are the most challenging part of this, and the energy level. It has to be high, but that’s the entire cast’s job to keep the ball in the air and keep the momentum moving forward. Ian Talbot, our director, spoke a lot about that. It’s the style of it. It has a rhythm to it. The jokes and the silliness have to move, move and move.
What is it like to work with a large cast?
Heaven. There’s not a bad one of the bunch. I can say that sincerely. I’m not just saying that because I’m being interviewed. It really is. We are lucky to have such a lovely group of people, and we all have a good time together.
Singing doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to work at it
How much time do you spend rehearsing?
Anyone in the ensemble or anyone playing a supporting role will have understudy rehearsals, but we don’t rehearse now. We just have to be there an hour and a half before the show begins. We have a tradition of going to Nandos every Friday.
Of course, on Saturday we spend a lot of time together. I can’t really go out much because I need to be on vocal rest. On Saturday nights, because we have the Sunday off, we all go out.
Eugene loves comic book. Did you grow up loving them as well?
Are you a fan of the ’80s?
Not really, to tell you the truth. I’m more into the ’40s, but not so much the ’80s as it wasn’t what I was gravitated towards. I’ve seen those ’80s films, which Eugene is paying homage to. That was part of the reason I was excited about the job. I was born at the tail end of the ’80s and I appreciated the movies.
You’re from Connecticut and Eugene is also from Middle America, too, Tatooine, Ohio. Do you think because of your similar backgrounds, you share something in common with Eugene?
I’m definitely a geek. I’m not a comic book, superhero geek. I’m a geek about the theatre. I love seeing it and I love being in it. I’m a huge geek about food. I’m making polenta with mushrooms and greens today. I’m a huge geek about older music and classic American theatre type of material, Noël Coward, all of that, too. I think one of the things to take away from Eugenius! is that whatever makes you geeky, whatever you’re intensely passionate about is what makes you strong. That’s what makes you a superhero, so to speak. I think it’s a really positive message and everyone can take something from the show, which is one of the things I love about it so much.
I’m nervous every night
What do you love and don’t love about Eugene’s character?
I love Eugene. He’s an innocent. He is swept up in this world of Hollywood and blinded by fame and fortune, as often happens in these sort of tales, and it is almost too late by the time he realises it. Janey does try. I think you can’t blame Eugene for his naivety, but I love his passion, his innocence and love for his friends. I love that about Feris and Janey when they sing ‘we won’t give up on Eugene’. Even when Eugene hasn’t really been a nice guy to his friends, especially in the second half, they realise that’s not who he is, but they continue to help him. It’s very sweet.
I saw from your resume, you’ve been in shows such as Hand to God, The Secret Garden and The Rocky Horror Show, to name a few. Do you see any characters traits of Eugene in any of the roles you’ve performed in the past?
Gosh, Rocky Horror… you really did your research. That was a long time ago. I was at uni when I did that. Maybe, Rocky Horror a bit, but I’ve never had to sing this way before, which is again why I was terrified of taking this role. When my agent first told me about the audition for it, I was like ‘no way’. There is no way I can do this. Especially eight times a week, I’ll kill myself. Vocally no, I’ve not done anything close to Eugenius! I wanted to lean into that fear and challenge. I think it’s because I’m thin and have a young-looking face that I often play innocent teenagers. I tend to get cast in those roles. In the States, I usually play vulnerable English teenagers, and then, of course, here I’ll be playing American teenagers until I don’t know… when I can grow a full beard.
We have a tradition of going to Nandos every Friday
Now that you’ve done your first vocally challenging role, would you say you could do more roles like this, or do you still feel nervous?
It would depend on what it was. Musicals are so hard. I’m not one of those singers who can go on stage and it’s there immediately, you don’t have to think about it. I have to be thrifty with my voice during the day because I have to make sure I can sing those notes, show after show after show. It’s so high. So yes, if it was the right project, I would want to do more shows like this, and I’m glad I have this opportunity. I’m having so much fun, but I’m a neurotic actor. All actors are neurotic. Plays are one thing. You warm up your speaking voice a bit, but it doesn’t matter if you sound rough or gravelly, but I can’t be rough, gravelly and cracking through the show. That’s not what people are paying for. They are paying for perfect singing. So, musicals are a whole new level of dedication. It’s a completely different beast. Musicals are hard.
Do you think Eugenius! gives a sarcastic view of how Hollywood operates, for example looking at Lex Hogan’s character?
First of all, may I just praise Cameron Blakely because I might be his number one fan. He’s such a brilliant actor and singer. I want to see him play every part. I think he is a genius. Especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement, finally, finally we are getting to the beginning of women speaking out against this. I think Eugenius! is displaying Lex as a complete and utter villain. It’s far from condoning what he does, but it is presenting the ’80s version of how things were. Also, there’s the style and writing of the show. There’s always a bit of a wink to the show, and that’s what I was talking about with the style. It’s showing how far we have come, hopefully. Eugene’s female superhero is Super Hot Lady, it’s clearly taking the piss. I don’t think our writers condone that.
Musicals are a whole new level of dedication. It’s a completely different beast. Musicals are hard
How do you want the audience to feel after watching Eugenius?
All you need to do is come, see the show and watch the reaction from the audience. After that, go on Twitter and see what the audience says. You can see it immediately. It’s so gratifying. Ben Adams and our marketing team usually shares everything the people are saying about the show. I have never been part of a show where we get an audience reaction like this. Even on a Monday or Tuesday night, people want to jump to their feet and they usually do. It has so much energy, and it is so catchy and joyful that I think there is a need and necessity right now for a night out where you can forget your troubles for two hours and twenty minutes, and have a great time. Just have a laugh and bop around. You probably know from the very beginning, here’s Eugene, he’s a geek and he will prevail at the end. You know it’s going to happen. It’s one of those feel-good shows with an unbelievably incredible score. People come up to me after the show and they say ‘it’s the most joyful thing I’ve ever seen’. If we can bring that to people just for a couple of hours, I can go to bed knowing I’ve done my job well.
There’s a lot of singing, dancing and plenty of choreographies to remember in Eugenius!, so how do you keep fit and remember everything?
I run. I think it is very important that when you are doing a physically and vocally demanding show you have lots of rest and hydration. Physically Eugenius isn’t too bad, Hand to God was harder. It takes several hours for the water to actually reach your vocal chords. First, it will go to the vital organs, your liver and your kidneys, all that. You need to start hydrating immediately, as soon as you wake up. That helps keep the vocal chords functioning to their best ability. In terms of remembering the choreography, that’s not really an issue. You do a physical and vocal warm up before every show, which is actually different here. They don’t do that in the States. It’s something exclusively British. The whole company will do a warm up before. In the States, you just have to show up a half hour before the show and you do what you need to do. It’s an interesting difference.
Is this pre-warm up something you will continue going forward?
I do a warm up on my own, anyway, in the States whether the company calls for it or not. Some people don’t like to do a warm up. Every actor has a different process. I need to vocalise, get the blood flowing and get my body moving. Even a bit of stretching, a bit of yoga… get the articulators, like the tongue and the face, moving. Just stretch everything out and all of that actor-y stuff.
When did you realise that the stage was your calling, and you wanted to become a performer?
There were summer courses that were happening and my sister had signed up for one of them one year. I signed up the following year because I wanted to do everything my sister did. My sister is a dresser for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), so I signed up for the theatre course and there was a production that happened. I will never forget being on stage, delivering a monologue called ‘my sister ate an orange’ and the joke, in the end, was she also ate a yellow, and a purple and a blue, so she was actually eating crayons. She wasn’t eating an orange. It was a stupid punchline, but I remember when that wave of laughter came and that feeling of ‘oh, I can make people laugh’. It was a very powerful thing. I think any performer will have that moment when they realise that they have that gift. I must have been eight years old, and then I always knew.
I want to be Noël Coward
Do you have a role model? Someone who inspires you?
I would say Noël Coward.
Are there any plays by him, or particular quotes…?
Oh, don’t even get me started. A man from your country, of course. I am fascinated by him, I’ve read many biographies of him. I’m quite well versed in his music and lyrics, and his plays. What’s amazing about Coward is how he reinvented himself, kind of. He came from a perfectly middle-class upbringing, he was born in 1899 and he invented himself – that man with the cigarette and a brandy in his hand. He was so sharp, and he had such a way with words. One of my favourite things he ever said was ‘work is much more fun than fun.’ I think that most artists will feel that way. This is a completely stupid business to be in, there’s no stability and you don’t make any money. He was a man of so many talents. He was an actor, director, playwright, composer, lyricist and producer. He wore so many hats. He rose to the top and stayed true to himself in his own particular style. He had his own cabaret act, which was a huge smash in Las Vegas in the 1950s, and I do cabaret myself. I want to be Noël Coward.
Any advice you’d give to someone who wants to do what you do and become a successful performer?
You don’t want to be me. I’m going to quote Noël Coward again. ‘Work hard, do the best you can, don’t ever lose faith in yourself and take no notice of what other people say about you.’ You just have to be yourself. That’s the biggest piece of advice I could give you. There was an interview with Emma Thompson and she was asked the same question, which resonated with me because it’s so true. She said, ‘don’t let people define you by the way you look.’ You are in control. You have to know your worth. You have to know your power as an artist. Respect yourself and love yourself. That sounds so cheesy, but it’s true. It will come through on stage, it will come through when you audition and perform something. You have to have that kernel of knowing exactly who you are and enjoy it. I think that’s the most important thing. Maybe that might be an American point of view. The worst thing you can do is imitate someone else.
Any dream roles you’d love to perform or any shows or musicals you’d love to be in?
In musical theatre, there’s a lot of roles I’d love to do when I am older. I would love to do Henry Higgins when I am in my 50’s in My Fair Lady. I’d love to do Sweeney Todd and sing like a baritone. This is very much when I am older. I’d love to have a go at Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors. I’m dying to do a couple of roles in Noël Coward plays like Hay Fever and Present Laughter. I’d love to play Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. There are a couple of things I’d love to do in New York, so let’s see.
What do you like to do in your spare time, outside of the rehearsal room or stage?
I like to spend time alone. I get a lot of energy from being by myself. If I have a whole day free, I’m not one to get bored. I’ll go to the store and buy something to cook and create something elaborate. I’m just obsessed with cooking. Again, I’m passionate about cooking, running and I like to take walks. Those are the main things, food and theatre. Of course, being with friends and family, but usually focused around food. Eating food, talking about food and anything French.
You are in control. You have to know your worth. You have to know your power as an artist
Do you have any favourite areas and places to hang out in London? Or are you homesick and missing New York?
I’m not going to lie to you. I am homesick for New York. I miss the energy of New York. I love Borough Market. That’s where I got my special polenta and I cannot wait to cook it. I have to whisk it for about 50 minutes, and it’s going to take a while – I can’t wait. There are some areas of East London that I enjoy too. I was just in Greenwich on Sunday with my mother. That was nice. I hate to be a typical tourist but I also love Soho. The other week I went with a couple of cast mates to the late nights at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club and that place is divine. It’s my favourite spot too. It’s very chic and the jazz is gorgeous.
Eugenius! ends next week (tear, tear) on March 3rd.
Purchase tickets here online before they go!
For Liam Forde’s website, click here.