So far my pursuit to find “Really Useful People” has brought you a Welshman, an Australian and an American. This edition sees me heading to Europe (metaphorically) to chat to German born leading man Uwe Kroeger who began his career as the first German speaking Rusty in Starlight Express. Later roles include the German premier of Sunset Boulevard and recording the role of the Phantom for the German release of The Phantom Of The Opera movie. Possibly Germany and Austria’s biggest musical star, Uwe also played lead roles in the original productions of German language musicals Elisabeth and Mozart and until the end of 2008 is playing Maxim DeWinter in Rebecca at Vienna’s Raimund Theatre. West End audiences may also have caught Uwe at the Shaftesbury Theatre a few years ago where he shared the the title role in Napolean. Uwe’s next role sees him premiering the new Frank Wildhorn musical Rudolf, once again at Vienna’s Raimund Theatre where it opens early in the new year.
You have been performing professionally for some twenty years now, but can you remember your very first acting role, even if it was in a school play?
Interestingly enough, I will always recall the Christmas play at kindergarten where I played Joseph, the father of JC. I was five, or even younger, and I only had one sentence: “Come In”, but I was so proud and nervous about it and thought it was the most important moment of the play.
What I mean is, that until today I believe in the importance of each and every word or moment on stage whether you are the lead or the last person in the last row.
What was the first musical you ever saw, and did this inspire you to pursue a career in musical theatre?
Well, it was actually the film Fame which inspired me most. The idea of one school where you could train, and try all kinds of stage skills, was so fascinating that I wanted to give musicals a shot.
What other shows have influenced you?
I think Les Miserables should be on the priority check list of each musical performer. No other musical is teaching you the importance of “One for all and all for one”. It brings singers, actors and dancers together and each of them is able to extend his horizon. Great emotions, intriguing story, beautiful music and a warm-hearted message to take home with you.
And which people from the world of musical theatre have inspired you?
Difficult to say, each colleague of mine had inspired me in one way or another over the years.
Early in your career, you were the first German Rusty in the Bochum production of Starlight Express, do you have any particular memories of this time?
Yes, of course. I was the first German speaking Rusty, although (the) understudy, but still surrounded by international, mostly English speaking, artists. I felt overwhelmed and privileged at the same time. I lost my toenail during rehearsals, due to “too small” shoes, and I was part of a wonderful fairy tale. Hard School!
Bringing it full circle, this year saw you appearing as judge on Musical Show Star 2008, where the German public voted for a new Rusty and Pearl for the Bochum production. How did you find this experience?
I think an audience can barely understand what it really takes to play certain roles on stage. I don’t think they can judge whether (a performer) is capable to play the role up to eight times a week or not. They can only judge from their heart and how much they like the person on TV. But in the end we, as judges, didn’t decide – it was the audience. Having said that, I think we found a wonderful new German Rusty and I am glad the girl took my advice to go back to school first, ’cause at the end of the day you have to train and learn your stage skills from scratch.
As well as Rusty, you have also played leading roles in several more of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals, which of these roles have you most enjoyed?
I enjoyed and learned the most from playing Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard. Not only is it a wonderful story adapted from a brilliant Hollywood movie (but) I was also able to use and show everything I had. A fantastic mixture between acting and singing and a great challenge to bring a spoken word smoothly to a song. This is musical (theatre) at perfection, I think! I have learned so much and I am grateful I was chosen to do so.
2004 saw you singing the role of the Phantom on the German soundtrack album of The Phantom Of The Opera movie. Is this a role you would like to play on stage, and indeed are there any other roles in Andrews shows you would like to perform?
In fact I have played the role – in 2006 in Essen, after the movie was out. So actually a dream came true, ’cause after the movie and being honoured to give my voice to Gerard Butler I really wanted to play it live. Another fantastic story and beautifully put on stage.
Stepping away from Andrew’s work what have been your other career highlights?
The three roles in the world premieres of Sylvester Levay and Michael Kunze in Vienna:
1992 Death in Elisabeth, Empress of Austria.
1999 Collerado in Mozart
2006 Maxim De Winter in Rebecca
and of course the German speaking premieres of Burrs in The Wild Party (2003), Chris in Miss Saigon (1994) and The Beast in Disney’s Beauty And The Beast (1997), AND Napoleon in the West End production of Napoleon.
Yes, of course, a few years ago you appeared in London’s West End in Napoleon at the Shaftesbury Theatre. How did you find your time here? Is there a difference between German and London audiences?
I had the time of my life, learned a lot and I realized that there are good and bad actors, good and bad productions everywhere and it was good for me to see it with my own eyes. Colleagues were extremely nice and supportive towards me and the audiences seemed to like what a German Napoleon did on stage. I met one of my best friends there, Sarah Ingram! What more could I want? A great first time.
I am a regular visitor to Germany myself, where no visit is complete without going out for schnitzel at Café Klingler in Nurtingen (near Stuttgart) or getting a big bag of Paprika Chips! Were there any culinary experiences in London that you missed when you returned home?
Well, I love Christmas pudding and scones!
If you were not an actor what job do you think you would have?
I don’t know. Maybe a teacher or doctor?
Who, outside the world of theatre, has inspired you?
My boyfriend: He is a doctor and this is his true calling. He loves to help people and doesn’t stop to find answers and medical help. I admire him!
What makes you really happy?
An open fireplace, a good wine, good food, my friends around me, a great performance and a smile on my partners face.
What makes you really sad?
If people are greedy and lazy on stage. Their bad vibes backstage can ruin the productive flow of a show. We are so blessed to be able to do what we do. We should be thankful. I don’t understand this attitude. That makes me sad.
Norma Desmond or the second Mrs De Winter?
What a silly question! I would love to play Joe Gillis again, although Norma is not the right person to share your life with, while “I” – the new Mrs De Winter – would be the love of Maxim’s life.
Berlin Or Vienna?
Which musical theatre song best describes you?
Wow! Difficult question! I don’t know! I don’t think in these terms.
To quote Bob Dylan, “How many roads must a man walk down before it makes him a man?”
Life is about learning and growing. It probably means we will always have to walk, until the end!
And finally do you have a handliche haushalt tipp to share?
Yes, for singers who travel a lot and have to sleep in hotels: A wet towel each night over a chair next to your bed (close to your face) prevents dryness! Try it!
And so my interview with Uwe draws to a close, for further information on Uwe please take a look at his (German language) website http://www.uwekroeger.com/. All that remains is to thank him very much and wish him a happy last night in Rebecca and great success for his next project Rudolf.
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