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Interview with Robin Cousins Billy Flynn in Chicago The Musical

Robin CousinsFrom winning his first national title at the age of twelve, and being British Junior Champion at the age of fourteen, Robin Cousins developed into being one of Britain’s greatest performers on ice, winning many championships as an amateur and professional.

The pinnacle of his career was winning a Gold medal at the Winter Olympics in 1980 at Lake Placid in Canada. His other notable achievements as a figure skater include: British Champion four times, European Championship Winner, and being second twice at the World Championships. He was also The World Professional Figure Skating Champion three times and winner of the World Cup of Skating.

His knowledge of skating has led to Robin being a regular guest presenter and commentator for BBC Sport, and in recent years as the head judge on Dancing on Ice.

“My sport always was entertainment to me… I was more performer than competitor”

Robin has also made the successful transfer from sport to stage, playing several leading roles in productions in the US and in London’s West End. At the time of the interview Robin was playing the role of Billy Flynn in the musical Chicago until the show ends its 15 year run in London on 1st September, 2012.

Robin very kindly took some time out from his extremely busy schedule to answer some questions about himself and his career. Enjoy!

Coming from a sporting family, what made you choose ice-skating? Was there anyone in particular who inspired you?
I wanted to be Gene Kelly when I was a kid. I was dancing and doing school gymnastics. I found ice skating by accident and always used Kelly’s free spirit approach to performing in my own work.

You won your first national title at the age of 12, and became British Junior Champion at the age of 14 while also making your international debut the same year; how much commitment did you have to give to the sport alongside your traditional education in school?
I did what I could, when I could and didn’t really know any other way to do it! I got up early and trained before school, and after, and was encouraged (never pushed) to go at my own pace.

You have been incredibly successful in your skating career, winning medals at the World Championships, European Championships and Winter Olympic Games. Which of these is the most important to you and why?
Every medal you win is important to you. Obviously the Olympic Gold is a pinnacle but I still remember my first National win and feeling that sense of personal achievement that spurs you on to want more!

For anyone starting out and wanting to reach the top of their chosen sport what general advice would you give them?
Always keep things in perspective and don’t pressure yourself to try more than is attainable. Dreams may spur you on but goals must be achievable.

Following your professional ice-skating career you formed your own performance company, and have subsequently starred in, produced, directed, and or choreographed many international TV ice spectaculars. How easy was it for you transferring from sport to entertainment?
My sport always was entertainment to me… I was more performer than competitor.

Your entry into musical theatre came in 1990, in Cinderella on Ice, when you starred as the Prince opposite Adolph Green and Phyllis Newman at The Muny in St Louis. How did this role come about and what was it like performing as a role and not yourself?
The production had a ‘Currier and Ives’ setting and the Ball was an Ice Party (Victoria and Albert used to have these at the Grosvenor House Ice rink, it’s now the ballroom). The director Paul Blake was looking for a singing skater who could also choreograph the production. My agent at the time put me up for it. I auditioned, got the job and literally had a ball singing and skating at the same time (additional songs were added). I loved the challenges and being someone else for a few hours each show!

As well as Cinderella, you have appeared in several stage productions including Munkustrap in Cats, and Frank N Furter in The Rocky Horror Show. What can you tell us about your time playing these characters?
I’ve had such varied roles and challenges of larger than life characters especially with these two. I loved diving into them and allowing myself to leave RC the Olympian behind and draw from the ensemble that was CATS and the outrageous costume of Frank. I LOVE challenges!

You are currently starring as lawyer Billy Flynn in the musical Chicago, how have you tried to make the role your own?
Billy’s dialogue is so precise and his façade has been carefully crafted. You have to let yourself be the centre of attention and allow his bravado to envelop you.  A little soft shoe in ‘Razzle Dazzle’ is fun too!

Which is your favourite song or scene in the show?
I love the confrontation with Roxie in Act 2. The realisation for Billy that she’ll never really ‘get it’ and for the audience the moment they see that real life hasn’t changed that much… the ‘15 minutes of fame’ issue that, years after the book, film, play and musical were written still resonate in our daily culture today.

The song ‘We Both Reached for the Gun’ is a very humorous scene in the musical with Flynn the puppeteer of Roxie Hart. You must have some fun with this scene – would you care to share an anecdote or two?
‘Press Conference Rag’ – I do love this song… I don’t think any ‘Billy’ would say they didn’t but it’ll always be a challenge. It’s the take a deep breath and go Olympic number!

Chicago is due to close on 1st September 2012 after 15 years in the West End. What is the atmosphere like backstage knowing there are only a few weeks to go?
The initial disappointment has grown into a ‘fire in the belly’ determination. The cast (all experienced Chicagoans from different productions) have come together and the show is zipping along nightly. The audiences are great and we will go out with a bang. The show may be closing –for now but I’m sure Chicago will be back before too long.

Why should everyone come along and see Chicago?
It’s fun, sexy, extremely witty, the songs (for me) the best collection of Kander and Ebb and a great night out. Everything you want from a musical!

What are your plans once Chicago has finished?
There are things to be discussed and decisions to make but I want to continue to push myself. Dancing on Ice will also be back in January!

Is there anyone you would really like to perform on stage with or a role that you would like to play?
I’m happy to audition and of course there are roles that I’d love (MC in Cabaret and Thenardier in Les Mis) but we’ll see….

Do you have any career ambitions that are as yet unfulfilled – and what are they?
I am happy as each day comes. I have been incredibly lucky and had some amazing opportunities. I will always be grateful with my lot but Broadway would be nice… was close many years ago with my ice show so it’s still on my bucket list!

I understand that you have been mentoring the British Synchronised Swimming Team at this year’s Olympics. How much time and commitment has this involved and what are your expectations for Team GB in this event?
I’ve been mentoring the squad since last summer and I love this experience. The girls and their coaches have been so welcoming and it’s been fun coming at their sport from a different angle, even giving them some skating moves to utilise in the free routine. I’ve also seen them grow in stature away from the pool as their sport is given some serious sporting attention, YES, it IS a sport!

Which of the Olympic events will you be most interested in watching and anyone that viewers should watch out for?
Gymnastics, diving, athletics (I’m a Jessica Ennis fan) and, of course, the synchronised swimming!

What do you like to do to chill out away from the spotlight?
Sky+ is my best friend away from the theatre especially now as there are events at the Olympics we’re missing during the show!

You have many supporters from around the world, any message that you would like to say to them?
A HUGE thank-you! For always being loyal and continuing to keep in touch. Time marches on but it’s always nice to know people are still interested in what you’re doing and watching (very) old You Tube clips!

Many thanks Robin for a fabulous interview!

You can follow Robin on Twitter @TheRobinCousins

Interviewed By Neil Cheesman @LondonTheatre1

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  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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