As Musical Director, not only has Leo coached and trained the 27 member cast, he will be the pianist throughout the four day run of the show.
Leo has thrown himself into musical theatre since arriving in Oxford and worked and performed in numerous productions including The Producers, Chicago, Sweeney Todd, Semi-Monde, Die Lezten Tage de Menschheit, Parade and Singin’ in the Rain, as well as myriad concerts and cabarets.
Music was also critical to the success of his year abroad in Beijing where he gained conversational fluency in Mandarin thanks to making friends through musical theatre. “I became President of the Peking University Musical Theatre Society and we staged a production in Mandarin, Songs for a New World. I was also guest speaker for a musical theatre course at Beijing Conservatoire.”
His new language skills meant Leo was able to carry out first hand research for his dissertation by conducting interviews in Mandarin. “My focus is a social history of China through the lens of the chilli pepper, which only became a part of Chinese cuisine in the mid 1600s. Interviewing Chengdu chefs in Mandarin would have been unimaginable three years ago,” said Leo.
Leo took up the piano at the age of 9 after his family moved into a house which had a piano. Realising he had a natural ear for music, his parents encouraged him to take music lessons and he progressed through his grade exams. In his final years at Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe, Leo worked as Assistant Music Director on the school production of Les Misérables, which won Broadway.com’s 2013 Best Student Production award.
Having met Professor Margaret Hillenbrand at an Open Day, Leo was keen to come to Wadham to study Chinese. “I also knew that Wadham had the Moser theatre which has turned out to be a very useful rehearsal space,” added Leo.
Balancing his academic work with his music has been challenging but Leo finds that always having somewhere to be and something to do gives his week a structure that works well for him.
With Anything Goes opening at the Playhouse on October 12, Leo and the cast were back in Oxford two weeks before the start of term. “The biggest challenge for the creative team is to bring the show into the 21st Century and lose the stereotypes around gender and race.” The auditions last term took the form of a vocal workshop on one of the songs from the show. “We wanted to extend the reach beyond the usual drama crowd and this group based audition allowed us to see the fit of voices and songs.”
“Helping an actor find a voice that is at once classic in its sound, contemporary in its production, and safe to use in the context of night-after-night theatrical performances is a rigorous and challenging process, but working with a cast of such skill and enthusiasm is an absolute delight,” said Leo.