While performing at the Sydney Opera House in the 60th Anniversary production of My Fair Lady, Zoy Frangos had a tough decision to make.
In what many would consider a dream job, being directed by Julie Andrews and working with actors and a creative team at the top of their game, he knew he was ready to play lead roles. When he was offered the opportunity to tour with the show, his father reminded him, “You didn’t quit your job to be in the ensemble. You quit for the big time, so go for the big time.”
He decided to walk away. Soon after, he won a lead role as Judas in the Production Company’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, earning the imprimatur of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Zoy was a latecomer to the stage, beginning his career in musical theatre at the age of 23. He possesses has a naturally rich, powerful tenor voice and has spent years investing in his acting with a discipline and preparedness that allows him to deliver truth in his performances.
He grew up in Ballarat, Victoria, worked as a graphic designer and became a national level sprinter, training 6 days a week determined to make the Olympics. When an injury and subsequent hip operation ended his Olympic dream, he needed to channel his energies into something new.
It was a conversation with an old school friend who revealed that he was having singing lessons and was now singing in a choir that spurred Zoy to go along for a singing lesson too. His teacher confirmed he was a tenor, and Zoy embarked on a new career, approaching it with the same athletic determination as his sprinting. He quickly gained experience in the ensemble of local amateur dramatic productions of South Pacific and Cabaret and earned a lead role as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast.
‘I was always a bull at a gate kind of singer. For me it was always about power because I was a sprinter. There was no finesse.” He enrolled at the Victorian College of Arts and after graduating with a BA in Music Theatre, continued to refine his skills taking extra acting, vocal and dance tuition.
It was an independent musical called Margaret Fulton: Queen of the Dessert, directed by Bryce Ives and starring Amy Lehpamer that proved to be a huge turning point for Zoy. Bryce remembers, ‘Margaret Fulton demanded significant levels of presence, exploration, generosity and collaboration. Zoy was personally charged with the task of bringing to bear the skills of the actor as an explorative artist. We were all somewhat out of our depth, and each collaborator quickly realised the only way this production would succeed was through intense and joyful collaboration.”
In Next to Normal, Zoy enjoyed having creative input and working with his fellow actors on the rehearsal floor. ‘I learned you don’t have to have the answers. As actors, it’s about what we bring to it, our vulnerabilities and our strengths. We use the words; we tell the story. I use things from my past to help me with emotion, bringing in life experiences. That’s what makes acting exciting.’
He toured Australia as ‘Feuilly’ in the 2014 production of Les Misérables, understudying the roles of Valjean and Enjolras. ‘As Valjean, I had to live up to Simon Gleeson. My mountain to climb was the song, Bring Him Home. I sang it every single day for about a year and a half. It was my joy to do rehearsals for that role.’
About a year into the run, he had his opportunity. ‘I got a call from company manager to say “you’re on.” I knew I could do it. I was ready to do it. I was going to live in this moment and enjoy it.’
Hayden Tee played ‘Javert’ that night. He has since taken his performance to audiences in Dubai, on Broadway and in London, but recalled “Zoy was wonderfully fearless in his portrayal of Valjean and it was a privilege to play opposite. He smashed it out of the park that night.”
Towards the end of the run in the show, Simon Gleeson told him, “If you want to pursue roles you’re ready to do it. I can see you’re ready, you’re hungry, but you’ve got to be prepared not to work for a while as well, because there’s just not the opportunities.” It was sound advice.
‘One of the struggles in this industry is fighting to be cast against a name because they presumably sell more seats. While known stars’ help sell tickets for the show, I applaud Michael Cassel and other producers for their choice to cast people who are right for the roles, because they have faith in the show! If you look at the success of shows such as Les Misérables, Beautiful, Kinky Boots, Jersey Boys, Matilda and The Book of Mormon, it shows that audiences are more interested in seeing a complete show rather than just the one person in it. Isn’t it more interesting to create the next big star?”
My Fair Lady
Despite being ready to play leads, he accepted a role in the ensemble/understudying for ‘Freddy’ in the 60th Anniversary production of My Fair Lady. The show was directed by Julie Andrews and choreographed by Tony Award-winning Christopher Gattelli. ‘It was such a beautiful, creative team. Julie was lovely. She’ll give you her time and work with you. My favourite moment was when she told me she was proud of me and kissed me on the cheek.’
‘Chris Gattelli, was all about incorporating what the actors bring to the show. In previews, there was a point in the show where the guys in the ensemble next to me improvised playing in a band, so I decided to do a Cossack dance. The next day we were going through notes and Chris looks at me and said ‘Zoy, the Cossack dance?’ I thought, oh, I’m getting into trouble, and he said, “I love it! Can we feature it?” They kept the dance in! That what I loved about Chris.’
Zoy took the opportunity to probe Alex Jennings, an Olivier Award winning actor, who was cast as Professor Henry Higgins. ‘I’d ask about him about his acting philosophy, ‘do you like method? Do you like to go and experience everything? Do you action every line?’ Or do you just do all your research then come here and just see what the hell happens? And he said “That’s pretty much it. I know all my stuff and then just go and see what happens.” It was great watching him as a craftsman, working through those scenes.’
Zoy auditioned for the role of Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar for director Gale Edwards, and was up against some experienced, well-known actors. ‘I got to a point where I was just going to be me and bring what I wanted’. He thought, ‘I’m going to sing it the way I want to sing this. They’re either going to like it or they’re going to hate it.’ He had nothing to lose.
His audition was filmed and sent to Andrew Lloyd Webber for approval. He got the job. ‘I love the idea they went with me.’ Although familiar with Jon Stephens’ version of Judas, Zoy stayed away from watching other productions of the show. Interestingly, Stephens sings his version of Judas as a rock singer and doesn’t sing it in the original key. ‘Maestro Anthony Gabriele wasn’t keen on me lowering the key. He told me to take it up.’
Rob Mills, who played Jesus in the production said, ‘I remember the first time I heard Zoy sing in the rehearsal room with Gayle and Anthony, I was completely taken a back. I mean… What a voice!’
Zoy appreciates he found a great role. “Judas is relentless, fun to sing, wordy, complex, painful. There’s so many ways you can play it. That’s what I love about performing. As Judas, how do you justify betraying your best friend? How do you justify turning him in to the authorities? It all spirals out of control because you realise what you’ve done and you realise, my god, I’ve sold him out, I’ve done these horrible things and now I’m abhorred in all this. I didn’t want to do this.’
‘I was impressed with his attention to detail’, says Rob, ‘and how he went about researching the role. He read a stack of books and was open to having conversations about the relationship between Judas and Jesus.’
While some reviewers struggled with the unique modernisation of the 1970s rock musical, many remarked on the impressive cast, noting Zoy performance as ‘superb’ and ‘vocally brilliant’.
Away from the spotlight, Zoy has spent some time working with indigenous communities. ‘I got to work with some kids last year. I had to rewrite and put on a play’. He used what he learned from Chris Gattelli to engage the kids. ‘I asked them, “What can you do? What are you going to bring to this? Who can do a trick here?” There was one kid who had wanted to do the play, but he was misbehaving. I think he was scared as he had to sing a song, so I took him aside and said “look, I know you’re a good kid, you’re a tough kid and you’re seen as a leader in that room. All these other kids look up to you so I want you to be my man”. And he came back in and behaved himself. I said “I want you to play the lead in this show, so let’s go through the script and we’ll cut anything that you don’t think is natural”. I’d ask him, “What would you say here?”, and we’d add it, or he’d say, “I think this is funny”, so we’d put that in. The important thing is these kids need to be themselves. They need to want to be themselves.
At this point in his career, he’d like to do some TV, some comedy and non-musical theatre, ‘some Tom Stoppard would be great. Some great dialogue’
With his vocal abilities, I suggest something like Sunday in the Park with George would be great for him. ‘I’d love to do that. That would be awesome. Something like that or Carousel. I’d love to play Curly in Oklahoma! I love the classics. I love the stories that they tell. There’s the sense that people don’t want to do Carousel because of the violence against women but I think that’s more relevant than ever. It’s not glorified’.
Indeed, the show doesn’t condone the behaviour, but rather shines a spotlight on the consequences of the character’s actions. ‘Rogers and Hammerstein is always so relevant. If you listen to the song, ‘You‘ve Got to Be Carefully Taught’ from South Pacific, to say that was written in the forties is insane, that’s brilliant writing!’ The song’s sentiment is that racism is taught; that people, especially children, are taught to be afraid of different races and ethnic groups, something that unfortunately still prevails today and makes news headlines.
‘Roles like John from Miss Saigon would be an absolute dream, a great layered character who acknowledges and attempts to make amends for the atrocities committed by the US’. Gaston from Beauty and the Beast is comedy gold and would be so damn fun. Also, Valjean full time, it’s the best!’
The great thing about musicals is you have an epic story and you have the music which is so evocative. ‘Simon Gleeson was very adamant that someone should go and see Richard III one night at the STC and the next night go and see Les Misérables and be equally wowed’.
The material is always going to be brilliant, but how much interesting if we tell the story correctly, give an actor the chance bring something unique to their performance, something that is theirs and personal?
Theatre brings the emotion straight to you. It’s there, you can’t hide from it. It’s not like TV. We live in a world where everything’s available now so we have to challenge ourselves and think about what we do with theatre to make it more exciting for the future.
You can watch Zoy sing and perform in a number of scenes at his YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRxsgvj1ZwIRtPvbS3drRHA/featured