October 13, 2002
By David Belcher
Albuquerque native finds niche in singing roles.
First it was the seminal role of Judas in a Broadway revival of "Jesus Christ Superstar" two years ago. Now it's the lead role in "We Will Rock You," a blockbuster musical based on the music of the rock band Queen. Not bad for Albuquerque native Tony Vincent, a guy who never set out to be an actor.
Vincent did, however, set out to become a singer. And his career has taken him from roots in the Christian rock world to an upcoming mainstream album that he hopes will make the proverbial crossover into mainstream rock. But his most recent crossover has been "the pond" from New York to London in an unexpected and exciting career as a musical theater star.
In fact, it seems that Vincent's musical theater gigs have been his bread-and-butter jobs in an ironic twist of employment. Whereas most actors wait tables between occasional acting jobs, Vincent seems to be landing lead musical roles in between rock 'n' roll gigs. "I've always shied away from being an actor," the 29-year-old Vincent said from his London home. "I just wanted to be known as a singer/songwriter. But this has given me a real love of acting."
And from the sounds of it, his role in "We Will Rock You" requires plenty of acting — and singing. In fact, Vincent sings no fewer than nine songs in the show. "In the last 20 minutes of the show, I sing 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'We Are the Champions' and 'We Will Rock You,' '' Vincent said proudly, referring to three of Queen's biggest hits. "By the end of the show, the audience is on their feet."
"We Will Rock You" tells the story of a futuristic society where music is banned, as are individual thought and dress. A character named Killer Queen (for Queen fans who know the reference) runs the society called Planet Mall. But a young man named Galileo Figaro (Vincent) hears a rumor of a society 300 years ago where rock 'n' roll thrived. He sets out with a young woman named Scaramouche (Queen fans take note) on a crusade to unearth this long-lost art form and to make his own music.
It wouldn't take a Chekhovian scholar to figure out the rest of this theatrical plotline, but audiences apparently don't care. "We Will Rock You" is one of the West End's hottest tickets and breaking box office records at the Dominion Theatre. "The role is really demanding," Vincent says, referring to the nine songs and seven performances each week. "I've had to shelve my personal life because of the vocal demands."
But Vincent has no regrets. He had visited London several times over the past few years trying to break into the music industry. He portrayed Judas in a lambasted revival of "Jesus Christ Superstar" in 2000 after moving to New York from Nashville, where he had embarked on a successful Christian rock career. After a few months on Broadway, he stayed in New York for a while, moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of a music career, and then on to London.
Vincent, the son of Peter and Linda Strascina, grew up in Albuquerque and attended La Cueva High School, where he was introduced to synthesizers and sampling. He worked a part-time job to buy his first keyboard, attended Belmont University in Nashville in 1991, and created his own independent record company from his college dorm room. After promoting his album to local record stores, "Love Falling Down" received local airplay around Nashville. The song hit the national Christian rock charts, and EMI's Starsong Records signed Vincent to a contract in 1994. His first solo album with Starsong, "Tony Vincent," was released in 1995. He toured, released a self-titled album, recorded his third album, "One Deed," and then decided to move away from Christian rock.
He went to New York and landed roles in the Broadway and touring companies of "Rent" and then the pivotal role of Judas in "Jesus Christ Superstar," for which he originally had been cast as Simon Zealotes. In a last-minute casting change, Vincent was offered the role of Judas, a role with similar vocal demands to "We Will Rock You." A bit intimidating for a guy who had been in a production of "Oliver!" at Musical Theatre Southwest and a high school production of "The Lion in Winter."
Vincent's current record is taking him to areas he's never explored as a musician. "I've been working in L.A. and London making sure the right songs are there for the project," he says. "It's straight-ahead rock 'n' roll. I wanted to do something interesting that wasn't Christian. When I left Nashville, I left the Christian industry to pursue rock 'n' roll."
While in London earlier this year, Vincent got a call from his manager about auditioning for "We Will Rock You" and was told that the show's producers had been trying to find someone to sing the role of Galileo Figaro for eight months. Vincent found himself auditioning for Queen ex-guitarist Brian May and ex-drummer Roger Taylor, who are involved creatively in the show. The script was written by Ben Elton, who has written other plays and musicals, including Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical "The Beautiful Game," which bombed in the West End two years ago.
Vincent was offered the role, performances began this summer, and the notoriously hard-to-please London critics slammed it. Part of the problem has been the show's concept. The show was originally supposed to tell the life story of Freddie Mercury, Queen's flamboyant and indulgent lead singer, who died of AIDS. This surely could have been theatrical — almost operatic — but not exactly a family show.
Despite a less-than-well-received plotline and some '70s rock songs that might not lure the Shakespearean set, "We Will Rock You" is a blockbuster, and Vincent is signed on through April, which will coincide with the release of his yet untitled album. He attributes the show's success to several things. "Queen is the only band whose every member has written a No. 1 song," Vincent says, "and word of mouth has made us the No. 1 show in London. We're sold out every night. This show has a beautiful love story."
It's been an education for Vincent to sing what could be called "standards" in the new world of musical theater. "I didn't realize how huge Queen was," Vincent says. "I became a fan once I realized how vast a catalog of music they have. Especially after working with the two guys from Queen."
Vincent says that the show's original concept has turned into a more original story with a more rewarding payoff. "We started from the ground up on this musical," Vincent said. "The guys from Queen didn't want me to be Freddie. He was such an amazing performer, and anyone trying to duplicate that would be either selling themselves short or making a parody of themselves. They let Tony Vincent be Tony Vincent onstage."