July 19, 2014
From King Lear to Willy Loman, the most celebrated roles for male actors have been tragic: kings fighting the gods, men battling the system, or guys wrestling their demons. But what about theatre’s great lovers – the seducers, the sex addicts, the poets and the young romantics who have graced the stage since Shakespeare’s day?
On the eve of a new production of Don Giovanni, opera’s ultimate bad boy, we celebrate the sexiest roles on stage. Meet the pleasure seekers, the outrageous hedonists, the buff and the randy, and the true romantics who have thrilled Sydney audiences.
Tahu Rhodes has sung the role before (in black leather shorts and thigh boots) but says he’s “cleaning the slate” for the new production directed by the British director Sir David McVicar for Opera Australia.
“I think the seductiveness of Don Giovanni is in the power he imposes upon the women he comes across. It’s his attitude.”
Cyrano de Bergerac
Later this year, Richard Roxburgh returns to Sydney Theatre Company to play in Andrew Upton’s adaptation, adding his name to a stellar list of leading men (Jose Ferrer, Gerard Depardieu and Steve Martin among them) to have donned sword, cape and prosthetic schnozz.
“Cyrano is in many ways the complete expression of the romantic ideal,” Roxburgh says. “He hurls aside anything that comes between himself and the romantic life: material wealth, flattery, social placement … Everything is subsidiary to the urgent expression of the soul.
“He is the poet, the musician, the razor-mind, the warrior, the life of the party. In short, everything that an eligible damoiselle could possibly desire, non?”
“Ladies, an announcement: I am up for it, all the time. That is not a boast or an opinion. It is bone hard medical fact.” So says sex-fiend John Wilmot at the top of Stephen Jeffreys’ 1994 play The Libertine. “Gentlemen,” he adds, “do not despair – I am up for that as well.” Jeffrey’s play (made into a film starring Johnny Depp in 2004) is inspired by the life of the most notorious rake in Restoration England, John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester. A free-thinker, poet, pornographer and drinker, he lived hard and died young in 1680 of syphilis, aged 33. Samuel Johnson eulogised him as a man who “blazed out his youth and health in lavish voluptuousness”. Anthony Gooley won a Sydney Theatre Award for his portrayal of Wilmot for Sport for Jove in 2011, a portrait of a rowdy intellect, an ardent sensualist and a man with a mile-wide destructive streak. Ladies (and gentlemen), please form an orderly queue.
British writer Russell T. Davies’ play pitches the young Casanova as up for anything and anybody, breathtakingly self-confident, yet just vulnerable enough to arouse our sympathies. The action – there’s plenty of it – unfolds in a series of flashbacks that follow our randy hero across Europe. Casanova’s sexual conquests – noblewomen, nuns, courtesans and whores – are glimpsed along the way, mostly in unusual positions. The play premiered in Sydney in 2001 at Ensemble Theatre with the suitably dashing Tim Walter in the title role.
The Vicomte de Valmont
Not only is the anti-hero and serial seducer of Christopher Hampton’s play Les Liaisons Dangereuses one of the greatest on-stage lovers, he’s also one of the greatest lovers in all literature. So said Hugo Weaving, who played Valmont in Sydney Theatre Company’s 2012 production of the play. Speaking at the time, Weaving pictured Valmont as an irresistible force of nature.
“I keep thinking about him being like a river,” Weaving said. “A river that is flowing. There’s a fluidity about him, an ability to get past whatever obstacles are in his way. If there’s suddenly a lot of rocks put in his path, he will flow over and around them. He doesn’t want to batter someone else into loving him and he doesn’t want to conquer them – he wants them to come to him. So he will slow it down.
“There are times when the river will become very lazy and meandering and other times when it feels like it’s rushing headlong and the other person is caught up in his power.”
Is there anything sexier than a man prepared to die for Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité? Enjolras, the charismatic revolutionary of Les Miserables, who fights and dies for a new vision of France, has always set hearts fluttering. In Victor Hugo’s original novel, Enroljas is described as having the appearance of a 17 year-old girl, with “long fair lashes, blue eyes, hair flying in the wind, rosy cheeks, pure lips and exquisite teeth”.
In Boublil and Schönberg’s musical adaptation, he’s the blonde spunk bringing on an uprising (he leads the show’s anthem Do You Hear the People Sing) and is among the last standing at the barricades – with wind machine and orchestra pumping – as the French army bears down. Actor Chris Durling is playing the role in the current production of Les Miserables, now playing in Melbourne and opening in Sydney in March 2015.
Kyle the UPS Guy
OK, it’s not Hamlet – Kyle doesn’t even have a surname and nothing much to say – but when actor Mike Snell flashed a cheeky grin and pumped his biceps in Legally Blonde the Musical, the audience was more than happy to accept his package.
Snell demonstrated a knack for making a little go a long way. He’s now performing the role of Tommy Arbunt in Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom the Musical.
Sergeant Chris Scott
The heat is on in Saigon, but not all of it is coming from the bar girls. Sergeant Christopher Scott – a modern-day Pinkerton in this version of the Madame Butterfly story – can always be relied on to raise the temperature in the auditorium during the musical Miss Saigon, especially when the shirt comes off.
The studly David Harris played Chris at the Lyric Theatre in 2007 and was nominated for a Helpmann Award in the best actor in a musical category. If there had been a Helpmann for best actor rocking a singlet, he would have won it.
Crude and vulgar. An unreconstructed man’s man. In the real world, Stanley Kowalski isn’t exactly A-grade dating material. But in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, his animal magnetism makes him irresistable. In Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Streetcar with Cate Blanchett in 2009, Joel Edgerton wowed the crowd.
“Edgerton is every inch the virile Stanley the play demands,” said The Sydney Morning Herald. “Glaring out from under a cap pulled down low, he’s a brute, but a long way from bestial, a man enjoying all the physical pleasures while he can, before booze and hard work takes it toll.”
They say you always remember your first. For 400-odd years, Shakespeare’s Romeo has been a theatrical teen crush. OK, the young Montague is a bit wet behind the ears and impulsive, but when he drops a line like, “My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand / To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss”, all is forgiven. It’s a pity we never got to see the man.
Dylan Young recently played the role at Sydney Theatre Company, which included a shadowy yet clearly passionate sex scene.
Don Giovanni opens at Sydney Opera House on July 25. Cyrano de Bergerac opens at Sydney Theatre on November 15.
Sexiest roles for women
Velma Kelly (Chicago)
Velma isn’t a dame you want to mess with. Not unless you want to end up like her husband, who Velma shot dead when she caught him in bed with her sister. Chita Rivera, Ute Lemper and Caroline O’Connnor are among those who have all stamped their mark on the va-voomiest role in music theatre.
Cleopatra (Antony and Cleopatra)
A leader of a nation and a woman in love. Shakespeare’s Cleopatra is part politician, part lovesick girl and is among the most complex characters to grace the classical stage. As the wise old Enobarbus puts it: “She did make defect perfection, And, breathless, power breathe forth.”
Anita (West Side Story)
Maria is the girl on Tony’s mind. For the rest of us, it’s all eyes on the Puerto Rican firecracker Anita, who burns up the stage with her flashy wit and even flashier dancing.
Mrs Robinson (The Graduate)
Kathleen Turner, Jerry Hall and the late Wendy Hughes are among those actresses of a certain age who have played the cougar-like Mrs Robinson in the stage adaptation of the movie. Men in the audience were left wishing they had opera glasses when the lights dimmed and the white bathrobe fell to the floor.
Maggie (Cat On a Hot Tin Roof)
They call her “the cat” with good reason. She’s a survivor. Born dirt poor, she is attractive, vivacious and, when she wants to be, tenacious. Major Hollywood stars have been drawn to the role over the years, most recently Scarlett Johansson in a West End production of the play in 2013.
Lady Macbeth (Macbeth)
More scary than sexy, but it takes all sorts. The Sydney Theatre Company production of Shakespeare’s tragedy opening this week features Melita Jurisic in the role. Expect a very wicked woman indeed.
Kelly (The Blue Room)
When David Hare’s play opened in London in 1998, theatregoers queued around the block – not for the play, but for a glimpse of Nicole Kidman’s bare backside. London critic Charles Spencer’s review for The Daily Telegraph concluded with the now immortal phrase, “It’s pure theatrical Viagra.”
Ibsen’s anti-heroine is one of the great roles. Not for nothing has it been called “the female Hamlet” for its complexity and its demands on a performer. Trapped in a marriage she can’t stand, Hedda is cruel and treacherous but her desire for freedom rings bells for every woman.
“Love is a rebellious bird that none can tame,” sings Carmen in the smokiest number Bizet ever wrote, the Habanera. Carmen, the fiery gypsy who seduces a naive soldier and brings about his downfall, can’t be tamed either. Sydney audiences have seen two of the great Carmens of recent years – Rinat Shaham and Nancy Fabiola Herrera.
Few women have held such an eerie sway over the artistic imagination than Salome, stepdaughter of Herod. Inspired by her lust for John the Baptist and the terrible bargain she strikes with Herod, she rears up in opera (by Richard Strauss), paintings, films (by Ken Russell among others) and in plays by Oscar Wilde and Nick Cave.