Robert Tripolino plays Marius in Cameron Mackintosh’s acclaimed production of Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables at the Sondheim Theatre.
The phenomenally successful production has taken the world by storm, and has been running in the West End for close to forty years. For Robert Tripolino, appearing on the West End stage feels like a dream come true.
Robert was born in a small town about an hour outside of Melbourne, Australia. “I was always brought up with music and dance, and anything that was kind of arts related, it’s always been in the family; my dad sings and plays guitar,” says Robert.
“So I’ve always had music in my life. But not musical theatre, that came quite late. I grew up as a dancer studying ballet, but it started my appreciation for seeing shows. My first time at the theatre was seeing the Russian Ballet, and that was my introduction to sitting in an audience and watching a performance.”
Later Robert would learn to play the guitar, and started singing with a local band, but becoming a ballet dancer remained Robert’s dream. It wasn’t to be, “I got rejected from the Australian Ballet School three years in a row, it’s a touchy subject!” laughs Robert.
But ballet’s loss would turn out to be musical theatre’s gain, “My drama teacher said ‘mate, your dancing’s brilliant, obviously ballet doesn’t want you. You can sing, and I’ll teach you to act. Audition for a dance school that does musical theatre in Melbourne.’”
Robert joined a three year musical theatre course at The Victorian College of the Arts, graduated in 2011, and went straight to work. “My very first musical theatre job was being an off-stage swing on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which was a fantastic experience and taught me so much.”
Robert was working on and off in Australia, and decided to take a chance on coming to London, “I never pictured myself here, I wasn’t the kid that was like one day I’m going to be on a West End stage, I honestly wasn’t,” says Robert.
“I was the kid that was like one day I’m going to perform and entertain so many people, but I thought maybe that would be as a band singer or as a writer.”
Robert had just started working in London when the pandemic hit, “I was lucky enough to get back to Australia and spend lockdown at home, but I was itching to get back to London.”
Robert’s agent had told him that Phantom of the Opera were auditioning, “I’d always really wanted to play Raoul, so I flew over especially for the audition. It went so well, and I’m never like this, but I was convinced I’d got the part. Sadly, it was not to be.”
But there was a silver lining, because Cameron Mackintosh had seen Robert’s audition for Phantom, and floated the idea of auditioning for Marius. Luckily, Robert was already heading back to the U.K. to play The Man in Whistle Down The Wind at the Watermill Theatre, “I got off the plane and went straight to Cameron’s office and sang Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” says Robert, “a week later, I found out I had got the part.”
As we chat, it’s the coldest day of the year so far, and I ask Robert how London compares to Melbourne, “it’s freezing!!” laughs Robert, “I’m speaking to family back home and they’re on the beach enjoying the sunshine, and it’s making me very jealous.”
“When it snowed the other night, I was over the moon, because it’s actually the first time in my life that I’ve ever seen proper snow. Suddenly London felt like a very magical place, even more magical than usual.”
Robert says that playing Marius is an incredible experience, “When you’re in a show like Les Mis, it’s kind of like going to the Olympics, the West End is the finest of the finest, and I’ll always work towards being the best I can be in this craft.”
“Plus the show is such an institution, and I get to witness that from the inside, and yes, it’s blown my expectations.”
Robert says it’s not about trying to be Michael Ball, “they are really proud of the fact that they encourage us to bring ourselves into the role, that’s what keeps the show running. I’m not trying to be the OG Marius, I’m actually giving the cast of 2022/2023’s version of Marius, and I think that gives you a sense of license, and a sense of ownership to what you can do.”
I ask if there’s a moment of the show that’s become a favourite, “Oh this sounds awful,” laughs Robert, “but it’s when one of the main characters dies! This is a show with a big cast and an orchestra playing wonderful songs, but in this particular moment there is silence…you can hear a pin drop…I love how powerful that moment is.”
For so many, playing Marius would be the ultimate goal, but Robert is still building a career, so what’s the next dream to achieve? “I’d love to originate a character,” says Robert, “I would love to lead the cast in the development of a new musical, that’s my new realistic dream.”
This will be Robert’s first Christmas in London, and away from family, “instead of singing Frosty the Snowman on the beach, I think it really will be a case of the weather outside is frightful! I’ve made some wonderful friends here, and I’ll spend Christmas with them, and of course I’ll be performing.”
“But, I feel really lucky, like every night, considering we do it eight times a week, there’s never a time when I wish I was somewhere else, or at home in bed. I’d brave the cold, snow and ice every night of the week to be on this stage, playing a role I love, in such an iconic show.”
Les Misérables, starring Robert Tripolino as Marius, is currently playing at the Sondheim Theatre in London