Lez Dwight is a former actor from New Zealand. He played Greaseball for 2 years in London and less than 1 performance in Bochum.
Starlight Express Credits
Sadly, during his first Pumping Iron in Bochum he lifted up Ashley but the actress fell on his leg, causing it to snap and could no longer continue his run.
Theatre: Pharoah in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Southeast Asian / New Zealand tour); understudy to Police Sergeant in The Pirates of Penzance (New Zealand tour); understudy to Mikado in The Mikado (New Zealand / Australian tour).
Opera: La Triviata, Faust (Opera New Zealand, Auckland season); Opera in the Park with Kiri Te Kanawa (Domain, Auckland, New Zealand).
Television: Roles in three episodes of Hercules; role in Xena - Warrior Princess (Universal, USA); guest artist for pre-match rugby league (Sky Sport).
Starlight Express marks Lez's West End debut.
Interview - 1999
Lez Dwight is pulling on his skates for the role of Greaseball in the roller-skating musical Starlight Express. Darren Mark talks to him about being a rare breed — a Kiwi in the lead on a West End stage.
Perhaps theatre could use a few more actors like Lez Dwight: the unpretentious, down-to-earth, talented types. But then again, Dwight, just cast in Starlight Express' lead role of Greaseball, christening this 15th year of Andrew Lloyd Webber's West End mainstay, is of a brand of actors rarely seen in the London — Lez Dwight is a Kiwi.
Ask almost any of London's drama schools, casting directors, or talent agencies for a list of New Zealanders currently acting in the West End and be prepared to receive a near-empty bill. But for a country populated by only 3.6 million people, such a fact shouldn't come as a revelation. Or should it? Robert Bruce, a New Zealand-based agent of the last 21 years, says it's not a matter of size at all.
"Who would want to travel this far (to London) for such low pay when the quality of life is so much worse?"
The answer: those unequivocally committed to their craft. And that is what sets Dwight apart from his countrymen: this willingness to sacrifice an above-average existence for the remote and unlikely chance to work in a world theatre capital.
"In New Zealand you work to enjoy life, whereas in England you work in order to survive," he explains. "London, other than Broadway, is the Mecca of musical theatre. Basically for anybody in musical theatre, if you can say that you've been in the West End in a lead role, you can't really get better than that."
For Kiwis, Lez adds, London is branded by the "unknown factor". "How will I supplement my income while looking for theatrical work? Will my quality of life diminish?" This mysterious and formidable status has prevented many of his contemporaries from heading west.
"You know the standard (among actors) is very high in New Zealand and in Australia because I've worked in both countries. But because London is the unknown factor, everybody says the standard is much higher. Plus, you go to an audition and there are 500 people just as good as you waiting in line to audition."
In addition, musical theatre exists in New Zealand on a severely limited basis. Productions are usually exported out of Australia, and casts consist mainly of Australian actors. As such, Kiwis interested in musical theatre will either turn to different dramatic formats or move north to Australia.
Murray Lynch, head of actor training at the Toi Whaakari (the New Zealand Drama School) says that his country is not an innately theatre-loving nation. The country's cultural (and therefore, theatrical) capital, Wellington, has only four professional theatres. Fledgling actors in countries such as Britain or the US have an unending litany of obstacles to contend with in their quest for success. But because regional theatre is somewhat ubiquitous, and actors can make a living outside of Broadway or the West End, the opportunity to develop one's skills and to be noticed is there constantly.
For Lez, who trained in New Zealand, such opportunities did not exist. He says that he likely had to work much harder than many of his British or American counterparts because, comparatively, the musical theatre scene in New Zealand is of a much smaller nature.
"You have to work your butt off to try to get into the shows. Once you're in there, you do whatever it takes to succeed. Its requires a 'go get 'em' attitude. It's like the Kiwi/Australian attitude: just do it."
When one finally does "do it", as Dwight has just done, it's "a dream come true," he says. In his case, a dream that's taken nearly 20 years to finally crystallise. Originally from Gisborne, Dwight was introduced to theatre at age eleven, playing a periphery role in a local production of Oliver. What hooked him was the unparalleled thrill of being on stage, of performing before a live audience. Since that point, he's worked in a number of amateur and professional musicals, as well as in opera, television, and concert bands, playing the coronet and trumpet.
Turning pro, Dwight says, was a difficult decision. In 1995 he was singing professionally in Auckland for Opera New Zealand, but was still relying on the steady and substantial income generated by his day job, that of a sales engineer for a New Zealand electric manufacturing company. When he was offered a role in the New Zealand and Australian touring production of the Mikado in 1996, he accepted. But not before harbouring a few doubts: "Am I good enough, will I get the steps right?"
Has was; he did. Dwight was introduced to the opportunity of working in Starlight Express while touring with the Australasian production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The production's artistic director, now the art director of Starlight Express, had recommended he audition for the English and German productions of Starlight Express, a dual casting call which was being held in Australia. He acted on her advice. The West End was interested. More auditions were necessary. Dwight flew to London on January 27 and within four days, he had secured the role of Greaseball and had begun rehearsing. Now, five weeks later, his tentative start date falls at the end of the month.
When asked if he plans to imbue the production with an element of his New Zealand training and disposition, he answers: "No." But it was his unmistakably Kiwi nature that helped him to land the role in the first place.
"The feedback I got from my audition was that one of the factors they liked me was because I was natural."
The kind of "natural" that his employers refer to is a brand that exists on two levels, both of which allude to his nationality, and will add to the show a freshness that it may have lacked in the past. For starters, Dwight had not, like most of his British and American colleagues, studied musical theatre at university. Because, in live performance, it exists in much lower numbers in New Zealand than in America or Britain, it's not stressed (or, in most cases, even offered) as an option within university. Dwight's style is thus completely and uniquely his own. In the case of Starlight Express, a show approaching its 15th year, a new approach to Greaseball is nothing if not welcoming.
Secondly, Dwight's typically Kiwi disposition, one lacking arrogance, pretence, and pomp, is readily exposed through his stage persona. That makes him exceedingly likeable, a quality which, for a leading man, is essential.
"It doesn't worry me whether I'm the lowest or the highest in the show. I just treat everybody the same. If you're the guy in the black T-shirt who maybe closes the door on stage, the props guy, or whatever, everybody's got a name; everybody's a person, you know. You just treat everybody the same."
So what about someone like Lord Lloyd Webber? How would Dwight treat him?
"Similarly. I'd say 'thank you very much'. Pay me more."
As for the future, Dwight plans on staying in London indefinitely — so long as he's continually cast in shows and is learning from his work.