Colm Wilkinson

Colm Wilkinson
Drimnagh, Dublin
Musical Theatre
Years active

Born in Drimnagh, Colm Wilkinson is best known for originating the role of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables (West End and Broadway) and for taking the title role in The Phantom of the Opera at the Sydmonton Festival and in the original Canadian production. His versions of both ‘The Music of the Night’ from Phantom and ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables are acclaimed throughout the world.

His musical theatre career began in 1972 when Wilkinson was cast as Judas Iscariot in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, in London and on a British national tour. In 1985, he collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber once again, originating the role of the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera at the Sydmonton Festival.

In October 1985 the London production of Les Miserables opened to huge acclaim, and transferred to Broadway in March 1987. Originally, the American Actors’ Equity Association refused to allow Wilkinson to play the part of Valjean in New York, due to their policy of hiring only American actors. At this, producer Cameron Mackintosh refused to open the show unless Wilkinson played Valjean. Actor’s Equity subsequently relented. Wilkinson won the Helen Hayes Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, and the Theatre World Award for his performance. He was nominated for the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

In 1989, Wilkinson relocated his family to Toronto, Canada, when he was offered the title role in the original Toronto production of The Phantom of the Opera playing at the Pantages Theatre which he starred in for four and a half years giving almost 1700 performances.

Due to his association with these musicals, he reprised the role of Jean Valjean during the Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert (at The Royal Albert Hall), as well as appearing as a special guest at the 25th Anniversary Celebrations of Les Miserables (at the O2 arena) and The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall.

Wilkinson also featured as Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde) in the original Jekyll and Hyde Concept Album released in 1990.

In October–November 2007, Wilkinson undertook a cross-Canada concert tour, Broadway and Beyond, along with Susan Gilmour and Gretha Boston. He played the part of Lord Thomas Darcy in the third & fourth season of Showtime’s miniseries The Tudors which began airing on 12 April 2009. He participated in U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy’s birthday celebration at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on 8 March 2009. The highlight of the evening was when President Barack Obama arrived on the stage and together with all the performers sang “Happy Birthday” to Ted Kennedy.

On 24 May 2009 Wilkinson performed in the National Memorial Day Concert at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., in front of a large audience and screened live across North America on PBS.

In January 2010 Colm released a solo album titled Broadway and Beyond: The Concert Songs. It covers all of the songs that he performed on his cross-Canada tour in 2007. His previous album was released in 2002, titled Some of My Best Friends Are Songs. In it, he and his son Aaron Wilkinson cover the Cat Stevens song, ‘Father and Son’, as a duet. His support of PBS television in North America, following his participation in the 10th anniversary of Les Miserables, led to an hour-long tv programme. It included a performance of “Gethsemane” from Jesus Christ Superstar, which he admits he had waited to perform for 23 years. The rendition is powerful and emotive. His television broadcast brought positive reviews from fans and critics, with readers adding his name to their lists of “the five greatest singers ever”, in Rolling Stone Magazine.

On 3rd October 2010, Wilkinson was a special guest at the 25th Anniversary Concerts of Les Miserables, at the O2 Arena. He performed as part of a ‘Valjean Quartet’; alongside Alfie Boe, John Owen-Jones and Simon Bowman (each of whom has previously played the role of Jean Valjean in various productions of Les Misérables). This was recorded as a single (released in the U.K.) and performed live at the Royal Variety Performance in December 2010. A year later he appeared – alongside a number of former Phantoms – at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of The Phantom of the Opera, at The Royal Albert Hall.

Wilkinson also appeared as Bishop Myriel in the film production of Les Misérables in 2013.

What they say about Colm Wilkinson:

Sir Cameron Mackintosh

The day I first heard Colm sing the music of Les Misérables, when he was auditioning for the role of Jean Valjean, I knew that we had not only found our star but he had a voice from God like no other. He was also the first person ever to sing the title role of Phantom of The Opera which Andrew Lloyd Webber and I were staging as a private tryout prior to production. Though already cast as Jean Valjean Colm spoke enthusiastically about playing the Phantom, which he said appealed to him even more as the role was a bit shorter! Luckily for him I said no and the musical theatre benefited from two legendary performances. Many Congratulations Doctor and much love from Cameron and all his many friends in London.

Sir Tim Rice

I first noticed the outstanding talent of Colm Wilkinson when he knocked the socks off audiences in the original West End production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Andrew Lloyd Webber and I then nabbed him speedily to be the first ever Che Guevara in our original studio album of Evita. Since those days many many others have recognised his extraordinary gifts and he has conquered the world in countless other ways, annoyingly not often enough in my shows. No-one could be more deserving of a tribute evening than Colm. I send him love and good luck for what I know will be a memorable evening.

Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber

I have known Colm for many years. He was the original Che on the album of “Evita” and probably less known is that he was the first person to play the role of the Phantom at Sydmonton, my country home, when the show was in embryo. I would have offered him the role had it not been that he was already committed to play Valjean in “Les Miserables”! I can’t think of a better way to honour him than this musical theatre scholarship – Congratulations Colm.

Sir Trevor Nunn

I first heard C T Wilkinson on the original recording of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, and not long after that thrilling experience, Colm’s arrival revolutionised the score of ‘Les Miserables’. Nobody can ever completely equal his achievement as Jean Valjean … with his miraculous voice, and his utterly committed acting performance amounting to the jewel in the glittering crown of his brilliant career. But how can it be that such a colossus of musical theatre is such a generous, caring, modest, funny, lovely man? I thank my lucky stars that I met you Colm and have had the extraordinary privilege of knowing you over so many years. Colm Wilkinson Superstar. Love Trevor

Claude-Michel Schönberg

When we played to the company the new song “Bring Him Home” written for Colm’s incredible falsetto voice, a member from the company told the director Trevor Nunn: “You said the show was about God but you never said that God will sing in the show !”

Eddie Redmayne

I will never forget the moment Colm walked onto the set of the Les Miserables film. All of the other actors, having grown up being beguiled by his staggering talent, were silenced. Completely silenced. Everyone just sort of stood there with dropped jaws. De Niro had walked in. That’s it, Colm is the De Niro of the Musical Theatre world. He inspired us all through the filming process with kind encouragement, overwhelming generosity and his rockstar spirit and I am so thrilled that with these scholarships he will continue to inspire another generation.