Steve Balsamo – Still a Superstar

Johnny Tudor and I have been recording a weekly podcast since the start of the year.  We came together when I started presenting the Late Night Show on BBC Radio Wales.  In a 3 hour programme running from 10pm until 1 am, 5 days a week it was good to have some regular items to give the show some anchor points.  I saw a story that Johnny had posted on twitter about performing for the American actor Ernest Borgnine and invited him onto the show to share it with the audience. My showbiz chats with Johnny soon became a regular weekly feature on the Late Night Show.

www.themalandjohnnyshow.com

It seemed an obvious move for us to take the show online and so was born The Mal & Johnny Show weekly podcast.  This week was our 34th Episode.  Over the months we have talked about Pantomimes with Wyn Calvin and working the Cruise ships with Mike Doyle.  We have discussed the tumultuous Life and Times of the Welsh singing Diva Dorothy Squires with her niece Emily Squires and chewed the fat with legend Max Boyce.

Sometimes Johnny and I just tell each other stories, maybe about the breaks we’ve had, Johnny on Opportunity Knocks and me with John Peel on Radio 1.  Other weeks I’m not sure what we are going to chat about, but I turn on the cameras, press record and 20 mins later we have a new podcast already to go.

Balsamo Collins Riley (Steve Balsamo, Andy Collins, Pete Riley)

For weeks Johnny has been saying we must get Steve Balsamo on the show. We’ve tried a couple of times to organise a date, but he’s been rather busy lately working on a new project with 2 other great musicians Andy Collins and Pete Riley. The new band sounds a bit like an upmarket firm of London Solicitors, ‘Balsamo Collins Riley’…but they sound terrific.

Anyway, this week we finally managed to all get together online for a bit of a chat.  Now I’ve known Steve Balsamo for maybe 30 years.  When I first met him, he was in a rock band called ‘After Dark’. He had long hair, the face of an angel with a voice to match.  During the early 1990’s I had an afternoon radio programme for BBC radio Wales broadcast from Alexandra Road.  I remember on more than one occasion bumping into Steve as he made his way to High Street Station and every time he would mention that he was off to London to sing for people like Andrew Lloyd Webber or Cameron Mackintosh.  He wasn’t boasting or showing off he was just telling me why he was off on his travels yet again.

 

I saw him perform in the title role of Jesus Christ Superstar, he even gave me a thumbs up from the stage as he took his bow, so I thought I knew the story, but I only knew a part of it.  The thing is about Steve he’s really not one to boast.  I’ve heard snippets about who he has sung with and sung for, but this was the first time I had actually heard the story start to finish.

When you hear how people achieve success against the most astounding odds it really is hard not to believe that somethings are just destined to happen, fate?

Steve told us he grew up loving the rock vocal sound of people like Ian Gillan, Ozzy Osbourne.  As a kid he remembered a teacher putting on the video of the film version of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ starring Ted Neeley as Jesus and distinctly feeling that he would meet him one day.

Although wanting to train as a graphic artist circumstances conspired to make him take up a place on the music course at Neath College.  It was his teacher there Rhian Lloyd suggested he should start to sing songs from musicals as a way of impressing the girls.  As ‘luck’ would have it the college decided to put on a student production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ with Steve playing the title role.  Two things stuck in Steve’s mind.  As well as music, Neath College specialised in Rugby. He remembers looking out into the audience at those rugby hulks who had obviously been forced to attend by their girlfriends, and they were in tears.  The other thing was at the end of the run he felt this wasn’t the last time he would play the role.

Once again it was Rhian who spotted an advert in ‘The Stage’ for open auditions for a new touring production of ‘Les Miserable’.  After a late night gig with his band at the Coach House in Swansea’s Wind Street he hopped on the early train to London to be first in the queue.  Walking onto an empty stage he handed his music to the piano player. 

The director and production team were out there in the darkness.  Someone asked him what he was going to sing.  As Steve explains the cardinal sin for an audition for a specific musical is to sing one of the big songs from that show.  He didn’t know so performed ‘Bring Him Home’.  The director then asked him did he have anything else.  Steve had brought the music written out by Rhian of Gethsemane from Superstar.  If ever there was a song written for a voice this was it. 

Steve soon found himself in a room of Money men and a little guy with a Scottish name who he later found out was the producer Cameron Mackintosh.  Not surprisingly Steve got the gig and found himself in a touring production where he started to learn his ‘chops’ as an actor. At the end of the tour all of the cast were offered auditions for the big new show heading into town called Martin Guerre, written by the same people who had written Les Mis.  Steve decided he would rather return to Swansea to hook up once again with his band.

It was Michael Johnson, the Olympic Gold Medallist and pundit who said on recent BBC Olympic coverage that,

‘luck is opportunity meeting preparation’.

When the news about auditions for the new West End production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was announced Steve was called by friends and family telling him he needed to be there. One of Steve’s acting friends had recently become an agent. He rang the casting director for the show to say if he heard Steve sing he would cast him immediately.

It wasn’t immediate, it took 14 different auditions over a year before Steve finally got the part.  In the 8 week rehearsal period Steve says he really learned how to act but along the way he realised that the words of his old Martial Arts teachers in Swansea would ring in his ears.  Back at the Leisure centre Sparky Parkhouse and John Wood would make Steve repeat and repeat his Karate moves in training, but once it came to competition time they would say, ‘You’ve done all the training now just go and be.’

That’s how he approached opening night as Jesus in one of the biggest musicals of all time and he was tremendous.  I know because I went to see him in the show, and it was breath taking. As he took his bow he looked at me in the stalls and gave me that thumbs up.  Back in his dressing I walked in as he was wiping the blood off his body with wet wipes.  I said thanks for the thumbs up.  Steve told me he had been looking for me all the way through the show but it was only when he got up onto the cross that he suddenly saw me in the crowd.

Oh, and what about that feeling he had all those years ago watching the film in Religious Studies.  Years later Steve was asked to share the role of Jesus with Ted Neeley in a Dutch production of the show so he finally got to meet the man who inspired him as a kid, full circle as Steve said.

This really doesn’t do justice to Steve’s story. The whole episode is riveting and can be found at www.themalandjohnnyshow.com

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