Rob Guest

Marathon man of long-running musical shows

Last updated 10:27 09/10/2008
ROB GUEST: Admired by fellow performers for his talent, his professionalism and his generosity and concern for the people he worked with.

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Rob Guest OBE (1994), actor: B Birmingham, July 17, 1950; m (1) Lynette Perry (div), (2) 1994 Judy Barnes, 1s 1d (div), partner Kellie Dickerson; d Melbourne, October 2, 2008.
Rob Guest, who played the title role in The Phantom of the Opera for a marathon seven years and 2289 performances, lived his job. No matter what he did during the day, he said when his two children were young and he was making time for them, "you know at 7.30 the curtain is going to go up and 2000 people who have paid a lot of money will be expecting a top performance".

He delivered to the last, though when he visited New Zealand in April to promote his latest show, Wicked, the intensity of his life seemed to be catching up with him and he appeared unwell.

A co-star once joked that he would, if necessary, go on stage in an iron lung to perform. He hardly ever missed a show, and only one of his starring appearances as Jean Valjean in the long-running Les Miserables. He had briefly lost his voice and was said to be furious.

He used the analogy of a marathon to describe how he approached his role as Valjean. He had done 700 performances and he told an interviewer: "It's like running a marathon, you know what you have to do, how much rest and food you need, where your drink stops are, your time between each post, and how you should feel when you've finished."

Guest was seen as a New Zealand theatrical celebrity, but he lived far longer outside the country, leaving in his 20s, than in it. He did, in the late 1980s, try to base his career here but found New Zealand lacked scope.

He spent most of the 1980s hosting shows in the glittering United States venues of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Reno and Lake Tahoe before auditioning in Australia for Cameron Mackintosh's production of Les Miserables. He played the lead role of Valjean there and in New Zealand for more than three years.

He won the title role in The Phantom of the Opera in 1992. He returned occasionally to New Zealand to perform but Australia eventually became home.

His drive to perform crystallised when he was a kid in Birmingham, where he was born. At Sledmere School in Dudley, he chose to sing a verse of She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain in assembly, aged six. He was dressed in jeans, shirt and a cowboy hat and carried a cap gun. He sang the verse 16 times, the audience kept applauding, and he refused to leave the stage till the caps ran out. He was hooked.

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He graduated to school plays and his love of the immediacy of performing, with the challenge of getting it right first time, grew.

His parents moved to New Zealand when he was 13 and settled first in Thames. Guest, used to seeing the sea once a year on holiday if he was lucky, loved it. The family shifted to Auckland and he went to Mt Albert Grammar and then Avondale College. He joined a North Shore band, the Shore Thing, then another, the In Betweens.

At 22, keen, handsome and talented but without ever having had a formal singing lesson, he scored his first big role, as Jesus Christ in the 1973 Auckland rock-opera Man of Sorrows. His career took off from there. In 1978 he was New Zealand's Entertainer of the Year.

He was named best New Zealand theatrical performer in 1992 and again in 1993 for his roles in Les Miserables and Phantom. Other title roles over the decades included Jesus Christ Superstar, Pippin, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Barnum. In 1995 he performed in the 10th anniversary concert performance of Les Miserables at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The year before, he was made an OBE for services to entertainment.

He was an avuncular mentor for young people and credited with helping inspire a new generation on to the stage. Only a calamity could keep him off it himself.

- The Dominion Post

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