Adam's route from busking in Gunwharf to starring on Sunset Boulevard

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More than a decade ago Adam Pearce could be found busking in Gunwharf Quays, belting out the Rat Pack classics, and doing quite nicely.

Move forward to the present day and he is an experienced West End performer, currently on the road in a lead role of a major touring musical.

Adam is playing the part of Max Von Meyerling, the devoted butler of faded movie star Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd-Webber's adaptation of the all-time classic film Sunset Boulevard.

Originally from Bedhampton, but now living in Kent, Adam is often back this way to visit family and friends and he laughs when reminded of the busking.

'Sometimes when you go down to Portsmouth and it’s clear day, you think: "This would be perfect conditions, this would be perfect." You see all the people sitting outside Pizza Express, and you think: "This would be a very good day to busk." 

'It’s lovely walking around Gunwharf and seeing the spots where I used to perform with my little soundsystem.'

Adam's Norma is Ria Jones who originated the role when the show was workshopped when she was just 24, back in 1991. But it wasn't until 2016 when she was Glenn Close's understudy at The Coliseum in the West End and the Oscar-winner was forced to drop out for four performances that she got the chance to really shine in the role. 

Her reward was the lead in the touring production.

'It’s been amazing,' says Adam. 'The best thing about the rehearsals was that we were sat around reading for about a week and a half, we didn’t put anything on its feet, we sat around spoke the dialogue every day and were talking through every inch of that script.

'She would come in with “When it was originally done…” and tell us about her memories of this song or that song, which was beautiful, but it opened her eyes as well, it was such a creative process. It really was a safe room, we could bring to the table whatever we wanted. Especially the last scene of the show, we were given, not exactly free rein, but we would try things and see what came and bounce things off each other. It wasn't just acting by numbers.'

And Adam admits he was unfamiliar with the story before the chance to appear in it came up.

'I’d never seen the film before, and I only started listening to the soundtrack once an audition came through. I had no idea, I’d heard the title song on compilation albums, but I hadn’t heard Greatest Star Of All from Max. Being a bass-baritone, and thinking I knew most of the bass-baritone songs. Now that’s going to be cemented in my repertoire for auditions!'

Having heard the lush, full score, Adam was worried that it would be scaled down for the touring version.

'But we’ve got the biggest orchestra on tour at the moment – 16-piece, with the same orchestration as The Coliseum, which has been amazing, really epic.'

Without wanting to give the plot away, Max and Norma's relationship is unusual to say the least.

'It really is bizarre, and rather challenging. Throughout the piece he doesn’t actually say much. Nikolai (Foster, the director) calls him a lion, in the sense that he’s always observing, taking everything in.

'Then when he gets the chance to let rip he really does let rip and it is all protection for his lioness. And it is all out of love.

'He can’t be the man that she wants – he is the man she needs to look after her, but he can’t provide certain aspects of the relationship so he allows other men to come in and do that part.'

The former Oaklands School pupil was taught to sing by Terri Freeman, the musical director of the Hampshire Police Choir. The choir awarded him a bursary to help with his training that helped set him on his way.

'I’ve been incredibly lucky, I’ve got an amazing agent who’s steered me in the right direction and has been bang on since I left Guildford. As soon as I left, he said you’ve got to earn your stripes as you’re not a romantic lead – and my heart broke as soon as he said that – you’re a character actor, and you’ll be covering and in the ensemble to earn your stripes, then parts are going to come through in your 30s. Now I’m 33, and they are.'

While he says Max has been his favourite role to date, there are others close to his heart.

'I did Sweeney Todd, where I was covering the judge in Chichester before it came to town with Imelda (Staunton) and Michael (Ball).

'And Les Mis, that’s such an iconic thing. Growing up, my singing teacher gave me the song Stars, and then I got to understudy both Javert and Thenardier in Les Mis and getting to sing Stars. I had Terri in one night which was quite emotional for both of us.'

'Terri has been very supportive and has been to see everything I’ve been in.'

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

January 16-20