He has a voice worthy of backing from our national orchestra Tim Beveridge talks to Bess Manson about musicals, the West End, and the pull of his homeland

A Kiwi Sinatra

IN THE middle of rushhour traffic en route to the airport, Tim Beveridge breaks into song: "She may be the beauty or the beast, may be the famine or the feast, may turn each day into a heaven or a hell..." I melt.

Beveridge, 35, is catching the 6pm Flight back to Auckland, so we begin our interview in the car. "You know, I didn't start singing till I was 23," he says.

In fact, Beveridge, who recently launched his first album. Singer — a lineup of hit tunes from some of the best, backed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra — was a lawyer before trading the courtroom for the concert hall.

Growing up in Rotorua, boys played sport and girls did the pantomime thing, he says. Listening to Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita as a boy, he promised himself that he would give singing a try at some stage.

"I went to bed one night after seeing a professional production of Evita and thought I had to give this a go before I got too old. I think I filed that away for future reference."

He was, he says, a "stage door Johnny", going backstage to grill the stars after their shows on the performer's life. It was after speaking to the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar in London at the age of 23 that he decided the time was right to fulfil that promise he made himself as a boy. He came home, quit his job at the Rotorua law firm where he had worked for two years and secured his first role — in Evita.

He went on to play the lead in Chess, which toured New Zealand. That role led to the Australian production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera in Sydney, playing Raoul and understudying for Rob Guest as the Phantom.

Ahh, the Phantom. Now that was a part, he says, as we roll into the airport at 5.20pm and head to the Koru lounge to continue the interview. He can't afford the subscription, he says, but what the hell. You get used to the luxury, and anyway. Visa is paying.

Settling back, watching the planes take off and land, he carries on talking, but stops with every flash of the photographer's camera.

. "You're not going to use that one, are you?" he says, laughing and flicking wisps of blond hair off his forehead.

Though the young singer's career had risen steadily back home — he performed with Dame Malvina Major in lakeside concerts and several musicals — he was relatively unknown in mainstream New Zealand, he says.

"After a while I realised I had not been in Shortland Street, so no one really knew who I was ... that sounds bad, doesn't it? Actually I did play a psychic for two days," he says throwing his head back with a laugh.

Wanderlust and ambition eventually took him back to London. Armed with the confidence installed in him by his peers, he decided it was time to have a look at what the West End had to offer.

Success followed when he entered the BBC Voice of Musical Theatre, in Cardiff, a competition for the best musical theatre voice in the world. He was one six finalists out of more than by 100 performers from all over the world.

He was later asked to audition for several West End roles, but Beveridge was already tiring of Europe, and besides, he had something else on his mind: making a CD.

"I didn't want to hang around and wait for someone else to make a decision as to whether I was the right look for a part.

"I decided that New Zealand was an awesome place to live and why wouldn't I want to try and make it here? It's very difficult to explain. I just decided I wanted to try and have a career and a life here."

He is, he says, a "New Zealander to the bone".

That leap of faith, as he describes it, has paid off, not only in sales of Singer — reaching more than 10,000 since it was released in April — but after just two weeks on sale, the album, which features a collection of popular songs spanning the decades, including Night and Day, She, MacArthur Park and Phantom's Music of the Night, reached sixth spot on the New Zealand Top 10 chart.

The project saw him working with producer Eddie Rayner, of Split Enz/ENZSO fame, and orchestrator Russell Garcia. Eightyfive year old Garcia, who has worked with music luminaries such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis, Fred Astaire and Sarah Vaughan, has described Beveridge's voice as "just as good as Sinatra's". And it's the songs of Sinatra that Beveridge will sing in a tribute to the Rat Pack in Wellington this month.

Former NZSO chief executive lan Fraser has praised Beveridge by saying that the orchestra only worked with the best.

Beveridge is flattered. Particularly the comparison with Sinatra. Well, there is no better compliment to receive, he says. "But there is only one Frank Sinatra."

Kiwi Sinatra