DEBUT OF THE MONTH: GHOST's Richard Fleeshman
Richard Fleeshman is currently making his Broadway debut in Ghost the Musical. The show, featuring an original score by rock legends Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, and a book by the Oscar-winning screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, opened on April 24th at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Fleeshman reprises the role of Sam Wheat which he originated in both the West End and world premier Manchester productions. Set in modern day New York City, GHOST is a timeless fantasy about the power of love.
Fleeshman first came to the public's attention as a youngster, when he played Craig Harris in "Coronation Street." Following the series, the musician, singer/songwriter signed with Universal Records and released his debut album. He went on to complete three stadium tours supporting Sir Elton John around the UK and Europe. He has also collaborated with Sir Elton, writing and performing the soundtrack of 'All the Small Things.' In 2010, Richard made his West End debut playing Warner as part of the original cast of Legally Blonde.
In a recent chat with BWW, Fleeshman spoke about his Broadway debut experience and how he literally makes magic happen every night on stage.
You began your career at a very young age in the popular British TV series 'Coronation Street.' What were those early years like?
They were pretty crazy to be honest. And probably would have been crazier were I not so young. I was about 12 when I started and if I had been slightly older, being so well known and so famous might have been more daunting and more terrifying. But because I was so young I just took it in stride. Being a kid, I don't think I was fazed by it. I kind of just let it wash over me and it was an amazing experience.
From Coronation Street you went on to tour with Elton John. How did that come about?
Well I left "Coronation Street" to pursue other things and one of those things was to be a musician singer/songwriter. So I did that and I signed with Universal Records and I released an album and Elton heard the album and invited me on tour. I was his Opening Act for three tours around Europe.
Did you remain in touch?
Yes, absolutely. He emailed me the other day. He is so supportive and has remained a really close friend.
What was the audition process like for GHOST in the UK?
Well I was doing Legally Blonde at the time and I went to the audition like anything else and I didn't really know too much about the project. And then after the process went on and on and I kept going back, I found out more about it. At that point, Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart were involved and eventually I just desperately wanted the part. And then I went to the final audition and two days later I got the phone call that I got it.
Were you familiar with the movie at all?
I was familiar but I wasn't overly familiar. I made a conscious decision to watch it initially. But since getting the part and since doing the show over a year and a half now, me and Caissie (Levy) who plays Molly, we avoid it like the plague now. I think it would throw us off so much seeing similarities in the scenes and words that we're so familiar with, so we don't watch it anymore.
Do you find that American audiences are more familiar with the film than British audiences?
Well we heard a statistic that apparently "Ghost" was number one at the box office in England till Titanic, I think knocked it off. So yeah, it was huge in the UK.
I understand that you had an accident during the rehearsal process for GHOST.
Yeah, I did. I got hit by a car actually. It was pretty crazy. It was two weeks into the rehearsal process and it was a hit and run.
Were you on a bike?
No, I was on the pavement, just walking. I was with a couple of the cast from the London show. I didn't want to go to hospital because that was like almost admitting something was wrong. In the back of my head I was thinking, 'if anything is wrong, I might lose this job.' I actually broke my leg in two places and had an operation that night and was in hospital for two days. The doctor said I wouldn't be walking around for eight to ten weeks and I said 'well we open in seven weeks so that's not possible!' And then the producers got me the best doctors and we managed to get me on stage in time.
Did that in any way affect the way you approached your character Sam?
Absolutely. Without a doubt. Looking back you can always in hindsight find a reason for things. Certainly my rehearsal process would have been a lot easier and I'm sure the producers would have been a lot happier if I didn't have a broken leg. But the saving grace, the silver lining of it was the fact that my understanding of what Sam goes through in that split second was huge because I went through that exact same thing. Thankfully the outcome was slightly different but it could have been much more serious. So yes, definitely, without a doubt it helped me.
I'm so happy that you're ok.
Me too! Thank you!
Were there any changes made to the production before it came to Broadway?
Loads. When we started in Manchester, they structured the show based on what they thought they could achieve. Then we went to London and things changed, scenes changed, illusions got perfected and all that kind of thing. And then we had nine months in London before we came here and then the whole process started all over again. New changes were implemented that they wanted to work on from London. They also perfected and honed in on certain moments and illusions. Not to mention going into a new space with all new problems in terms of the angles and the reflections, so it was a whole new tech period. I think me and Caissie figured out, since we did all three tech periods, that we have now teched the show for over three months!
Speaking of the technical aspect of the show, is it hard to concentrate on pulling off those illusions while performing at the same time?
Well I think now, because it's so intrinsic within all of us, and the stage crew works so hard to make sure everything is perfect, that I don't really think about it too much. But initially there was the pressure of not only hitting your mark for a normal reason, like the lighting or a sound thing, but hitting your mark because if you didn't, the whole illusion was ruined. It's a lot more pressure. But I think now, because I've done it so many times, there's not as much pressure.
Do people often ask you to reveal the secrets behind some of those illusions?
This is not a line, we actually signed something saying we wouldn't tell. I don't know how strict they are about it, but more importantly, the reason we don't tell people is about having pride in the show. My parents have come to the show so many times now and my dad, who is a really intelligent guy, still sits there and doesn't know how it's done. And he's a director and an actor himself. He gets so annoyed, he's like "Come on, you got to tell me!" and I say, "Dad I'm sorry, I can't tell you". And the irony is, even if I tried to explain how they work, and how they are achieved it would be almost pointless because it's so complicated. The physics and the exact reasons why things reflect or appear to be the way they are, it's just crazy. it's almost harder to explain it really - it's so complicated.
Well I can tell you that at intermission of the show, that was the talk of the audience. Everyone had their own theory as to how you pull it off.
(Laughing) Really - that's great!
Do you notice differences between British and American audiences? Do they react to things differently?
There are a few moments in the show where American audiences might be slightly more honed into the cultural references. Like the idea that Oda Mae hates Brooklyn might raise more of a smile than it would have done in London. There's not that same familiarlty over there. Certain moments have a cultural difference, but on the whole, the show plays much more to the humanity side of people, so the emotional reactions are really the same. And thankfully at the end, everyone is always in tears and on their feet and that's a lovely thing. And maybe the New York crowds are slightly more vocal, which for us is great. We love that energy to feed off of. If they enjoy something or if they find something funny, they'll let you know more.
It's funny, I remember reading an interview with Caissie Levy who did the opposite of you with 'Hair', taking the show from Broadway to the West End. I think she found the British audiences were a little more reserved, perhaps even a little shocked.
Yeah, absolutely! Innately the Brits, we are very withheld, very shy and I think a show like 'Hair' even more than any other show, would be more alarming and a big shock to them.
This is your first time living in New York. What are your impressions?
Yes. I love it. I mean, I don't think it's hugely different from London. It's very cosmopolitan, very exciting, things happen very quickly and it's very busy all the time. The main difference is that I love the fact than I can order food any time of night. It baffles me. In London that doesn't happen. After a certain time, if you're hungry, you go into a supermarket and cook something yourself or maybe go to an all-night McDonalds or something like that but that's it. Here, there are restaurants open until three in the morning - incredible!
The other thing is the sirens. I've never been in a city where the sirens are just so insistent. I live right in Midtown. I can guarantee that anytime I open my window I will hear a siren. It's like the soundtrack of New York.
Well, they do call it the city that never sleeps - I guess it's an apt nickname! So what was it like making your Broadway debut on Opening night?
It was amazing. I remember speaking to Caissie that night immediately afterward. We were both so numb. Usually we're both very in tune with each other and how we feel. We go through a lot of emotions during the show and we're both always a little bit teary and we have a cuddle and check in with each other. I remember that night being very just numb to everything. It was sheer adrenaline, the culmination of so much hard work, lack of sleep, exhaustion, all those things. I remember being very quiet when my parents came backstage. They were like "Are you ok?" and I was like, "I think so." It was an amazing night that I'll never forget.
This whole experience right from the start has been incredible. And each of the Opening Nights were special for their own reason. In Manchester, that was my home town so that was incredibly special to me. And the original performance in London was an accumulation of months and months of work. It was an incredible night. At the time we certainly didn't imagine that we would end up on Broadway. And then honestly, to culminate it in a Broadway opening was just, for any actor, such a pipe dream. To have so many of these things that happened this past year, to originate a part, a brand new show and then to open it on both sides of the Atlantic has been such a dream and I'm so grateful for the opportunity. It was a crazy, crazy night. No one can ever take that away. Even if I never work again, no one can ever take that away from me.
GHOST is currently running at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th Street. For tickets, please visit www.ticketmaster.com or call ticketmaster at 877-250-2929 or visit the Box Office of The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre Monday - Saturday, 10 AM - 8 PM. For further information, please visit: http://www.ghostthemusical.com/