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An Interview with James Barbour

What is the hardest part of the business?

I don't know really. I suppose it's staying true to yourself and to your work. For me creation is why I chose this craft. It's important to remember that. When I forget, all I have to do is watch Denis O'Hare in rehearsals. He channels creativity and is bold with his choices. I sit there riveted just watching him experiment. So…staying true to yourself is the hardest part of this business. Thank god for the Johnny Depp's and Denis O'Hare's of this world.

When did you start performing?

Unless you want to count the Christmas Pageant in Kindergarten (I filled in for the kid playing Santa Claus and stood there crying as the mass of parents looked on…I suppose that was my first experience at stage fright) my first professional show was the summer of my senior year of High school. The show…ANNIE…the role…ROOSTER. It was dinner theatre and I have to say that was the moment when I promised myself I would never wait tables. I gained a great deal of respect for that profession.

Tell about your experiences working in Beauty and the Beast… What was it like working with such a unique costume?

I loved Beauty. It was home for so long and a great deal of my life unfolded during my time with the show. I built some tremendous friendships that continue to this day and I am grateful for the experience. As far as the costume…let me put it this way, I have an 80 pound Golden retriever…imagine him strapped to my back (only he's cuter). The costume was fantastic in many ways. It gave me a sense of who the 'Beast' was. The structure of the costume forced me to walk a certain way. The sheer mass of the costume slowed me down a bit and gave me more "weight' in both the literal and figurative sense. In the winter I loved it but in the summer…forget about it.

Was it daunting to step into Urinetown? It must have a certain rhythm after running for two years. How did you approach the role of Lockstock? Were you able to put your own stamp on the role?

Interesting question. I actually created the role of Lockstock in the workshop production of URINETOWN prior to its off-Broadway run. Many of the same cast, Jennifer, Daniel Marcus and Spencer of course were all there. I would find myself randomly quoting the show during the run of JANE EYRE. The Araca guys invited me to the off-Broadway opening and since the show had been a part of me for so long that going into the Broadway cast was again like coming home, a sort of time warp back a couple of years. I absolutely LOVE the show and it was a pleasure to be able to do it fully. I went in with Tom Cavanagh as 'Bobby' and that was a blast. Tom is one of the most creative and hard working people I have ever know. He never stops. I'll tell ya, last summer all we had to do was tap into his energy could have spelled us through that black out. He's become a great friend. The cast was amazingly talented all around. It was a very warm, supportive and inviting group and they made it easy to fit into the rhythm. Oh and in answer the last question, I sort of put my stamp own on the role before I ever got to Broadway with the show.

What goals do you have yet to achieve as a performer?

I haven't given that much thought recently. I think my goals as a human being have taken precedent over my goals as a performer.

What's the most awkward situation that you have encountered while performing? Any practical jokes, inappropriate laughter…

I'm not big on the practical joke thing on stage. I feel it's unfair to the audience. In all truth I'm not funny in the least, I never joke and I never enjoy myself, according to stereotype apparently I'm very dark and brooding. I sit alone in my house with all the lights off contemplating the end of the universe while my dog chews a muddy and once yellow tennis ball…well there was that thing during JANE EYRE rehearsals with Gwendolyn the 7 foot yellow chicken but that's a long story. I still find feathers in my hair.

Actually one thing that was fun…one of my fans had these AMAZING cookies made up with a picture from JANE EYRE imprinted on them. They were so beautiful you didn't want to eat them (I had one however) and still keep some in the fridge 'cause how often does one get a cookie with ones face on it? Anyway, during my run in URINETOWN, Tom Cavanaugh saw one of the JANE EYRE cookies and would not let me live down the fact that my face was on a cookie. Fast forward about a month later when I was in DC working on "20th CENTURY," I decided it was time for some revenge. One day during an episode of "ED" that Tom was directing he looked up from the camera and saw the entire cast and crew standing there with cookies, about 100 of them…on the cookie was a picture of Tom as 'Bobby Strong' from URINETOWN. The phone call I got that day was about 10 minutes of laughter. Ahhhh sweet revenge!

Of the parts you have played so far, which has been your favorite and why.

Billy Bigelow. It was, to me, was the perfect role, perfectly written with the best music to sing and the greatest story to tell. A tragic hero.

In "Back from Broadway," you tell about one of your auditions in New York. For what production were you auditioning? For which role? 

Les Miserables. I was singing for a role in the ensemble and the cover the 'Javert' but I told them that I was too young and would be better suited to playing 'Enjolras'…I didn't get it.

Which do you prefer performing in, dark dramatic musicals such as "Jane Eyre" or broad comedic musicals such as "Urinetown?"

Both. An old friend of mine once told me that it's important to re-invent yourself. I spent years studying Shakespeare in London but when I got back to NY and started to sing I was "type cast" as a 'Musical Theatre Guy.' And then I was "type cast" as the 'Dark Brooding Guy.' It took me going to LA and doing half hour comedies for the casting people in NY to actually say…"Oh my god…he's an actor guy!" After I did the Chris Durang/ Peter Melnick "Adrift In Macao" (coming soon to a theatre near you) and then "Urinetown" all of the sudden I get these offers for "The Funny Guy." It cracks me up. So I think I'm now the "Dark Brooding Funny Occasionally Sings When Not Doing TV Guy."

What is your favorite type of music?

Jesus, if you looked at my iTunes…it's so diverse. Different music for different moods. Not to mention different music for different roles as well. I literally have a little of everything. However, the most recently played CD's: The Gypsy Kings, FUEL, LIVE and Garth Brooks SEVEN.

Is there still a part that you have wanted to play that you haven't yet?

This is a question that I get asked a lot. I want to play the ones that have yet to be written. I like new things, things that have to be created. I've got one specific person in my head. Frank Wildhorn and I are working on it.

Of the unique experiences you've had because of what you do for a living, do any of them stand out (either professionally or personally)??

I met a young man named Tim after a matinee of 'Beauty' in Los Angeles. He had jut seen the show and was waiting with his mother just outside the stage door. It was difficult for him to actually get into the backstage area where most people waited because Tim was bound to a wheelchair. He couldn't move nor could he speak. He was capable only of moving two of his fingers with which he indicated the words 'yes' and 'no' and also seemed able of what I glimpsed as a smile. Tim was one of the happiest people I have ever met. He changed my life. Tim gave me perspective and he gave me hope. Life is a great thing and it's important that we realize that it's not something to throw away; life is something to be celebrated. It's a game to be well played.

How do you feel about your fans in general? Any memorable (funny or strange) encounters with any of them?

My fans…simply put…are THE BEST. There was one time at a Baltimore Orioles game and another at some Comic Book Store in Virginia...and the cookies o course!!!!!

Of whom are you a fan?

Emerson, Anthony Hopkins, Johnny Depp and Harry Potter (wish I had that wand!) and my dog.

When you're doing the same show night after night, how do you keep it fresh?

I try to think of a play much like Oedipus' predicament. Oedipus was doomed to his fate no matter what he did to try and prevent it. So taking that idea I put a play in a box. There are parameters, boundaries, if you will around what I can do as an actor and still reach the ultimate goal (which in this case is to tell the story of the character I am playing). Those boundaries include dialogue, the other characters (actors) on stage, the lighting, music (if it's a musical), the blocking, as well as all the things that were created in rehearsal to make the show come to life. Now, within those boundaries I can move anywhere I want so long as I do not step outside the line. To do so would be break the structure of the play. In essence, my character is fated to reach his destiny at the end of the show and my choices (as an actor) must remain within the walls of that show. Yet, the key is to make it look as if I were actually living it for the first time, each time I took the stage. Oedipus, raging against his destiny yet fated to reach it…make sense?

If The Witches of Eastwick came to Broadway, what are the chances of you playing Darryl? Would you want the part?

Hmmmm. I heard some talk of Jeff Goldblum or Rosie or somebody.

How do you prepare for a new role?

This is a fun one. It sort of depends. If it's an historical character, I do a ton of research. If it's a fictitious character, I use the text and actually create a life for him. The audience never really sees that background work but they do hopefully see the end result of that work. To me it gives depth and substance to a character. In the larger picture I find where is he from, what does he do for a living that sort of thing. I then start to find simple things down to how would he write his name, is he's right handed or left handed stuff like that. To me, that's where the fun comes. Then…it all sort of goes away and becomes part of who the character is. In real life I don't sit down and actually think of what hand I use to sign my name, it just happens. That's the key for me…using all of the preparation it should just happen as it's meant to happen, just like life.

For information about Assassins (Barbour's next project) at the Roundabout Theatre click here.

For more information on James, visit his official web site at

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