BWW Interview: John Barrowman On His Upcoming Leicester Square Theatre Concerts

BWW Interview: John Barrowman On His Upcoming Leicester Square Theatre Concerts
John Barrowman

International stage and screen star John Barrowman is coming back to London with Seth Rudetsky for an intimate concert series at Leicester Square Theatre.

What made you want to become an actor?

I've never wanted to do anything else but to be an actor. It's not so much as being an actor but an entertainer, really.

Because I look at the entertainment business as encapsulating all sort of things: playing characters on tv shows, or doing musicals, or writing books, or recording albums... so for me it was more about entertaining rather then it was about strictly being one thing. I started doing it when I was a kid, standing up in my parents' living room singing at the parties they used to throw.

What would you be if you weren't in the business then?

I wouldn't be doing anything else. I've never wanted to do anything else. It's always been my ambition and my goal, and I believe that when you have an ambition and a goal you go for it, and if you fail then you decide what you're gonna do alternatively. But I had no other real plans to be anything else.

Is there anything you wish you'd known before you started out?

I got some very good advice early on from some really good people like Elaine Paige, Cameron Mackintosh, Trevor Nunn, all the greats of the musical theatre world. The best advice I was given was not to want things too quickly. And also to do something because you want to do it and not because somebody else wants you to do it.

So I got really good advice and what I did, as a young person when I was starting out, I'm gonna be blunt, I shut up and listened. And I watched. I watched the people I was working with, I listened to what they were saying and what they were doing, and consequently I think I learned how to do things correctly and also how not to do things because I was listening to both the good and the bad. I guess one word of advice, if I went back, is to remind myself to go with your gut instinct.

Do you have a favourite role you've played?

No, it's funny. I never answer favourites questions because once I choose a favourite my fans never let me change my mind! There are certain things in my career that have a great deal of importance to me. For instance, Cole Porter's music played a huge part at the very beginning of my career, Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who was a huge turning point in my career, even Sondheim also had a huge impact, and also Malcolm Merlyn, my character in Arrow.

Everything really had an impact for me; to pick a favourite would be unfair because every character, every show, every comic book, everything I've been involved in has played a massive role in some part of my life and was a pivotal event.

Is there a particular role you'd love to play?

Hmm, I've never thought about it... I'd love to do a tv sitcom. I don't know what that role would be, but I'd love to do that. I would also love to recreate and redo Zaza again in La Cage Aux Folles. I'd love to do a massive tour of either the UK or the US. I'd love to tour the United States with that, yeah.

I'm kind of at an age where roles are a little different. People say I look younger than what I am, so I tend to play roles of the younger dads now rather than being the ingenue, which I was in my younger years. I haven't really thought about what I want to play. Okay, one role! I'd like to do Jerry Herman's Mack and Mabel. I'd love to play Mack. I'd also like to have a go at The Boy From Oz.

Is there still someone you'd like to work with?

I'd love to work with Darren Criss. I worked with him before on the musical episode of The Flash, but I'd love to do something bigger with him like a stage show. Or I could play his dad or something, that would be awesome, or his older brother.

When I say this - I know it sounds like it's pompous and arrogant coming out of my mouth, but it's not meant to - I've worked with tons of great people, big names, on Broadway, television, films... Obviously I would love to work with Kristin Chenoweth, I've already worked with Idina Menzel, but I'd love to again... I wouldn't know who to choose!

What's the main difference between the West End and Broadway from a performer's point of view?

It's mostly the audience. Show wise and performers, everybody works incredibly hard. Stage crews, stage management, wardrobes, everyone down to hair and make-up works incredibly hard to put on the show. I would say the difference is really the audience. British audiences are great audiences, Broadway audiences are great audiences.

However, Broadway audiences tend to jump up on their feet a lot quicker than British audiences. But that doesn't mean that British audiences don't enjoy the show, they just want it to be über special to get up on their feet rather than just getting up after every performance.

As an entertainer, do you prefer the audience to jump up after every single performance?

Oh no, I prefer to have those kind of jumping-up-things happen few and far between. I do my own concert tours and I've toured the UK, and every so often certain people stand up and do stuff, certain crowds do jump up. I hadn't done it in a couple of years because of my filming schedule in the States, but then I went to Australia, in Melbourne, and literally we couldn't stop the audience.

They were so enthusiastic and so appreciative! To be honest, it was such a great show, the atmosphere was incredible. At the end I had to do extra encores because they wouldn't stop clapping, or sit down, or leave! I prefer them to be few and far between rather than every night, but it's an amazing feeling.

How did your collaboration with Seth Rudetzky start?

Seth and I have been talking for a little while and I did his Sirius/XM show when I was in New York. I just texted him! We started to talk via text and Twitter and when I said I was gonna be in New York, he said "Well, come in and be interviewed and sing one song!", so I went in, did an interview and I sang one song.

It went down really well, so he continued to contact me to tell me he was doing different types of shows, and then he asked if I was available for this one at the Leicester Square Theatre and I said "Sure! Let's do it!". It's the first time we've really done something bigger than just going in for a chit-chat on his radio show.

I'm looking forward to it - it's something completely different because I can't really plan the show. I don't know how the interview is gonna go, or what I'm gonna sing. Of course, I've got stuff that I know, but what's really great and unique about this show is that apart from the songs that I know by memory, we're also gonna wing some stuff!

If we decide to sing something that's relevant to something we're talking about and I don't have the music, Seth is gonna call it up right away on his iPad or something, and I'll sightread it! It's gonna be very different and very unique.

That's why I call it a unique, intimate look into the background and behind the scenes. It will almost be like watching how we put things together in rehearsals. Apart from having polished music, we're gonna take requests from the audience, because I want to do that. Songs that people in the audience might want to hear me sing that I haven't sung before - we're gonna give it a whirl! It's a very different type of show and very, very spontaneous too.

So every night is going to be different, then?

Oh, every show! The Friday show will be one way, and then Saturday will go another, and the Saturday night show will go another way. If you're basing a show around an interview, there's no way you can predict what you're gonna talk about, because something might have happened between Friday night and Saturday afternoon.

Have you chosen any songs so far?

I've chosen ten songs. Those are songs that I want to sing in an intimate setting - they're not all musical theatre songs. However, I've also got a backup of ten other numbers that might be relevant if we talk about something, even though I don't know them by heart.

There's no way I can learn all the stuff - those are going to be the ones that if we decide to sing them, we'll pull them up, I'll sit with Seth on the piano bench or a chair next to it and we'll sing them and rock it out. Then, when we do the requests from the audience, it's gonna be totally unawares! If someone wants me to sing something from Carousel, I'm gonna have to wing it. So, you're gonna get to see my sightreading skills! [laughs]

What was your process when choosing the songs?

I basically went to my own catalogue. I looked at songs that were pivotal in my life and career and meant something to me; they're also songs that I know my core fans have liked.

I also wanted to sing songs that I've sung with symphony orchestras but I wanted to sing in a small piano setting, and I'm singing a couple of things I've never sung before. A part of the opening number, I've never sung before because it's a woman's song! I've got a couple numbers in there that I wouldn't be allowed to sing.

What do you usually listen to?

I have a very eclectic taste in music. I don't know if I could describe what I like off the top of my head, so I'm pulling up my playlist right now. For instance, I have The Chainsmokers, I have Coldplay, I have George Michael, I've got everything to Barbra Streisand, a girl named Lara Fabian, I have Bruno Mars, I have The Monkeys, I have Emily Sandé...

I have a variety, even traditional Scottish music! I don't restrict myself to one style because for me music moves emotion. And that's why I like different types of music, because they trigger different kinds of emotions. The only music I don't really get into is opera. I don't know why, I appreciate it and I go to the opera, I watch it, but it doesn't really click with me in that sense.

Do you prefer to perform on stage as a character or in this type of shows, where you're on as yourself?

It's not a preference because I believe that to make a portrayal of a character on stage, on television, on film, you have to bring an element of your personality to that character. That's what I've learnt over the years: audiences tend to follow you because there's an element of you in every character you play. You just have to choose what part you're bringing out.

Not a lot of actors will agree with me, but that works for me. I enjoy being myself on stage but the person who's on stage singing and performing in my concert tours... I'm not like that at home! [laughs] I'm a little quieter at home. However, in this concert you'll probably get to see a little more, you'll get a bit more of the personal-John rather than the showman-John. I think it's gonna be unique for the audiences. It's still going to be fun, though!

So, what can the audiences expect from the concert series?

The audiences can expect to be entertained, to laugh, maybe to shed a little tear. But also to find out and learn something, and hear stories about John Barrowman. Some of them you've never heard before. And some of them, I've never talked about before!

John Barrowman and Seth Rudetsky are at Leicester Square Theatre 13 and 14 April.

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From This Author Cindy Marcolina

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