BWW Interview: Josh Piterman Talks THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
Australian actor Josh Piterman has recently taken over the leading role in the West End production of The Phantom of the Opera, celebrating its 33rd year at Her Majesty's Theatre. He spoke to BroadwayWorld about playing the "Angel of Music".
Who inspired you most growing up?
As a performer, I don't know, but as a person, probably my folks. They're beautiful people.
They've been incredibly supportive and loving parents. They're very aspirational, incredibly hard-working, and instilled those values in me.
Can you remember your first experience at the theatre?
I can vaguely remember seeing Miss Saigon in London. It must have been 1992 or 1993, and we were there on a family vacation. At the time, I was more into anything involving a bat and a ball, but I do remember the show.
The first time I saw a musical as an adult was when I saw We Will Rock You in Melbourne when I was 17 or 18 years old. It was during that show that I thought, "That's what I want to do!".
Have you been a fan of Phantom for a while?
Oh yes. This is THE show. THE role. I've had lots of "almost" opportunities to be in this show, and it's finally worked out.
Phantom is the first show I auditioned for. I got to the final round for Raoul for a touring production and didn't get it sadly. Then a couple of years later, that tour was still going on, and I got offered the chance to understudy Raoul, but couldn't get out of a contract!
I've been waiting and waiting to be part of it. I'm so glad I took the risk and flew back and forth numerous times from Australia for auditions this time around, and now I get to live out a dream. I'm still pinching myself.
I may give the impression of being all cool about it, but it's such a big deal playing the Phantom, and I don't take that lightly. It's such a special show for so many people. I want to do it justice and do the very best I can out there eight times a week so that audiences see the character and show they adore.
How are rehearsals going?
They're going incredibly well. I'm very lucky to be working with an extremely intelligent, supportive and inspiring creative team. Mark Hedges is a wonderful director to work with. He has such a great understanding of what the show is, what the characters want, and why they want it.
They're so open to my take on the character. I've never felt this supported in this process. It's been really special. I'm on the other side of the world from my family in a rehearsal room, and it's really nice to be able to tell them I feel so much love over here in London from my colleagues. There's a lot of love going into the story.
Are there any particular moments in the show that you're looking forward to performing?
Obviously, "The Music of the Night" is a special moment. That first time in the lair, on the boat...it's iconic! But I also really love the final lair. There's so much drama in that love triangle. The music brings back all the ideas from the show. It's genius writing.
How has Hal Prince's recent passing affected the atmosphere?
I think everyone has a really grounded understanding of how important and special Hal was. The show is a valuable part of his legacy, and we appreciate the importance of upholding that to the end.
There are so many little moments in the show that Hal loved. Any time Mark says "This is a real Hal moment" in rehearsal, it stays with me to make sure those moments are met with the diligence they deserve.
Why do you think Phantom has been so successful?
I think it's an incredible story. It's so emotional. The stakes are so high, and the music is masterful. It combined all the elements of a musical so brilliantly.
How does it feel to join that the list of actors who have donned the mask?
I'm not going to a lie - it's an incredible undertaking. Playing the Phantom comes with a sense of pride and gratitude, and some nerves too! Especially when I look at some of the people who have donned that mask. They're people I revere - like John Owen-Jones and Ramin Karimloo.
Some of the most exquisite leading men of this country have performed this role, so it's hard not to get a tad nervous. But then, that's totally natural, and I really try to accept that and embrace that. On the flip side, I'm really looking forward to doing my version of him and creating something that I'm really proud of.
How do you find British audiences compare to Australian ones?
I've been lucky to experience both as I did Hairspray in the UK six years ago. I think that the wonderful thing about theatre in this country is it's etched into the whole fabric of society. From the aristocratic elite to the everyday man or woman, people love theatre.
That's what differentiates theatre in this country from a lot of places in the world where it's more expensive to go, limiting it to a particular demographic, which is sad. I reckon you could ask 90% of people in the UK if they'd heard of Les Mis and they probably would have, which wouldn't be the case elsewhere.
That's what I love about theatre here. More audiences have the knowledge and understanding and love of the theatre, and that's just a beautiful thing about working and living in the UK.
Growing up in Australia, did it ever bother you that the vast majority of "big" shows debut in London or New York, then tour to Australia? Or is it better these days?
There's certainly more theatre in Australia these days, but you could never compare what happens in Australia versus what's going on in Canada, let alone the West End and Broadway. I've never felt it was unfair to the population over here because, to put it bluntly, art is secondary to sport.
I'm sad about that because I think theatre is something special for everyone to access, but the demand just isn't there. That said, I'm very grateful to have a passport that enables me to come over here and be part of the theatre scene here. Not every Aussie gets to live out their dreams of working in the UK.
Any advice for aspiring performers?
Meditate - that's my general piece of advice to anyone. Nothing beats hard work and standing up for yourself, but taking that time to meditate has been the biggest life changer for me.
Of the roles you've played, who would you go on a road trip with and where would you go?
I don't think I'd go with the Phantom. I'd be fearing for my life!
I'd probably go with Gerry Goffin who I played in Beautiful. He's no longer with us sadly, but he's the only character I've played who was a real human. He has an incredible story.
I reckon we'd go to Tuscany, somewhere like that. I feel like my soul has been in Italy in a previous life or something. I was there last year, and it was very special. It was somewhere I felt creatively charged, so I think we would go there and write some tunes.
Why should people come to see your take on the Phantom?
Oh, don't just come to see my take on him! This show isn't special just because of my part. It's special because of every person in that building. The people involved in wardrobe, tech, the actors - they all love this show.
If you want to see a show where everyone involved is absolutely loving working on it, then come! That's what creates a fully rounded and true performance. Hopefully, I've deflected that question enough!
Phantom is just a mesmerising show. I remember the first time I saw it, and I've seen it a couple of times since. When it's done with immense love, it really moves you. That's why we go to the theatre, isn't it? To feel stuff.
Josh Piterman stars in The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre
Read more about the new cast of The Phantom of the Opera here
Photo credit: Johan Persson