BWW Interview: Tim Howar Talks THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
Canadian actor and singer Tim Howar's past work includes Les Misérables, The Who's Tommy, Chess, and the 10th Anniversary production of Rent. He's also in the band Mike + The Mechanics.
Currently, he's tackling one of the most iconic roles in musical theatre: playing the Phantom in the West End production.
What was the first play or musical you saw that inspired you?
There are two. Annie (1981, West End, on my first visit to London), and the play Bonjour, Là, Bonjour by Michel Tremblay.
Was it difficult to choose between ballet, singing and acting, and what was it about the latter two that really felt like your long-term passion?
Yes, it was difficult, as ballet is very addictive as an art form, but in the end it's all about storytelling and ultimately human drama, so acting won out - with singing a close second. To me, singing and acting allow me to continue to tell stories physically for as long as possible.
What was your first professional acting job?
The Artful Dodger in Oliver! - in Canada, aged 18.
You've played some amazing iconic roles - what are some of your personal highlights?
Doing the 10th Anniversary of Rent on Broadway and working with Colm Wilkinson on Les Mis were definite highlights. So was understudying Donny Osmond in Joseph at the start of my career, and getting my first lead in The Who's Tommy. And, of course, now playing the iconic role of Phantom! Anything with a big cast I love.
How would you compare the Canadian theatre scene to the UK and US, and what did you take from those different experiences as a performer?
Canada is dynamic and proudly Canadian in content, so you get plays about struggles in Canada such as subversive humanity pitted against the rugged landscape. We're not afraid to ruffle feathers, but only if the message is worth conveying - be it finding balance through today's stereotypes, such as man versus woman, human sexuality, political unrest, be it historical or recent.
The UK and Broadway have more commercial needs, but if you dig a bit they are equally, if not more, exciting. It's nice to see more plays and musicals transferring between all three areas of recent.
What do you particularly love about performing in a band, vs performing as an actor? And does one inform the other?
They are both about telling a good story - that's the key. The voices might be different, but the message is crucial to both successes.
What attracted you to the Chess revival, and was that good preparation going into Phantom?
Chess was a dream role that I thought had passed me by. Having a 65-piece orchestra was so exciting, along with 40ft video screens and live cameras picking up all the action. Benny and Bjorn and all the creative team were amazing, and it was fantastic to perform alongside my dear friend Michael Ball.
Plus my son Hamish was born on the opening preview, which stopped the show, and I spent a couple of nights sleeping on a hospital floor then doing the show at night, which made me feel prepared for anything!
In terms of the role preparing me for Phantom, there is a similarity in the characters of both Freddie and Eric in that they are both extremely gifted and tormented, yet through the course of their stories they find a form of redemption.
Were you familiar with the show beforehand, and had you seen/heard other Phantoms?
Yes. I saw a bunch of other Phantoms over the years as I love the show.
What are you excited about now you're returning to the role after touring with Mike and the Mechanics?
I am excited to be back with the wonderful cast at Her Majesty's and be back behind the mask telling this epic tale. It is nice to come back after a sold-out tour with the band to sold-out audiences in London every night. I feel so proud and privileged to be a part of this show.
What are the biggest challenges?
I would say the biggest challenge is not cooking the turkey too soon!
In other words, trusting that the orchestrations, the staging and your fellow actors are all helping the drama unfold. Personally, the task of being the abused, caged animal and the astute musical architect in one are equally demanding.
Vocally, it's a very exciting and challenging role due to the emotional dynamics and the range. Physically, it is equally demanding, as you have to be convincingly disfigured yet vulnerable and powerful all at the same time. It's an actor's dream to play such a marvellous role.
How have you found it working with the cast and creative team?
It has genuinely been an absolute pleasure to be included in this wonderful team. I feel so lucky.
What does it mean to you to lead this beloved show in the West End?
It's a great honour to be a kid from northern Alberta playing the Phantom! I give my all every single show, because that's what the role demands and deserves.
Do you have a favourite number or moment in the show?
When I'm sitting in the Angel and Christine is recounting the horrors of the Phantom's lair to Raoul, the orchestrations are so luscious but also dark and gritty. It's a sublime moment of storytelling.
Any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Mike + the Mechanics are opening for a few dates of Phil Collins' arena tour coming up. I am also working on a few albums - a solo project and a Broadway/West End album.
And do you have any dream roles or collaborators on your bucket list?
This IS the dream role!
Finally, why do you think Phantom is so enduring, and if someone hasn't seen it yet (or hasn't seen your take!), why should they come along?
Phantom is an Andrew Lloyd Webber masterpiece. It's a story of love, betrayal, horror and heart with a timeless humanity and soaring melodies. Audiences rave about it because the score, staging and just the whole experience remain mesmerising night after night. Thank you Andrew and Cameron for the opportunity of a lifetime!
Photo credit: Johan Persson