In the first of a two-part interview, we caught up with Will Barratt, who plays Raoul in the London production of The Phantom of the Opera, to find out all about his musical theatre experiences and his time on Phantom. Watch out for more from Will next week when he answers a selection of YOUR questions…
What’s the first musical you remember seeing?
Funnily enough I actually think it was this – I distinctly remember seeing Phantom many years ago, when I was in my early teens, with my father and my stepmother. Before that I’m sure I must have seen other musicals, but this one really stuck in my mind.
What inspired you to go into musical theatre?
I’m sure Phantom had a hand in it! But I’ve always been a musician, I’ve always played the piano. That was my Mum and my Nan’s influence – having piano and keyboard lessons. I was also singing in choirs, but I don’t think it really went in the direction of musical theatre until later on, when I’d done my degree and a lot of performing and plays and musical theatre. That made me realise it was what I wanted to do.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
I’m very lucky to have a supportive family, so my Nan has given me those keyboard lessons and my Mum was quite dogmatic about making me go! I went to the Royal Northern College of Music on Saturdays to learn piano – that was definitely their influence. I’m also very fortunate that my father has been very supportive too. He is also a performer, doing lots of amateur stuff, that’s always been in his blood. So I couldn’t really say there was just one person who influenced me.
When did you discover you could sing?
(Laughs) In the shower! No, I remember being in choirs when I was little, and before my voice broke I sang The Snowman at the Victoria Hall in Stoke-On-Trent with the BBC Philharmonic – I got chosen with my school choir to do that. After my voice broke I didn’t sing for a while because often your voice changes so dramatically and I didn’t like the sound of it for a while. When I was at college at about 16 I started singing properly again and it sounded alright!
Well, I’ve been here for nearly two years, I was previously in the Ensemble and first cover to Raoul, and was fortunate enough to be offered the role full-time last September. The most memorable experience has got to be the 10,000th performance. It was a very exciting night, and the energy was amazing. A lot of the audience were there because they knew it was the 10,000th show, but some weren’t and were just surprised by the appearance of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the original Phantom, Michael Crawford. It was amazing meeting him, because I’ve been listening to the CD for years and to meet the man who actually recorded it was stunning. He was absolutely lovely as well. And the confetti canons and everything going off at the end – it was a magical night. Every night is great, but nights like that are always memorable, and obviously there is the 25th anniversary coming up this year…
Another memorable night for completely different reasons was having Kara Tointon and Artem Chigvinstev from last year’s Strictly Come Dancing in to watch the show – they did a Phantom-themed dance on Strictly so they came into see the show and we met them afterwards. It was nice to meet them and hopefully inspire them in their dance, which was amazing.
Is there anyone you have met or could imagine meeting that would make you starstruck?
There’s several people I think! I have a few idols – I had the great fortune of meeting one of them, Elton John, and I was a bit stuck for words. It was after the Billy Eliot premiere and he was a lovely man – I’ve always thought he is a stellar talent, amazing. I’d love to meet Shirley Bassey, Barbara Streisand – the real powerhouse singers, that would make me truly starstruck. Acting-wise, Anthony Hopkins and Gary Oldman – who I did actually meet when I was working at university – I gave him his ticket at the cinema, because he happened to be going to the cinema I was working at and I recognised him! He was doing Harry Potter at the time – I was a little bit starstruck then…
How do you keep performances fresh every night?
That’s the question that comes up most often when people ask about the show. The good thing is, we get notes and we have rehearsals quite often so that keeps it fresh, you’ve constantly got things to think about, changing things, changing your approach to the scenes. And my part is quite nice because I have a lovely story arc – at the beginning I see Christine for the first time in many years, and then the story progresses from there, so I can make a new start of it every night. Going into the dressing room and seeing her can be different, there can be a new thought behind it every night. I think that’s the main thing. Another thing is, it keeps itself fresh in a way, because every night the audience is different, so you get various reactions, and you’ll have covers on, swings on, sometimes the Alternate Phantom, you’ll have different people on doing different things and that keeps it fresh as well, because you’re constantly working in new situations. Little things might change, like where you’re standing. And sometimes things go wrong, which keeps it fresh!
When in the show do you think Raoul falls in love with Christine?
That’s another thing that can change every night. I think I see her and visually fall in love with her – as in, wow, dumbstruck – when I see her singing from the box and think, “She’s a woman now, she’s gorgeous.” And then when I go into the dressing room, it’s not love at first sight because I’ve seen her before, but that’s the proper moment when he falls for her, and sees how truly beautiful and talented she has become. Then the love and the passion becomes rock solid in the moment on the rooftop.
What’s your favourite song in the show?
I still love standing at the side of the stage and listening to ‘Music of the Night,’ and the title song. After I go off after the dressing room scene, I often stand by the side of the stage and watch the process of going down into the lair and singing ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’ For several reasons really, I love the music, and I love the staging and the candles coming through the stage and everything – it’s still magical. ‘Music of the Night’ is probably the song that sticks in my head.
Would you like to play the Phantom?
(Laughs) Yes, of course, it is one of those roles that, as a musical theatre actor, I think most guys would like to play The Phantom and Jean Valjean [from Les Miserables] and parts like that. I’m a bit too young for it now obviously, but yes it is an ambition.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I’m not one to think I have to knock on wood three times before I leave the door and stuff, but there are little things like I always have Trebor Extra Strong mints which I break into four pieces and just have a quarter of a mint because the whole mint is too much and I don’t have time! So I have a piece before most scenes, before the Managers scene, before Masquerade, before the Mausoleum scene. If I don’t I do kind of think, “I must have a mint, got to have a mint!” I also have a little warm-up before scenes, I do a couple of scales before I go onstage, sometimes at the side of the stage singing into my hands just to make sure…
Do you get nervous?
Yes, but not as much anymore. Any time I start a show, the first couple of weeks I definitely have lots of nerves about getting things right, the blocking and being in the right position and remembering the words and things like that. After that, I do still get nervous when I have family in to see the show, because the expectations are there and you want to do well, but apart from that, I don’t get too nervous now. Although nerves do suddenly kick in if something goes wrong and you’ve got to try and correct it and put it back on track.
Who’s your biggest fan?
I think probably my Dad, bless him. My Dad and my stepmum, and my Uncle… probably my Dad though, he comes to see every show I’ve done, many times, and he’s very supportive – and proud, I hope!