The former star of Coronation Street and The Bill tells us about returning to iconic musical The Sound of Music to play Captain von Trapp.
Hi Andrew. The Sound of Music is one of those musicals that means so much to so many people. What does it mean to you?
For me, it’s all about hope and love. I don’t think you can hide from the fact that it’s a bit of a crazy world at the minute.
With The Sound of Music, for a couple of hours you can sit in a theatre and see people who’ve lost everything get something back.
It has a real presence of danger in it and it’s not a million miles away from what’s happening in certain countries now, but it is also escapism, and we all need a bit of that, don’t we?
I think the reason why it is possibly the greatest musical of all time and certainly one of the most popular is that it’s just full of hope and love and fun.
You’ve played the role of Captain von Trapp before, in 2016. Was it a difficult decision to return to the role?
I had to think for all of 20 seconds about coming back to it. I was delighted.
When it came to my last show I was feeling all the emotion of everything the show can bring and I remember walking off stage and saying, “I can’t not do that show again.”
You have a new Maria this time round, Emilie Fleming. What does she bring to the role?
Maria is probably the biggest female musical theatre role. Whoever plays it really has to inhabit it and own it. All the Marias that I’ve seen and worked with in this production have been exceptional. Emilie is every bit as special, funny and quirky.
Captain von Trapp is also an iconic role. How do you balance following Christopher Plummer’s performance in the film with bringing your own interpretation to the part?
I was determined to find the sense of humour and loving human being that must be in him. This is a man who’s lost everything. He’s lost his wife. He’s losing his country to the Nazis. But there’s a big clue to finding him in the fact that there are seven children. If you’re a grumpy guy, you give up after one or two, don’t you? They kept on having children and loved each other so much, and then the lights went off in his life, I think.
He’s trying very hard to keep things together for his children and for his country and he just can’t, so he puts his wall up. Then this sunbeam comes into his house and breaks those walls down.
It’s a lovely journey to play. It’s hard and it’s a big sing. You feel you’ve got a responsibility, but it’s a good responsibility.
How are you feeling about taking that responsibility on tour across the UK?
I love touring. It keeps you fresh. All our stops are wonderful venues. Touring literally gives people all over the country a chance to see West End productions. It can be expensive to go to the theatre, so you’ve got to give people something that’s real value for money, which I think we absolutely do with The Sound of Music.
You’ve had such an eclectic career. What do people recognise you from most?
Down south is The Bill and up north it’s Coronation Street. Those two roles changed my life, but The Bill I was in for seven years. It was a massive part of my life.
When you played Frank Farmer in Coronation Street, you were labelled “TV’s Most Hated Man”. Was that a difficult label to leave behind?
Well, I’m playing Captain von Trapp, so obviously not. People are, on the whole, very nice about it.
How did you get into performance?
I don’t really know. I was going to play on the right wing for Everton, there was no question about that!
I just remember understanding acting a bit, going on stage and making people laugh. I could sing, and that introduced me to performing in front of audiences and getting paid for it. I used to go round old people’s homes and sing. That’s how I got my Equity card. Musical theatre was a big influence.
What were the shows that made an impact?
The show I remember watching, the one that opened my eyes to musical theatre, was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. We had the original album and we played it until it broke. Even now, you give me a chord, a line, a note from that show and I could tell you what the next line is. I was infatuated with it. My Mum also had the single version of If I Were a Rich Man by Topol. Fiddler on the Roof is still my favourite musical. So they were the two that made me go “What are musicals?” If a musical came on telly I’d watch it.
In those days, there were only three channels and The Sound of Music would be on every Christmas Day, so The Sound of Music meant Christmas to me.
You’ve achieved so much in your career to date. Are there any other ambitions to fulfil?
There are a couple of things I’d still like to do on stage. I haven’t done a Chekhov and I haven’t been to New York as an actor. I think they’re things one should do.
Blackpool will be great because it’s half term.
The Sound of Music is a great show to come and see when you’re on half term.
The family and I can all stay close by – a lodge or a log cabin or something like that.
The Sound of the Music is at the Opera House Tuesday 18 February – Saturday 22 February 2020. Book tickets here.