After making his West End debut as Chris in Miss Saigon and sailing through his role in Show Boat, New Yorker CHRIS PELUSO is bringing his talents to the UK stage once more, this time alongside Sheridan Smith in the national tour of Funny Girl.
The next stop for Funny Girl is Bristol Hippodrome (21-25 March) and the tour is currently scheduled to run until 19 August. (At some performances the role of Fanny Brice is played by Natasha J Barnes.)
Musical Theatre Review’s Polly Sisley caught up with Chris in the early stages of the tour.
How has the tour been going so far?
It’s going really well. The audiences are so fantastic. I’m really excited to explore UK cities. I’ve been loving Manchester and Liverpool, so it’s definitely been really fun so far.
What was it that encouraged you to get into the performing arts?
I fell into it actually, being a slightly odd kid. Along with singing, I would always imitate noises and people’s voices. I remember my mum wrote me a little talent show act and from that performance a person in the audience approached me and said: ‘Hey, I have a performing troop called The North Star Kids, do you want to be a part of it?’, so I decided to try it out!
We would wear red, sequinned vests and white pants, I mean we were only little kids doing a really showy thing, it was cute.
I actually started off as a baseball player, though, and I wanted to sing for the National All-Star game in town. So, I went into this audition not having done anything professional before, I didn’t even have anything prepared.
They told me to sing ‘Let’s Go Fly a Kite’ and I ended up getting the lead in this mini show at the All-Star game. I think that was the first sort of ‘bug’ that really got me into performing. I then started taking classes after school, and from that point I had to make the decision between baseball and performing. When I was in my seventh or eighth grade I decided to stop baseball, and focus on performing.
Picking between two passions must have been quite a task?
It was. I think it was hard because I loved playing baseball, but at the same time I knew that I was really focused on performing. Don’t get me wrong, I was good at baseball, but I think I had more of a hold on performing. I knew instinctively that I would be a better performer than a baseball player. I could see myself working in the field of theatre, but with baseball I had no idea whether or not I could be a professional.
What’s it like working opposite Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl?
She is honestly one of the best actresses I will probably ever work with. She is very, very funny, but is also able to do serious, dramatic scenes very well. That’s something that is really rare; to be as funny as she is and as serious as she is.
I myself am not anywhere near that good, especially in relation to funnier side of things, so I’ve learnt quite a bit from watching her relationship with the audience.
She uses the audience and the actors on stage in a way that is very difficult. A lot of good actors may have a great interaction with the audience but tend to lose a connection with the other actors on stage. She, on the other hand, is able to maintain a very strong engagement with people both on and off the stage. She’s just very impressive.
What’s the best and worst thing about touring?
I think the worst thing about touring is turning up to an apartment or hotel and there’s not a refrigerator!
I can imagine, that must be devastating!
Ha ha, right! It’s not knowing what to expect in each city. In some places, you’ll get a really nice hotel or flat and in others it’s surprising how little you have.
But the best thing about touring is that you get to explore a new place every week. The good thing about being in the UK is there’s not really a journey that takes so long it puts you out – the journey from one place to the next is only ever three or four hours. If I’m touring the US, sometimes we’re forced to fly or ship our cars because the journey between cities is just too long, so this experience has been much nicer
You’re playing Nick Arnstein in Funny Girl. Do you like him?
I never want to decide whether I like or dislike my character. Even though Nick has many faults, I think you have to approach his character with an understanding that he’s making decisions that he thinks are best.
Nick is a professional gambler and there’s nothing wrong with that profession. Society may see it as slightly negative, but that’s how he earns a living. He invests in breeding racing horses, so he’s an investor and a gambler. I’ve never really seen him as a bad guy,
In Act II, without giving too much away, Fanny doesn’t want him to travel so much. Now to be a successful gambler, you can’t spend all of your time around the same table, you’ve literally got to travel to different areas at different times of the year in accordance with the tourists, that’s just how you make money.
If Nick decides to do as Fanny wishes and not travel, he loses a lot of money and income. I think Nick does have a breaking point when he realises that he is a kept man and it slowly destroys him.
When you’re faced with such a role, how do you research it?
My grandfather was a gambler. I remember going to many card games he would run in the basement of a church. Therefore, I have quite an intimate experience with not just casino gamblers, but also secretive ones. I learnt that they’re not all bad people and that helped when It came to playing Nick.
At the recent WhatsOnStage Awards, Funny Girl beat Show Boat for Best Musical Revival. You previously starred as Gaylord in Show Boat, so how did that feel?
I’m happy for all. I mean, I wasn’t in the London production of Funny Girl, but I am now. I’m really happy for Sheridan, for the producers, for the company, because I think it’s a very special show.
I mixed it with disappointment for my other company, but I would say there was more happiness. I don’t take award shows super seriously, but I think they’re nice to have and they’re great to showcase all the hard work people have put in.
Now, with the Olivier Awards around the corner, both musicals have again been nominated for Best Revival. Of course, only one of them is going to win but that’s okay, I can only see it as a good thing. I feel so lucky to be a part of two amazing productions, even more so being a lead in both. It just feels so special.
What’s your favourite musical of all time?
Oh, that’s a hard one! I have such a strong emotional attachment to West Side Story. It’s one of my favourite scores. I cannot say the book is my favourite, but the choreography is just special. West Side Story was one of the first shows I watched and I remember being blown away by It. I did a production and played Tony when I was young in a great theatre in Massachusetts. It’s just really special to me. My heart is with that musical.
Do you have any plans after the tour?
I hope to stay in the UK because I actually prefer living here, but I acknowledge that part of being an actor is that you have to take jobs, wherever they come from.
So, London beats New York?
Summer in New York City is just the worst thing ever. It’s so hot and muggy. You’re always so uncomfortable. I prefer chilly to super-hot, so I’m really loving my time touring here in the UK.
* Chris Peluso plays Nick Arnstein in the national tour of Funny Girl. His theatre work in the UK includes Show Boat (New London Theatre), Miss Saigon (Prince Edward Theatre) and Death Takes a Holiday (Charing Cross Theatre); and in the US, Mamma Mia! (Winter Garden Theater), Beautiful (Stephen Sondheim Theater), Wicked (tour), The Glorious One (The Lincoln Center), Assassins (Studio 54) and Lestat (Palace Theater).