Singer, actor and songwriter RICHARD FLEESHMAN will be appearing in Kings of Broadway, a special concert celebrating legendary composers Jerry Herman, Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne, at London’s Palace Theatre on Sunday 29 November.
The latest show from Alex Parker and Alastair Knights, the creative team behind the staging of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music which played the Palace in January, Kings of Broadway will be the first performance presented by the newly formed Alex Parker Theatre Company.
Also in the cast are Alistair Brammer (Miss Saigon), Janie Dee (The Seagull), Jamie Parker (High Society, Guys and Dolls) and the star of the popular TV series Last Tango in Halifax, Anne Reid.
A 30-piece orchestra will join the stars on stage to perform music from many of Broadway’s most enduringly popular shows. Classic musicals featured include: Hello, Dolly!, La Cage Aux Folles, Funny Girl, Gypsy, Sunday in the Park With George, Mame, Company and Follies.
Richard Fleeshman’s stage credits include Damsels in Distress (Chichester Festival Theatre), Urinetown (St James Theatre), Ghost the Musical at the Piccadilly Theatre and on Broadway (for which he won the WhatsOnStage.com Award for Best Actor in a Musical) and Legally Blonde at the Savoy Theatre. His big break on screen came with the role of Craig Harris in Coronation Street. Other screen credits include BBC drama All the Small Things – he co-wrote the end credits song with Elton John and the series creator Debbie Horsfield (Richard has also appeared on tour with Elton John). He also filmed a recent episode of Call the Midwife.
In 2003 Richard was the youngest celebrity contestant to win a Stars in Their Eyes celebrity special (at 13). He also won Soapstar Superstar in 2006 and received £200,000 for his chosen Charity, The Kirsty Appeal.
Richard took time out to meet Musical Theatre Review contributor, Tal Fox.
Does Kings of Broadway have a storyline or is it focused on being a tribute?
It brings together lots of different songs written by Jerry Herman, Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne. I know Alex Parker (producer and conductor) and Alastair Knights (director) have a good overview of what they want and there are some amazing people involved.
Is there one song that you’re especially looking forward to performing?
I’m involved in a couple of group things, but I’m singing just one number on my own. I’m looking forward to the song I’ve been given, although I’m keeping it a surprise! In fact, I’ve never done any Stephen Sondheim so it’s going to be quite an interesting night. It’s a challenge in the fact that it’s very unlike anything I’ve done.
There has been a recent trend for shows like Jerry’s Girls, Pure Imagination and Bacharach Re-imagined. Why do you think theatre is now turning around to pay tribute to great composers?
I don’t think Stephen Sondheim needs any help, people revere him globally. He’s incredible and it’s lovely to celebrate his work as often as possible. For things like Pure Imagination, which I saw on opening night, I have to say I didn’t know that Leslie Bricusse was responsible for such an unbelievable catalogue.
I think it’s a lovely thing to look at what these writers have achieved and then put some kind of show together. I think the creators execute them exquisitely well. I was completely blown away by the Bacharach show Close to You, it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in a while. What’s lovely about it is you don’t feel the need to go ‘What’s it about?’, just go along, it’s utterly brilliant.
What made you transition from television to the stage?
I think when people say ‘the switch”, it sounds like I went from plumbing to sky diving, I didn’t. My first jobs just all happened to be on TV and then I had opportunities that led me into shows. Since then I’ve being doing shows and doing stuff back on TV. It’s not quite as Jekyll and Hyde as it sounds, it’s still the same thing.
I was really, really lucky to get an audition for Legally Blonde and obviously I’d grown up doing theatre since I was a kid with my parents being actors. I’d always watch them as a kid. My mum spent my entire childhood doing TV shows and my dad spent my entire childhood on stage. Since then it has kind of switched a bit, but that is what I knew, so I had the best of both worlds. After school I would go and be on set with my mum and then I might go on another night to the theatre and watch my dad’s show. So it never really felt like they were two separate things. It’s something I intend to keep doing.
Considering your family’s background, was an acting career inevitable?
I think that if I had said I was going to be a lawyer they would have been absolutely over the moon, but it just didn’t happen that way. What’s lovely about my parents is that they’ve seen the pitfalls and the upside of the business. Things have been incredibly tough at times – as it would be for anyone. It’s never going to be plain sailing.
I think it was fairly apparent I wanted to perform from when I was about five years old! When they realised that is what I wanted to do, they said get your education first and then you can do whatever you want.
You have been a performer as a child and an adult. What has that experience been like?
You’re always learning stuff, on a daily basis. I say to myself, if I only had thought of that or approached that differently. I think that’s part of the joy and the nightmare of being a performer, you’re constantly on the road to improvement, and if you’re not then you’re doing something wrong. If an actor or musician even tells you: ‘I’ve got it, I’m good’, then they’re idiots because you haven’t, and undoubtedly the greats who are 70 or 80 years old probably sit down and go, ‘Why did I do that?’ Everyone has those insecurities and you constantly learn; from people who are older than you, people who are younger than you, even people the same age as you.
Was there a difference in the reception of Ghost in the West End and on Broadway?
Yes, a few differences. The audiences in America are a lot louder, but the musical community really took Ghost to its heart in England. We had people coming back four or five times, they had lost relatives and loved ones and they found it really cathartic. I think we had a good per cent of people do that.
Ironically, there is a much higher level of cynicism on Broadway when they come and see something, so inevitably that sometimes places a barrier on audiences allowing themselves to go on the journey. There were plenty of people who adored it too though.
It was an amazing experience, to be able to take a show and see how it fits in with different cultures and people. Even though we speak the same language, and we are essentially very similar, there are still differences. The main thing for me was when I was the only British guy playing an American in a mainly American cast in front of 1,500 Americans. I used to really enjoy it because I would go and do ‘Talk backs’ after the show and people would ask questions and I would answer. Then they would say: ‘What’s happened to your voice?’
In 2006 you performed on Soapstars Superstars raising £200,000 for the Kirsty Appeal. How did you get involved with the appeal and is this something you have returned to or would like to return to?
Kirsty Howard became a really close friend, we had each other’s phone numbers and we used to chat a lot. I went to her birthday parties. It’s incredibly sad that she has gone, I spoke to her sister only the other day.
Kirsty was never well from the moment she was born, she was incredibly ill, but she still had that beautiful smile and spirit. I guess because of Kirsty’s spirit, when you spent time when her, all the noise of the machines that she relied on her just faded away. You were just spending time with this gorgeous, beautiful girl. The doctors said when she was four years old that she wouldn’t live to see five and miraculously she made it to 20, which is kind of astonishing. It was a victory over her circumstances to have reached the age of 20 and to have achieved so much and genuinely made such a difference to people. Not just the people whose lives she saved by raising all this money, but all the people at the respite house whose jobs she saved by campaigning so hard, and the people she befriended. I really benefited from knowing Kirsty. We met by chance when I was in Coronation Street and I fell in love with her instantly as many people did. When I won the money through Soapstar Superstar, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to give it to Kirsty. That’s how we started off and then became good friends. What will be lovely is the legacy and this amazing charity, it’s still raising loads of money.
Do you have anything else lined up? Anything you’d like to do next?
Yes, there is, but I can’t talk about it just yet. Early next year, maybe the middle of next year – stay tuned. I write a lot of my own stuff, me and a guy called Max Milner work together and we’re doing a concert at Kettner’s Jazz Club on 20 November, so that’s the next thing.
* Get your tickets for Kings of Broadway here: www.musicaltheatrereview.entstix.com/tickets/kings-of-broadway
* Kings of Broadway, celebrating the music of legendary Broadway composers Jerry Herman, Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne, will be performed for one night only at the Palace Theatre, London on Sunday November 29.
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Kings of Broadway concert – cast includes Richard Fleeshman and Janie Dee – News