John Barrowman
John Barrowman
John Barrowman has a lot on his plate right now, all of it delicious. The tremendously talented, exceptionally handsome star of London and Broadway musicals will make his cabaret debut at Arci's Place in NYC on February 20 in a special engagement that runs through March 2. As if that weren't exciting enough, he's nabbed one of the plum musical theater assignments on the immediate horizon: the central role of Bobby in the production of Company that will be presented as part of the Stephen Sondheim festival at the Kennedy Center this spring and summer. I spoke with J.B. last week about these exciting developments in his burgeoning career.

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THEATERMANIA: What do you have planned for your show at Arci's, John?

JOHN BARROWMAN: I've been asked to sing a lot of songs from the Broadway and Broadway-type shows I've done, but I didn't want to come in and just do song, chat, song, chat. So I've been working with my musical director Jerry Sternbach, going through some things that, maybe, people wouldn't expect me to sing. There'll probably be snippets of the show tunes that you'll recognize, including some songs from my album Reflections from Broadway, but it's going to be an informal evening. I want people to feel like they're sitting with me in my living room and I'm singing to them. I want to let them know a little bit more about me and what other kinds of music I like. There'll be everything from Cole Porter to Johnny Mercer, Henry Mancini...and, of course, Sondheim. You're gonna get some Scottish stuff, too, because that's my heritage. Pretty much a taste of everything.

TM: How about contemporary pop?

JB: We've been working on some pop stuff but probably not for this show, because we don't have a lot of time to put it together. My director is Barry Kleinbort, and I'm sitting down with Bruce Vilanch to write the patter.

TM: You've really never done cabaret before?

JB: Never, though I've done my own concerts and shows before. In some ways, concerts and cabaret are the same except in terms of size; I'll have a piano and a bass rather than a 67-piece orchestra. Cabaret is something new that I want to experiment with. I like the intimacy of it, the idea of having almost a jam session with the audience. And, you know, if we don't stick to the script and we go off on some tangents, that's fine. It's the beauty of that kind of performance.

TM: I'm sure your fans are really looking forward to seeing you perform in that kind of venue. Now, to Company: How amazing is that?

JB: It's fantastic, really. It'll be great to work with Stephen again.

TM: Was he closely involved in Putting It Together when you did the show on Broadway with Carol Burnett?

JB: Oh, yeah. We had music sessions with him and worked directly with him on things like lyric changes. At one point, he came up to me because I was singing a bum note on one of the songs in rehearsal. I said, "I don't why I can't get it, Stephen." He said, "Listen, I'll just change it for you. I'll make it work for you because I love what you do, and it actually sounds fine."

TM: Before you were cast in Company, had you thought of Bobby as a role that you particularly wanted to play?

JB: Honestly, no. I saw a college production of the show when I was in high school, and I saw the documentary on the recording session [of the original cast album]. I've always liked the music and people have said to me "You'd be a great Bobby," but it was never really something I thought about until I got a call from the Roundabout. They were doing the show with Boyd Gaines and they approached me to fill in for him because he was having vocal problems. I couldn't do it because of my commitment to Central Park West and, also, I had agreed to do Sunset Boulevard at that point. When they planned to do Company at the Kennedy Center, they wanted me to fly to New York to meet up with them, but was going snowboarding in Austria and I couldn't change my plans. I was a little bit of a diva! Later, I was in London and I got a call from my agent. He said, "It probably was good that you couldn't meet them in New York, because I think they're just going to offer the part to you." We start rehearsals on April 16.

TM: The score of the show is phenomenal, but I think a lot of people view Bobby as a difficult part because he's so reactive. Have you thought about that yet, or about other challenges of the role?

JB: I'll be totally honest with you: I've thought about nothing. A lot of people have asked me about Bobby and tried to talk to me about him and I've basically told them, "Shush!" Everyone has a preconceived notion as to how he should be played, but I want to go into this with a totally fresh palate. I don't want anyone telling me he's gay, he's straight, he's bisexual, he's confused; I want to figure all that out for myself. [Director] Sean Mathias and I have already discussed certain aspects of the part and he wants me to play it straight down the middle in terms of sexual preference. He doesn't want me to favor "gay" or "straight," because we find that it's irrelevant in this day and age. It was extremely relevant in the '70s, of course, but the show still works when it's not played around that question. So the scene where it seems like Bobby and one of the husbands might get together is not going to be in this production. Oh, and we're not going to be putting "Marry Me a Little" back in at the end of the first act.

TM: Really?

JB: Yes. I love that song, so I'm a little disappointed [Barrowman sang it in Putting It Together], but we're not doing it because the song resolves things for Bobby, whereas "Being Alive" leaves you with the ambiguity of the character. He knows what he wants by the end of the show but he hasn't gone after it yet.

TM: I've heard that the show may be televised. Is that true?

JB: I'm under the impression that PBS is going to tape it. We have a great cast: Lynn Redgrave, Alice Ripley, Emily Skinner, Matt Bogart. I'm very excited about doing it.