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John Barrowman Gets a Leg Up!

The British stage and television favorite steps into the role of Albin in La Cage Aux Folles

John Barrowman
(© Dan Halliman)
As John Barrowman walks into the bar at the Playhouse Theatre, where he will begin his run as Albin in the acclaimed West End revival of the musical La Cage Aux Folles on September 14, it is obvious that the man has been working very, very hard. "I'm just a bit tired," he admits. "I'm in rehearsals at the moment from 10 o'clock until about 5, and then I usually do press until 6."

All the press attention is not surprising. Although Barrowman began his career in musical theater, in shows including Anything Goes, Miss Saigon and Phantom Of The Opera, he has become known to a wider audience thanks to his starring role in the BBC series Doctor Who and Torchwood and his place on the judging panel of talent-search shows such as How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and Any Dream Will Do.

However, since his casting in La Cage was announced, there have been certain criticisms levelled, in part because the lead roles of Albin and his lover Georges have traditionally been played men a good decade older than Barrowman, who will be 43 in March, and his co-star Simon Burke, who turns 48 this year. Unsurprisingly, this sort of sniping makes Barrowman extremely angry. "The purists think that because I'm a celebrity now, that makes me less of an artist," he says, adding that the age issue is no issue at all. "But Simon is slightly older than I am, so Georges could conceivably have had a grown child, and I could have been the stepmom. We have an answer for all of it! We've got it all worked out."

The role of Albin is coveted by many actors because of its alter ego -- the drag queen Zaza -- and while previous actors have donned glamorous floor-length gowns, Barrowman has had the skirts slashed. "All my dresses are different. They're styled for a younger and a slimmer man," he notes, before hastily adding: "That's not to say I don't have my muffin top and my love handles!" Indeed, he grabs a small roll of flesh from his midriff to demonstrate his point -- and reminisces about the six-pack abs he had a few years ago -- but then snaps back to the present to enthuse about his dresses. "I love wearing them. I think it's really liberating to walk around in high heels and a frock."

John Barrowman as Zaza
(© Simon Turtle)
The stilettos may not scare him, but the make-up does. "I don't put false eyelashes on normally, and I have to set them on my eye at a particular point in the song. 'I Put A Little More Mascara On'," he explains. "I don't have any problem doing the blush and the eye make-up, it's the false eyelashes that worry me. If you miss them, then they're on your cheek. It's not going to look good, is it? I think if it goes wrong, I'll just take them off and have them put on afterwards. We'll have to see."

Much in demand for his multiple skills, Barrowman's calendar for 2010 is already booked up, with engagements including another concert tour and his now-traditional Yuletide panto. He is clearly very proud of having been able to switch between stage and screen -- what he calls "the crossover thing" -- and promises that there will be more television appearances to come from him. "If another judging show happens, I will be involved," he says. "I've already had a conversation with the BBC about it. And there's going to be hopefully a fourth season of Torchwood. Frankly and bluntly, I would say they'd be stupid not to. It's so massive everywhere."

For now, though, he'll be in sparkly sequins in the West End every night, and not worrying about the harsh words of doom-mongers. "I'm doing it for the audience that's sitting there enjoying themselves and watching and listening to a love story that's told on stage and a family story that's told on stage," he says.