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20 Questions With...Brent Barrett

American musical star Brent Barrett, who returns to the West End this month with the hit Broadway revival of Kiss Me Kate, explains why he's a big fan of Michael Blakemore, Matthew Bourne, Mayor Ken & London.

By • West End


Since making his debut there in a 1980 production of West Side Story, Brent Barrett has become one of Broadway's biggest musical names. His Great White Way appearances have included starring roles in Candide, Brigadoon, Dance a Little Closer, Annie Get Your Gun (opposite Reba McIntire) and Chicago, for which he received a Los Angeles Drama Critics Award.

Barrett made his West End debut in 1992's Grand Hotel at the Dominion Theatre. He has also performed in London as part of The Proms (with Wonderful Town in 1999) and at the Royal Festival Hall in On the Town.

As a singer, Barrett has performed as a soloist with the likes of the Boston Pops, Vienna Radio Symphony, The National Orchestra of France, the BBC Concert Orchestra, the London Sinfonetta and the Birmingham Symphony. His solo recordings include The Kander and Ebb Album which he'll soon following up with the release of a new CD based on the work of Alan Jay Lerner.

Barrett is back in the West End now to star as Fred Graham/Petruchio in the transfer of the hit Broadway revival of Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate, directed by Michael Blakemore. He is joined in the cast by fellow Americans Marin Mazzie, Michael Berresse and Nancy Anderson


Date & place of birth
Born 28 February in Quinter, Kansas, USA.

Now live in...
New York city

Trained at...
Fort Hays State University & Carnegie Mellon University.

First big break
The 1980 revival of West Side Story (making his Broadway debut, at the Minskoff Theatre). First I was Diesel then I moved up to Mouthpiece/Tony understudy, and then I was Tony for the last three months.

Career highlights
Chicago (playing Billy Flynn on Broadway), The Kander & Ebb Album, doing Grand Hotel in the West End, and now Kiss Me Kate.

Favourite production you've worked on
The show I'm working on currently is always my favourite. It kind of has to be in order to do it eight times a week.

Favourite director
Michael Blakemore (Kiss Me Kate's director), hands down. He had the good sense to hire me, of course! But seriously, he has tremendous intelligence, humour and good taste. Michael is meticulous in his direction, and he has such scope to be able to direct Kiss Me Kate as well as he has and to also direct something like Copenhagen.

Favourite choreographer
That's a difficult one. I've worked with a lot of wonderful choreographers including Susan Stroman and Kathleen Marshall (from Kiss Me Kate). But there's one I haven't worked with who's a favourite too - Matthew Bourne. After seeing The Car Man, Swan Lake and My Fair Lady, I've fallen in love with the way he tells stories and his sense of humour. I would love to work with him.

What role would you most like to play still?
Billy Bigelow in Carousel. It's such a complex character and I'd like to get to tackle that. Harold Hill in The Music Man would be fun to do, too.

What does being in a West End musical mean to you? Have you noticed any changes since playing Grand Hotel here in 1992?
I love London and love working here. Any time I get the chance to come over, I do. There's such a wonderful tradition of the theatre in London and every time I'm here I feel honoured to be able to participate in that. With no disrespect to anyone, I feel like the quality of ensemble has risen since I was here before - there are better dancers, better singers, and they're more focused on their profession. The West End is taking musicals more seriously now.

How does performing on Broadway differ from performing in the West End?
The biggest difference is the audience. The wonderful thing about being in London is that the audience still listen. They listen to everything you say, they listen to the lyrics and they respond to them. I've been surprised at the response we're getting from the songs in Kiss Me Kate. These beautiful Cole Porter lyrics are very funny and audience here are picking up on all of them - that makes it so easy and so much fun to play. On Broadway, I think, with MTV, certainly our younger audience members are more visually stimulated.

What's the best thing currently on stage (not inc this production)?
Stones in His Pockets (at the Duke of York's). Also Private Lives (with Alan Rickman and Linsday Duncan at the Albery). That was wonderful because Amanda and Elyot's relationship kind of mirrors that of Fred and Lilli in Kiss Me Kate. They love to hate each other.

What advice would you give the government - American or British - to secure the future of theatre?
I think in order to maintain theatre we have to start out in the schools. It's very important for the government to recognise the role of all the arts in the school. In America, if something has to be cut, the drama and art classes are always the first to go, they're seen as unnecessary. I hope that the American authorities will re-evaluate their priorities.

Favourite book
Over the summer, I read Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin. I was very sorry when it was over.

Favourite holiday destination
I'm a Pisces, so I go in both directions - it could be skiing in Aspen or scuba diving in Belize.

Favourite website
I don't have a favourite site, but I do have my own - www.brentbarrett.com - and enjoy receiving emails from that.

Why did you want to accept your part in Kiss Me Kate?
I had seen this production when it opened originally on Broadway and I loved it. Fred Graham/Petruchio is such a great part. There are very few male roles in musical theatre of this size and scope - I mean you get Shakespeare, the Cole Porter score and a very funny libretto.

What's your favourite number from Kiss Me Kate?
It's one I'm not in, but I love to watch the end of "Too Darn Hot" every night. That's a great number.

What's your favourite line from Kiss Me Kate?
There are so many witty lyrics. In "Where Is the Life that Late I Led", which Petruchio sings, I like "What scandalous doins in the ruins of Pompeii".

What's the most notable thing that has happened during rehearsals for Kiss Me Kate?
Taking a page out of Rudy Guiliani's book, mayor Ken Livingstone came to help support the West End theatres. He attended a rehearsal last Monday and then did some interviews. I have to say him bringing some focus onto the show has really helped in terms of the rest of the press taking notice.

What are your future plans?
I'm bringing out a new CD of the works of Alan Jay Lerner. I recorded it just before I left the States. It should be on sale in the theatre here in a few months.

- Brent Barrett was speaking to Terri Paddock


Kiss Me Kate opens at the Victoria Palace Theatre on 30 October 2001, following previews from 19 October.


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