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Simon Bowman on new musical The Prodigals and his memories of Miss Saigon

As he prepares to star in The Prodigals at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, West End star Simon Bowman tells WhatsOnStage how it feels to get back in uniform

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Simon Bowman in rehearsals for The Prodigals
© Keith Pattinson

The Prodigals is a brand new work by Ray Goudie and Joe Harmston. It was tried out in Edinburgh [in 2011] and got rave reviews, but this version is the complete story.

The show is based on the Biblical story of The Prodigal Son, which is about Jesus' acceptance of sinners. Our particular story is set in modern-day Afghanistan, and is about Colonel Luke Gibson, played by myself, who has two sons.

The elder is a Captain in the military but the younger one gets involved in the rock 'n' roll scene which leads to an incident that disgraces his family and the military.

So the story's really about the unconditional love of the father who must overcome social constraints to forgive his son, which in turn causes conflict with the family, and the regiment.

The music and choreography [by Natalie Murdoch] are extremely innovative, fusing contemporary pop and street dance.

I'm very fussy about things I take but when I read this I thought 'wow, this is really different'. It's really reflective of what's happening in both the pop music and military worlds today.

There are definitely similarities with Miss Saigon. Not just the military setting, but that feeling that it's a really exciting, innovate project to be involved in. Now, like then, I have a really good gut feeling about the piece.

Simon Bowman and Lea Salonga in Miss Saigon
The news that Saigon is coming back to the West End undoubtedly prompted some nostalgia. It was a very special production for all of us who originated those roles.

I loved playing the Phantom, Jean Valjean and Elvis Presley [in Are You Lonesome Tonight?], but the role of Chris will always be especially close to my heart. Even though I played it in my early 20s, people still come and see me in things today because of it.

It was very emotional seeing Lea [Salonga] at the Les Miserables 25th anniversary concert. Even though she's in her 40s now, as soon as I saw her it was like she was 17 again. I'll never forget her first audition, when she picked up the music like a human computer. She was brilliant, and still is.

I wish the new production well and I know they're planning a film of it soon, so who knows, I might get a cameo!

When we started in Saigon it was a golden period for new musicals. Sadly it seems that a lot of shows today are out to make a quick buck, which is why it's very important to get behind quality new musicals, like The Prodigals.

I've actually written my own musical, which I'm hopeful I can get off the ground in the next few years. I'm also planning to tour a concert show, featuring some of my own material - I feel it's time to put it out there now. I should have the dates confirmed in the next couple of months.

The Prodigals, which also stars Greg Oliver, Sam Ferriday and Sarah Watson, runs at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry from 30 August to 14 September