As internationally loved star of stage and screen John Barrowman returns to Manchester, Natalie Anglesey sits down with the man himself to talk panto, playing the baddie and seeking new stars...
The pantomime season has arrived! We are spoilt for choice this year with theatres, large and small, vying to encourage audience participation and herald the advent of the seasonal festivities. One particular star who loves this traditional entertainment is no stranger to Manchester, where he has enjoyed some of his greatest triumphs. “I love Manchester because the audiences are so warm and receptive,” Enthuses West End and Broadway musical star John Barrowman, who returns this Christmas as Dick Whittington at the Opera House. Im so looking forward to coming to Manchester this Christmas. I've performed there many times before in concert tours, so it will be great to be there in panto for the first time this year.
“The Americans don’t have a tradition like our pantomime so it’s going to be fun performing again with The Krankies,” John explains. “We have a great time doing pantomime together, which is why I come back to do pantos for Qdos [Entertainment, the worlds biggest pantomime producer].” The Krankies, who are husband-and- wife act Ian and Janette Tough, celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary last year, and will no doubt have audiences shouting ‘Fan-Dabi- Dozi’ at the magical 3D effects in the show. Manchester may be a far cry from John’s various homes in Antigua, Palm Springs, Wales and London but, for his fans, it’s been far too long since we welcomed him into our homes as the host of the BBC’s popular television series Tonight’s The Night. He created the role of Captain Jack Harness in Dr Who and the spin-off series, Torchwood, and convincingly played Patrick the baddie in the American television series Desperate Housewives.
“When the creator of Desperate Housewives invited me to play Patrick, I really wanted to do it. But I didn’t want to spoil the Torchwood deal, so I told him that if I played Patrick he’d have to kill me off and he did! Desperate Housewives was so huge it actually helped to seal the Torchwood deal – so everyone was happy! “ John already shared homes in London and Cardiff with his husband Scott and their beloved dogs but, when he was offered the starring role of Malcolm Merlyn in the acclaimed American television series Arrow, they also needed a base the other side of the pond. “We built a new holiday home in Antigua, which we fell in love with on a Caribbean cruise, and have property in Palm Springs, too. But we’ve always loved Wales and the invitation is still open for you to visit – on condition you bring your bikini! We also recently had a garage sale there and sold all our old furniture and made quite a bit of money for a wonderful children’s hospice nearby called Ty Hatan.” John is delighted that Tonight’s The Night proved such a success. “I took the idea to the BBC based on making dreams come true.
My personal dreams came true when Elaine Paige allowed me, then relatively unknown, to star opposite her in the musical Anything Goes, which established me as a leading man. But I’ll never forget that first night, so the series was all about family entertainment and enjoying others experiencing that same thrill.” After the success of Anything Goes, John appeared in musicals like Matador, Hair, Company, Phantom, Grease and Miss Saigon, in tandem with a successful recording career. When teased about his good looks, John roars with laughter. “I nearly lost Sunset Boulevard because director Sam Mendez thought I was too good-looking. I went to the producer, Cameron Mackintosh, and said ‘give me three days’. I didn’t wash, shave or comb my hair, went back to audition and got the part! When Elaine Paige told me she’d been invited to play Norma Desmond in the show and asked if I’d stay on to support her, things had come full circle!” A talent judge on a series of television shows, John also helped promote the careers of Connie Fisher for the role of Maria in The Sound of Music, Lee Mead for Joseph and Jodie Prenger for Nancy in Oliver!. “I know how hard it is to stand up and be judged, but we’re in a tough profession and rejection is part of that. I was rejected for the lead role in Will and Grace because they thought I wasn’t gay enough!”
Born in Glasgow, his doting mum used to stand three-year- old John on the kitchen table to sing. “I was destined for the stage from an early age! But then we moved to America, because of my dad’s job, and that was a big wrench – moving to a new country, a new home, a new school and making new friends – but you learn to adapt.” However he’s never forgotten his Scottish roots, wearing a kilt for his wedding and reverting to his natural Scottish brogue with family. Since his television career took off, John has barely had time to appear in stage musicals, though he’s pleased to have been able to appear in Proms in the Park in London, where he sang I Made It through the Rain with Barry Manilow in front of 40,000 people. Now there’s Dick Whittington to look forward to. “I think panto is one of the best introductions to theatre for children,” John explains. “Its such a great tradition – and everyone leaves happy and laughing! I have so many loyal fans in Manchester, so it’ll be great to see them all again. They know how much I appreciate them spending their hard-earned money buying a ticket, and I’ve no intention of disappointing them. I just hope this pantomime we’ll make their Christmas a really good one.”