The Fantasticks - London

The world's longest-running musical returns to the West End.

Pirate Queen Alum Hadley Fraser on Heading Home to a West End Fantasticks

Hadley Fraser gets one of the best-known songs in all of musical theater when he opens the new West End production of The Fantasticks crooning “Try To Remember”—a song that’s difficult to forget. The beloved Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt show has arrived at the Duchess Theatre in a fresh staging from Amon Miyamoto, who directed the piece previously in his native Japan. Fraser plays El Gallo, the compere of sorts, in a cast that includes Clive Rowe, Edward Petherbridge, Luke Brady and Lorna Want. For the 30-year-old Fraser, the production marks a return to the London musical stage after several years in Los Angeles and a co-starring role in the short-lived 2007 Broadway production of The Pirate Queen. caught up with the affable Brit before an early preview of The Fantasticks.

So, now it’s your turn to sing “Try To Remember,” which must feel like inheriting a musical theater legacy.
Yes, it’s been covered by everybody under the sun. But, you know, it’s a beautiful song to get your chops around. The task, I think, is to have it make sense for the character as opposed to just getting up and singing it. I view it as a prologue. What you’re doing is inviting the audience to use their imaginations. It’s an invocation, in a way.

And one for which you’re newly hirsute.
Well, I’ve grown in a mustache, which I’ve done on a few productions before. I thought with this one I’d get through a few weeks with it and see how it goes, though in the summer months, I’m going to be regretting it.

All part of the “El Gallo look"?
Absolutely! The inspiration was Spanish bullfighters, except that now he’s more like the bandit out of Robert Rodriguez movies like Once Upon A Time in Mexico: a sort of gypsy traveling bandit.

The Fantasticks has such an American-style whimsy. How do you think the British take to this show?
We’ve got an audience here that has been brought up on pantomime and music hall and commedia, and there’s an awful lot of that sort of stuff in the show. The piece in its themes is so across-the-board, really, and the music is known to so many people worldwide. It’s very exciting to try and reinvent it for a British audience. Some shows you do show their age somewhat, but this one stands up to scrutiny; it stands the test of time. Some of the songs, too, feel very contemporary in their way, though obviously we’re not talking Spring Awakening [laughs].

This is your first London show in five years. Does it feel like a homecoming?
I was just ready to come back to London and to the theater, to be honest. I knew that living in the States wasn’t going to be for me; I’m very close to my family, and I wanted to be back home. I actually came to The Fantasticks quite late in the process, but I knew Amon [Miyamoto] was on board, and I knew his work from Pacific Overtures, which I had done in Leicester [in 2006]. It seemed great to be part of a production driven by a director who has his own point of view. I know that in New York, the off-Broadway version feels rather deliberately ramshackle. Ours is by no means slick, but it gives more of a sense of entering into the imagination within a magical context rather than just stitching together two pieces of cardboard.

I imagine it might have been frustrating moving to L.A., where theater —especially British theater—isn’t necessarily on people’s radar.
There’s no reason necessarily for these people to have an understanding of the theatrical tradition. That said, you find that your small-screen roles get scrutinized to the point of ridiculousness. It’s the same in London, really.

Tell us about some of your screen work. Convincing Clooney? The Lost Tribe? The first sounds like Being John Malkovich revisited.
Except that it’s a much smaller budget and George Clooney isn’t in it. The point is that he becomes the be-all and end-all of the success of the project within the film. It’s a comedy along the lines of Swingers, with Aimee Garcia and Rosanna Arquette, all very L.A. I play the token Cockney Brit, a cross between Rhys Ifans and Michael Caine. The Lost Tribe is a horror film I shot two years ago and it’s a little like Lost. Five friends get shipwrecked on a desert island and, again, I play the token Brit: a cross between Michael Caine and Rhys Ifans [laughs].

You got a taste of Broadway three years ago with The Pirate Queen. Did that feel different from a West End show like The Far Pavilions [Fraser’s last London show, in 2005]?
There’s no denying that when you’re on Broadway, you feel as if you are at the spiritual heart of musical theater—that you’ve come home. I spent a year with The Pirate Queen in total, including three months in Chicago, and I don’t know if it’s sour grapes to say that I think we were a little hard done by. Marty Pakledinaz’s costumes, for instance, were utterly amazing. But at the same time, we all know that you don’t do work for awards. It was a wonderful experience and one that I would repeat at the drop of a hat. I hope to find myself back in New York some other time in another guise.

You have an interesting educational background.
My family is Welsh, and people from Wales often have a connection to music and performance—though I was brought up near Windsor [home to Windsor Castle], which makes me sound very posh, as if we were some kind of extension of the royal family [laughs]. My mum’s a teacher, so it wasn’t that great a surprise that I read English at the University of Birmingham, and only afterwards enrolled in a postgraduate course at the Royal Academy of Music. It was while I was in my final year there that I was cast as Marius in Les Miserables, because the Academy is probably a pretty good hunting ground to find a foppish young romantic singer who’s 21 or 22. So I left the Academy a few weeks early to go and start that, and a year spent in Les Miz was a wonderful way to learn the ropes in a relatively safe environment. I was in the right place at the right time, as they say.

Now here you are at the Duchess with The Fantasticks. Do you find yourself humming “Try To Remember” pretty much non-stop – in the shower, on the tube, wherever?
It’s always the case for me that I end up singing everybody else’s songs and very rarely mine. The one I’m singing at the moment is “Plant a Radish,” but that may change as the run goes on!