Beyond The Barricade star Andy Reiss talks about the inspiration behind Beyond The Barricade, his time in Les Misérables and much more in our latest Music Blog.
See Beyond The Barricade in Perth Concert Hall on Friday 27 March.
How did Beyond the Barricade come about and what should audiences expect from the show?
The original concept came about when David and I were performers in Les Misérables. I saw the potential of creating a concert version of some of the most popular songs from the musical theatre genre. I wanted to make sure the songs were true to the original versions, so that the audience could invest in sitting and listening to a concert version, but be completely immersed in the storytelling of each particular song. The added bonus of having 4 principal performers from Les Misérables meant that we could also without doubt show the pedigree of the performers. We take our audience on a journey through some of the greatest stage musicals, including Miss Saigon, Phantom of the Opera, Blood Brothers, The Lion King, Hamilton, and of course Les Misérables.
What roles did you play in Les Mis?
My primary roles were the Factory Foreman and Combeferre, but I was very fortunate to perform Enjolras in Dublin and Edinburgh on many occasions, and also played Valjean in Edinburgh.
What first triggered your love of music, and at what age?
I was always surrounded by music from an early age with my parents and grandparents being involved in Hednesford Salvation Army brass band, and by the age of 5 I had learnt how to read and play music. I think that definitely gave me a good grounding in music for my future. I played in a few bands during my later teenage years, but I always loved performing in the local musical theatre societies too.
So did you start working in musical theatre as soon as you left school?
I didn’t actually. I went to university and studied economics with child care law, and worked within that field for a number of years. However most of my spare time was given over to performing on stage. I then attended an open audition for the first production of Les Misérables outside the West End, just because I wanted to give it a go - and was very surprised when they offered me a contract! I thought it would just be 12 months work and I would go back to my day job. I never dreamed I would end up touring with the show in Manchester, Dublin and Edinburgh, and then transferring to the West End. It was also a great privilege to return to Les Mis, as the Resident Director for the first National Tour.
With such a wide variety of musicals would you say this is a show for Musical Theatre fans or would you say there is something for everyone?
We get terrific feedback after the shows. We have a lot of people saying that we have introduced them to new shows. We have just introduced Hamilton into our concert, so our audiences can also have a sprinkling of more modern musicals too. Beyond the Barricade can travel further afield to where the big touring shows don’t reach. People tell us that we have persuaded them to go and see more theatre which is great. It is the same with Les Misérables, amazingly even though it has been going for over thirty years, we still get people writing saying that we have introduced them to the music of this phenomenal show.
Beyond the Barricade obviously takes up a lot of your time, do you have time to do anything else?
Beyond the Barricade runs throughout the year except from mid July until the end of August. At that time, I usually work at Malvern Theatres and I direct their summer show. We’ve done Les Misérables of course, and also shows like Jesus Christ Superstar and Oliver. I also occasionally go to theatre groups and run masterclasses on Musical Theatre. It all keeps me very busy!
To tour with the same show for so many years is very impressive, do you perform nationwide?
We go all over the UK and recently we have also performed in Manila, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia. In Europe we have performed in Denmark, Spain and Malta, and also on the Cunard liners.
Doesn’t constant touring get tiring?
Yes a little, you can do a show and then have a three and a half hour drive home so it can be exhausting but it never gets boring. The buzz of live performance soon wakes you up! At no time do I ever take anything for granted, and the only reason the show is still in existence is because people are willing to come out to see us. Each and every member of Beyond the Barricade never loses sight of that.
What is your career highlight to date?
That’s a tough one, as the business has been kind to me. Being picked to perform as part of a worldwide cast of Les Misérables performers to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the show was pretty major. The show pulled together the original company plus casts from the worldwide productions and performing alongside everyone at the Royal Albert Hall was very special. I am also proud that Beyond the Barricade was able to stage a concert at the Royal Albert Hall to mark its very own 10th anniversary.
Who is your greatest influence?
It’s difficult for me to name one great influence as I have been fortunate to have people spur me on at crucial times. My music teacher at Kingsmead, Alan Williams, was an amazing teacher, and then Jean Brown, a director well known in drama circles across Cannock Chase, gave me loads of opportunities before Ken Caswell, who was the Director of Les Mis, took a chance on me, as I had no formal training. Away from theatre, the raw power of the late, great Freddie Mercury was a great influence.
Have you ever been star struck or met your heroes?
I’m not sure it was being star struck – more like being amazed at the stature of the man – and that was David Hasselhoff! During my time as Director of Les Mis, he flew in to London to audition for the part of Valjean while we were rehearsing for the national tour, but he didn’t get it! I guess seeing the original Valjean – Colm Wilkinson – rehearsing for the 10th anniversary concert was also a wow moment.
What would be your advice for anyone looking for a career in the industry?
I believe hard work and respect go a long way. Of course there are moments you need that little piece of luck, but I can testify to having a productive career without any formal training. So I guess – never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.
Why do you think classic musicals have stayed so popular over the years?
I think the success behind classic musicals like Les Misérables, Blood Brothers, West Side Story - the list is endless - is that they are in themselves great stories. They have characters that the audience can relate to easily. The musical scores were written to complement the wonderful stories, so the two together just make a great recipe for success.