Interview with Phantom of the Opera's Nadim Naaman
Actor Nadim Naaman is currently starring as 'Raoul' in the hit West End musical The Phantom of the Opera at the Her Majesty's Theatre. Having played numerous roles in the West End as well as contracts in high profile fringe productions such as Titanic, Chess and the 2014 hit revival of Sweeney Todd at Harrington's Pie and Mash Shop, his popularity as a performer continues to grow.
Following the success of his first album, Nadim is set to release his second album, 'Sides' which features a collection of original songs as well as reinvented covers of musical theatre gems. He is joined on the album by West End favourites such as Rob Houchen, Eva Noblezada and fellow Phantom star Celinde Schoenmaker, in what is set to be one of the most exciting new albums of 2016. We caught up with Nadim in the recording studio to hear more about the project as well as life in one of London's most popular hit musicals...
DOH: Dom O'Hanlon
NN: Nadim Naaman
DOH: Nadim, The Phantom of the Opera is now in its 30th year. Why do you think the show continues to be so successful?
NN: Aside from the timeless score and storyline, I think that what it has that a lot of the other shows don't have is a design that is so 'period' it doesn't date visually. It's like you're watching 'Downton Abbey'. It's not a 1980s interpretation of what that time looked like, it looks exactly as it's supposed to. We have the props, everyone is doing what they're supposed to be doing. Also, I believe it's still the biggest orchestra in the West End and I think that's very telling. Had it been written in the last ten years there might be an awful lot of synth in there and it wouldn't be as lush or as romantic.
DOH: This is your second time in Phantom in the West End, having previously been a cover Raoul. Is it a difficult decision to be in a long-running show?
NN: When you're in a show that's the hot new thing, and receiving great reviews, you can buy into the hype, and be aware that a lot of the people coming are industry-based. But in some cases, just three or four months pass and the empty seats start to appear. It's very sad, and alarming, that even those hot tickets and 5-star shows can eventually struggle to sell. Then, you can be in a show like 'Phantom' or 'Les Mis' or 'Wicked', which were seen by the industry when the opened, and people are saying to you "are you sure you want to spend a year in that?" My attitude is, why wouldn't you want to perform to a full house every night with an audience that gets up to their feet every time? Plus, they are iconic. I remember how I felt watching them as a child or teenager. It's a lovely job, I absolutely love it.
DOH: Because it's so long-running, do you notice a change in the audience through the week?
NN: It feels like we get more English speakers in the audience on a Friday and Saturday, and during school holidays - you can tell by the way that they laugh and respond to the show and its nuances. The more tourist-heavy audiences tend to be quieter during the show itself, but go wild at the end, blown away by the spectacle, the music and the costumes. A lot of people come to stage door and say "we came to see it because we thought it was about time we did, and we'll be back!" When you meet people who have never seen it before, that's really cool. You assume everyone has!
DOH: As an actor, how do you slot in to a long-running production, and a role that so many people know and love yet manage to bring your own energy?
NN: The first thing I would say is they teach the show in a very free way. They don't have a grid system at Phantom which they do in a lot of American shows, the general rule is as long as you find the light which the designer has plotted, you can get there however you want to. Whether you run, or you walk, or you turn and look over your shoulder – you have a freedom to interpret the moves however you want to and that means you get to apply your own thought process to everything that you're doing, which I really enjoy.
The other thing I have on my side is as Raoul I get to work with lots of different Christines. There's the main Christine, then there's the alternate who is on twice a week, and then there's the understudy, so on any given week I can do the show with three different girls. The bulk of my stuff is with her and each of them are so different, different heights, different voices, they act differently, different accents and that's a really liberating thing because I have to react to what they do. It's much easier doing the show 8 times a week for a year with that much variety. So my attitude is always to try and ignore the fact it's a long run when I'm on-stage, it's alright to accept that when you're in your dressing room or in the building – be comfortable with your surroundings, and the routine of the hair and the make up can get a bit tedious after six or seven months, but as long as when you're on stage you're enjoying the moment. Often the directors will give the other actors a note and not tell you, which I really like. You'll be expecting one thing and someone will do something quite different, and that will make you react differently and in the moment. As long as there's lots of that, and we all support each other that's what keeps it fresh.
|Photo: Nikki Davison
|Nadim Naaman and Rob Houchen|
DOH: Having that constant as an actor must relieve a lot of pressure, and so you've found time to work on your second album? How did that come about?
NN: I started writing songs when I was a student as a hobby, and I worked for a drama school for kids doing summer courses and creating music for them. After a couple of years I started writing songs for teenagers and young adults, and I started to realise that writing for that age group was much more fun, and I was writing more like my style and taste in music. So I started writing some songs just for me and they just sat in notebooks and it was just a bit of fun that I would do to practise my guitar and piano playing. Then a friend of mine recorded a CD here and I listened to it and he asked me to record some vocals on a duet, and at the time Nikki and Joe were just setting up their studio, so I arranged to casually share some of my songs with Joe. He liked them, and we made the first CD. When I got offered Raoul what popped into my head was what a good opportunity to work on another album.
DOH: How is your second album, Sides, different to your first one?
NN: This is very different to the first album as it's quite self-contained. I wrote the first one over years, this was months. It's a much more specific selection, and I think that's what comes across in the songs. They have a similar palate of instruments and feelings, and they're a bit more mature. Having the security of the job means it's very freeing to play around during the day time and use your brain in a different way and that means I enjoy my work in the evenings even more, because I'm going back to something familiar and safe. It's a good balance.
DOH: There's quite a trend for musical theatre performers recording their own albums, both here and in America. How have you made your album different?
NN: I'm really supportive of anyone who writes their own music and has the guts to put it out there. I never thought I'd have the guts to do it myself, and now I try and support it as much as possible. It's lovely to hear people trying to express their own thoughts and feelings through something that they've written. There's also a lot of people recording cover CDs, but I felt that recently people are being more creative and playful and trying to make a cover their own. I think it's probably connected to the pop industry, think of the John Lewis Christmas advert for example, it's a totally different spin on something that you've heard a million times. People love that combination of familiarity with the new, and that for me is reflective of the business as a whole. People are only going to see shows that have people they know in them, songs they know in them, are an adaptation of a book or a play or a film – there's something about the public at the moment that really craves familiarity.
Photo: Nikki Davison
DOH: How did you select which covers you would do on the other side of the album?
NN: Some I had really strong ideas about how they should feel, and others I had to think about how to change to make them slightly not just like the cast recording with just my voice. What I've done is I've tried to pick a collection of songs that were either from shows that I've been in or songs that have special meaning for me, or have helped me land jobs in! “What is it About Her” for example from The Wild Party – I sung that song in the show at University, and then I used the song again to get into drama school. Since then I've used it two or three times to get jobs. “Out There” is another song I've used in auditions – I've never played Quasimodo, but I feel like I have a connection with that song. “Moving Too Fast” from 'The Last Five Years', that was my first job straight out of drama school and that song has always summed up my 20s for me. There are always reasons behind them – the only exception to that is “Fight The Fight” from From Here To Eternity. At the time the show was on I was going through a lot of things in my personal life, and that song just made me buzz, and this album is the first opportunity I've had to sing the song. I remember seeing it for the first time and being covered in goosebumps.
DOH: And you've even included a track from Phantom I see!
NN: I had to do a song from Phantom because I've spent three years of my career with the show, but I didn't want to do All I Ask of You because I didn't have a clear idea of how to make that original, whereas Phantom stuck out for me for being able to have the most fun with. I cover the title song which stands out as feeling like one of the only pop songs in the score. I wanted to experiment with a more Latin beat – much like 'El Tango de Roxanne' from Moulin Rouge. We've got the identical structure of the song from the show, everything is exactly the same, we've just played it all on different instruments. It should please those who love the originals, but it is an original take on it.
Watch a Trailer for 'Sides' below:
Nadim's album Sides is released via all major online retailers from 20 June 2016. Pre-orders are available from Auburn Jam records by clicking here.
Tickets to the album launch gig on June 19th can be booked via The Hippodrome box office here.