5 Questions from Over the Pond: Josh Piterman & Ben Crawford
Happy Halloween to all our readers from everyone here at LondonTheatre.co.uk! And as we celebrate everything that goes bump in the night today, we thought it might also be quite fitting to celebrate "The Music of the Night" and one of the most iconic, gothic and tragic roles in musical theatre. Period. Yes, we're talking about The Phantom, of course! Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart & Richard Stilgoe's spine-tingling musical, based on the French novel by Gaston Leroux, continues its immortal run at Her Majesty's Theatre as the second longest-running West End musical (just behind Les Misérables) and across the Atlantic, the New York production holds the title as the longest-running show in Broadway history by far! Reason enough to dedicate this special Halloween edition of 5 Questions from Over the Pond to... The Phantom of the Opera!
The role of The Phantom is surely at the pinnacle of the most-coveted list for male musical theatre performers across the globe and many have had the honour of slipping on the infamous mask since 1986.
In London, the current Phantom is portrayed by Australian native Josh Piterman, making his West End debut. Perhaps best known as a former member of the international pop opera group, The Ten Tenors, Josh has performed in a plethora of musicals in Australia. His most notable roles include Tony’ in West Side Story, Jamie in The Last Five Years, Edward in Blood Brothers, Gerry Goffin in Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, and Bustopher Jones, Gus & Growltiger in another Lloyd Webber sensation, Cats. He also starred as Corny Collins in the UK tour of Hairspray and he released his self-titled debut solo album in 2018.
On the other side of the pond, Broadway's current star of The Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theatre goes by the name of Ben Crawford (no relation to the original Phantom, Michael Crawford, we're assured). Born and raised in Tucson, Ben studied Music Theatre at The University of Arizona, going onto star in a wide range of regional productions, before heading to the bright lights of Broadway. He has appeared in the most recent Broadway revival of Les Misérables, as well as Big Fish, On the Twentieth Century, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and he has even played the titular role in Shrek The Musical and also found time to star as Sky Masterson in the North American Tour of Guys and Dolls.
So, now we find ourselves at "The Point of No Return," it's time for Josh and Ben to participate in our 5 Questions from Over the Pond feature. And gents, All I Ask of You is to make those questions count...
1) Ben: First off, congratulations on getting to play one of the most iconic characters of the stage! What thoughts and ideas did you have about the role before rehearsals and have those thoughts and ideas changed or stayed the same since you've started at Her Majesty's Theatre?
Josh: Thank you so much, Ben! Big congrats to you too! We’re lucky indeed. It’s just such a special role and I’m loving it. I think a lot of what I had in mind prior to rehearsals, our creatives were open to, which I’m very grateful for. I’m a bit of a geek with this stuff so I came in with loads of ideas but as you know, Hal’s direction is just amazing so there was so many things that have developed and interconnected as a result of that.
2) Ben: What is your favourite moment or scene in the show and why?
Josh: The Final Lair for sure. Musically bringing all the elements from the show back in is just masterful and as an actor that triangle creates really fun drama to play out each show.
3) Ben: When I first started it took me time to figure out what my pre-show warm-up was so I could go 100% each show. Have you had those "troubleshooting" moments and have you stumbled onto anything that has really helped you maintain to be able to give it all you’ve got each show?
Josh: I don’t think I have the fixed answer to that, but getting in earlier and doing a good solid vocal and physical warm-up (generally some yoga) before I get in the make-up chair is a must for me, that’s taken me a little while to figure out. Then after make-up I do have a quick sing and a focus meditation. It seems to be working at the moment, so fingers crossed it stays that way!
4) Ben: I was browsing your Instagram (@joshpiterman) and noticed some great posts about the need for men to break out of stereotypical behavioural roles and feel like they can truly be themselves without social presumptions put upon them. As an emotional man as well, can you please expand on those great thoughts you've posted on your Insta?
Josh: Thank you! This is sadly one of my favourite conversations to have. Basically, I believe we all have elements of both feminine and masculine energy that live within us. In order to feel complete as a human we need to accept and sit in both at different times in our lives. But for men, especially western men in cultures like Australia, the US and the UK, I feel society has taught us that those traditionally feminine energies; vulnerability, emotion, truly expressing oneself honestly, ought to be suppressed. It’s terrible and it’s so untrue. This is one reason why we have such crippling mental health issues, a suicide epidemic amongst men and all sorts of domestic and public violence problems. Men need to be taught from a young age that to feel and express is an essential part of the human condition. There are commercial conversations happening in this space now but I think grass roots is where it counts – at home, school, within communities and friendship groups.
5a) Ben: Being an Australian living/performing in London, the distance is obviously difficult being away from family and friends. What does London provide that helps it feel more like home?
Josh: My girlfriend Lotte lives here and we’re busy turning our house into a home, so that certainly makes me feel more settled and comfortable. Inevitably there are times when I miss friends and family back home. Thankfully technology lessens the distance to a degree, but I’ve accepted it’s just par for the course as a performer. I’ve spent so much time away touring over the years I think I’m sort of used to it now.
5b) Ben: As Halloween rolls up on us, I wonder if you have a great Halloween memory you'd like to share?
Josh: I was pretty cheeky in my early teens on Halloween! Let’s just say I helped keep the egg trade in business…
Check out Josh Piterman's 5 questions for Ben Crawford on our New York Theatre Guide sister site here!
The Phantom of the Opera Tickets are available now.