Broadway Vet Brent Barrett, Star of the Music Hall's Peter Pan, on Life as an Actor's Actor
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Brent Barrett has played almost every great Broadway musical leading man role either in New York or on national tours: Tony in West Side Story (his Broadway debut in 1980). The title character in The Phantom of the Opera. Frank Butler in Annie Get Your Gun. King Arthur in Camelot. The Baron in Grand Hotel. Billy Flynn in Chicago. Benjamin Stone in Follies.
He even played Dr. Hannibal Lecter in a quirky Off-Broadway thing called Silence! The Musical!, a hit at the New York International Fringe Festival.
Now Barrett is Captain Hook to Cathy Rigby's Peter Pan. It's Rigby's second time at Dallas Summer Musicals playing the "boy who wouldn't grow up." Barrett worked with Rigby 20 years ago in a national tour of Annie Get Your Gun. When actor Tom Hewitt had to drop out of Peter Pan this summer, Rigby, who's producing the tour, called Barrett to take over the role of the petulant pirate.
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Just before Peter Pan opened here this week, we chatted by phone with Barrett, one of the most charming of Broadway's veteran leading men. He was in rehearsal with Rigby in La Mirada, California.
Before we talk about Peter Pan, we have to talk about Grand Hotel. You played the Baron in the original production directed by Tommy Tune. The late Michael Jeter, who won the Tony for his performance, played Mr. Kringelein. The two of you sang and danced the number "Let's Take a Glass Together" on the 1990 Tony Awards in what, for me, is the most joyous three minutes ever seen on the Tony telecast. What do you remember about that night?
Michael was a very special human being. It is one of those numbers that has gone down in the history of the Tonys as one of the favorites. It is a little magical moment and I remember it so well. It was done live, of course, and right after that we were hustled out into a van. And then a few moments later, Michael won the award for best supporting actor in a musical. It was a perfect moment in time. [Jeter died in 2003.]
Here's the number, preserved on YouTube:
You've spent more than 30 years doing Broadway shows and taking them on national tours. What are three things you like about life on the road with a big musical?
As you get older, it is harder to keep your life together. But now you can do your bills and banking online. That's one thing. Also, you don't have auditions to deal with while you're on the road with a show. You just have to think about your show at night. Depending on what town you're in, you get up, go to breakfast, go the gym and do the show at night. I like the simplicity of that routine. I spent three years doing Phantom in Vegas. I bought a house, put down roots. This is really the first tour I've been out on in a long time. With this business you go where the work is.
So what's something you don't like about road life? You leave your life behind. I'm traveling with my dog Boris, my 5-year-old Shih Tzu. My partner goes back and forth to Germany with the job that he does. He sells Bare Essentials makeup on QVC. I use it onstage. It's good stuff.
Cathy Rigby is 59. You're actually a little younger than this production's Peter Pan. How does she do it? Cathy is still in incredible shape, flying around the stage like nobody's business. I had to get back into shape for Captain Hook, doing cardio and weight training. Hook is much more active than the last role I did as Billy Flynn in Chicago. In that show, you stand and sing, you park and bark. Peter Pan is a workout. It's a testament to both of us that we're holding up as well as we are.
Do you have a favorite moment in Peter Pan? There's not one moment I dread in this show. It's funny, after playing opposite Cathy in a love story (Annie Get Your Gun), here we are with swords in our hands, going after each other. As much as Pan is a little boy, Hook is a petulant child, constantly throwing tantrums and demanding. When I was a little boy, I always had these dreams that I could fly. When you see Peter Pan fly, it brings tears to your eyes. There's nothing more exciting for a child than to get the chance to see somebody fly in front of you. Not in a movie but onstage, flying out over the audience. It's a magical experience you'll never forget. You cheer for the good guy and boo the bad guys. This is an interactive experience for the audience, which you don't get by going to a movie. And you have a group of people experiencing it at the same time you are. I don't think there's anything more exciting than that. You don't get that sitting home watching television or going to the movies.
Is there still a "dream role" you haven't played yet? I haven't done Carousel, which I've always wanted to do. I would love to do The Music Man and Man of LaMancha. I love the musical Nine. Also on my wish list is a wonderful little show called One Man's Romance, a little four-character musical. One of the shows that I wish I had done along the way was Les Miz. When it first came out, I listened to it and desperately wanted to do it. I was asked to do it for the tenth anniversary, but couldn't do it. I have been fortunate to do a lot of the classics.
You did Chicago with the great Charlotte d'Amboise, with Sandy Duncan and Karen Ziemba. But also with some, shall we say, lesser talents such as Christie Brinkley and whatshername from Dancing with the Stars. (Laughing) I won't go into specifics but there were some nights where I looked across the stage and thought, "What are they doing there?" It's a testament to the show that it has survived everyone.
What's next after the tour of Peter Pan? Over the past 10 years, I've been producing The Broadway Tenors, a concert evening. We have three concerts scheduled in October when we have time off. Everything that I do revolves around music. There's a new club in New York City called 54 Below, a nightclub in the Studio 54 space. I'm going to be doing a couple of concerts there. Also, I'm getting ready to sell my apartment in Manhattan and look for a house in Westchester or New Jersey. I want room for a studio for painting. I'm going to take that up again.
Catch Brent Barrett as Captain Hook opposite Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan at the Music Hall at Fair Park through July 22. For tickets call (214) 691-7200.
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