Wednesday, 16 November 2016

INTERVIEW: Nadim Naaman, currently starring as Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera

Nadim Naaman is currently playing Raoul in the London production of Phantom of the Opera, just after celebrating the shows 30th Anniversary we talk to Nadim about his experiences as an actor, his future and his two albums he has released. His other credits include Charles Clarke in Titanic (Princess of Wales, Toronto), Anthony Hope in Sweeney Todd (Harrington’s Pie & Mash Shop), One Man, Two Guvnors (NT at The Theatre Royal, Haymarket), The Phantom of The Opera (Her Majesty’s), The Sound of Music (The Palladium), Cinderella (The Harlington), Titanic (Southwark Playhouse), Chess (Union), Marguerite (Tabard), Thirteen Days (Arcola), Knight Crew (Glyndebourne), James and The Giant Peach (Watermill) and The Last Five Years (Pleasance).

Being in a long running show and performing 8 times a week is obviously one of the challenges to being an actor, how do you keep it fresh every show?
For me, this is all down to approach. Being in a long runner is very different to the jobs that last six, eight or ten weeks, for example.  The first thing is to accept that doing a role eight times a week for a long run is difficult, and that you have you find a way to divide a week’s worth of energy evenly between the eight shows so that you don’t come unstuck by Friday or Saturday. Being physically fit and looking after yourself in terms of what you eat and drink during the week makes a big difference too. But the mental side is more important to me. 

I do my very best to enjoy every moment, and give all my energy, whilst I’m on stage; then, backstage, try to keep calm and relaxed whilst being focused. When I go home every night, I try and leave work at the Stage Door, and forget about it until I arrive for the following performance. It is your job, after all, and no job is healthy if it is all-consuming. No matter how big your role, if you add up the minutes any character is actually on stage, it’s manageable if you have the right attitude. If you get it right, it is the time spent backstage, and the routine of prep, make-up, warm-up etc that might feel more tiring and repetitive, whilst your performance can remain alive and fresh. 

You previously covered the role of Raoul, how has your interpretation of the role changed this time round? 
 I first joined Phantom as a Raoul cover six years ago, in 2010. Back then I was 25 and it was only my second West End contract. I suppose I am now therefore bringing a maturity and confidence to the role that didn’t exist before. I am lucky to have worked on some excellent projects after leaving the show as a cover - plenty of Fringe, working for The National Theatre, in Canada, and even Sweeney Todd in a pie-shop! I feel I am more experienced and more in control of my skill set. On a personal level, I am a much more secure guy; I’m getting married next month and am now a father as well, so I am definitely not as raw as I was first time around. I am settled, I know who I am and what I want. I believe that translates into what I do on stage, be that as Nadim, as Raoul or as anyone else.

You performed in the 30th Anniversary of the show, how did it feel walking onto that stage that night knowing you were a part of this massive celebration? 
 It was surreal, to say the least. As a Londoner, born in the mid-Eighties, I have grown up alongside shows like Les Mis and Phantom. They are icons, London Landmarks. I have similar memories of Starlight Express and Cats, which played throughout my childhood and into my teens - their logos always on the London buses, on billboards. To be playing a principal role on the 30th Anniversary performance felt like a huge honour. To happen to be in the company in a milestone year is of course down to luck and timing, but I am extremely grateful. To share the stage with so many people I looked up to as a youngster was wonderful. It was extra-special to be a part of a comic number with the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Macintosh and Michael Ball on stage beside me - if you’d have told me that would happen, back when I was a student and decided to audition for drama school, I’d have never believed you!  

You must get asked what makes the show special a lot, but specifically what makes the show special to you? 
I suppose I’ve touched on it in the previous answer - the fact that you take pride in being a part of something so iconic, known world-over. The story is powerful and emotive, and the score is stunning with memorable and soaring melodies. Add to that the fact that you’re in a show that’s full every night, that almost always receives a standing ovation, with the biggest orchestra in The West End, an incredible score, stunning costumes, talented colleagues… I could go on and on. Whatever show you’re in, there are reasons to be proud - be it a risky new adaptation, in a theatre above a pub, a new piece of writing, or a revival of something that was previously a flop. When you get to be in an iconic show, and a globally popular one, you really have to appreciate that for what it is. 

As an actor you have performed in some very different spaces; from the Southwark to the Her Majesty’s and even in a pie shop on Shaftsbury Avenue! What are the main challenges between them? Do you prefer one? 
Performing in a big venue has its challenges. You do have to work hard to reach the whole auditorium, and you can feel cut off from the audience, particularly with an orchestra pit in between. However, you have a microphone, huge sets and effects to help you tell your story. On a human level, you have holiday entitlement, sick leave and understudies ready to go on should you be ill or get stuck on a train - the show is going to be just fine without you. These alleviators of pressure don’t often exist on The Fringe! 

In small scale venues, you are much more exposed. You are within metres of the audience,
which can mean whispers, sweet wrappers and ‘subtle’ checks of mobile phones are right under your nose. Often you find yourself singing acoustically, with no sound engineer to add reverb or boost your voice if the band gets louder. On the other hand, it is thrilling when the audience and the show are all in one room together, and you can feel the atmosphere around you.

Do I prefer one? What I prefer is variety. So far, I have left long contracts and then spent a year or two working on more intimate projects, and it is a balance I would like to maintain going forwards. Last time I left Phantom, for instance, I did Marguerite at The Tabard, followed by Chess at The Union and then Titanic at Southwark Playhouse before returning to The West End with One Man, Two Guvnors. After that came Sweeney in a pie shop! Variety is brilliant. 

You’ve released two albums so far; tell us a bit about them both and how they differ from each other. 
We All Want The Same was my first foray into the album world. I have written songs since I was 17 years old, but for years only as a hobby. Through the cabaret circuit and working in this business I was encouraged to share some of them, and so I dipped into the savings and took the plunge to record the album. The first track is the first complete song I ever wrote, ‘Do My Best’, and the others are almost snippets of time from that decade, aged 17 to 27. To that end, the songs are not interlinked in any way, and deliberately each have a different sound and feel - it’s more of a collection of individual songs than an album. Thankfully, as an experiment, it was a success and it gave me the confidence and the cash to start working on Sides. 

Sides is a much more complete album. I always wanted to showcase the fact that whilst musical theatre is my bread and butter, it is not all that I am as a singer or an artist; two sides to me, nine songs to reflect each one. The original songs were all written within 18 months of one another, so harmonically and arrangement-wise, they have a more distinct and collective sound than the songs on the first album. The nine musical covers are all songs that have played an important part in my career so far, from roles I’ve loved playing, to songs that have brought me much success in auditions, to songs that speak to me in a powerful way. Even though they are covers, I’ve tried to add originality and my individual musicianship to each of them. 

Any plans to make a third? 
I think the next will be more heavily theatrical than the first two, and I will revert to recording entirely original work. The plans I have at the moment are to either write a collection of theatre songs to be recorded by a variety of musical theatre artists; I already have a few up my sleeve. Or, to write a concept album for a musical. I am sitting on a few ideas. I want to do both of these projects, it’s a question of which will happen first. I’ll reassess in the new year once I have some more free time.

If you could have an album full of duets, who would be your top choices?
A very good but difficult question. The guest singers on my albums would definitely be on the list - take a look at those. So many others spring to mind; Louise Dearman, John Owen Jones, Rachel Tucker, Cynthia Erivo… There are so many incredible voices working at the moment. I suppose who you ask would depend entirely on which song you’re recording. 

Its almost your 10 year anniversary of making your West End debut, how do you thinking you’ll celebrate?! 
I’ve never thought of that! Maybe I’ll try and get a reunion together of my first cast at The Sound of Music - it would fun to catch up with them all ten years on. That aside, I just hope that I head into my 11th year of working with some exciting projects lined up. That’s all I’m after, really. I can’t believe it has been ten years since training finished. Wow. 

After Raoul, are there any parts you’d love to get your hands on? 
Truthfully, there are too many to mention in one answer! I suppose the main thing is that I want to explore a more mature side of myself as a performer. The majority of roles I have played have been youthful or romantic, and whilst I have enjoyed every second, I am looking forward to getting my hands on slightly older and more complicated characters - I got a taste of that when playing Anatoly in Chess, and in concert work recently I have been asked to sing songs of slightly older characters such as Joe Gillis, Javert and Billy Bigelow. 

That’s the direction I’d like to begin exploring now that I’m a dad in his 32nd year! Then of course there’s The Phantom - many Raoul’s have returned to the show further down the line to play The Phantom, and so I’d be hugely grateful to get an audition for that one day. I am also very excited about Hamilton coming to London - but so is every actor out there, and the competition for auditions will be fierce, let alone actually landing a role! 

We know you’re carrying on in Phantom for a while now but do you have upcoming plans? 
I am contracted at Phantom until September 2017. Those who know me know that I always have other projects on the go, but I won’t be doing much of that until next year as I now have to balance work with fatherhood. I will be returning to promote Sides again in the spring with some intimate gigs in London, and maybe overseas, plus one or two other writing projects. I also have some concert work lined up, in particular an exciting one with The John Wilson Orchestra, who I have been fortunate enough to work with a couple of times over the past year. Not sure I’m allowed to reveal yet, so you’ll have to watch this space! Beyond that? Who knows what the new year will bring.

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