Friday, 6 January 2017

INTERVIEW: Arun Blair Mangat, currently playing Benny in IN THE HEIGHTS at the Kings Cross Theatre

You had a fairly quick turn around from being in Kinky Boots to moving over to In The Heights, what were the challenges when making the switch over?

Yes, I was really lucky to start In The Heights whilst still at Kinky Boots. My last week at the Adelphi Theatre was a bit crazy because during the days I was in rehearsals for Heights trying to learn the lyrics and lines. I was keen to find my interpretation of Benny's character as quickly as possible because we had quite a short rehearsal period. Then at night I would go to the Adelphi, put on a pair of heels and become Lola. The two roles could not be more different, but it was such an awesome experience. I think the most challenging aspect of the quick turn around was making sure I was off book and had created a fully realised person in Benny because everyone in ‘el barrio’ is integral to the community and I knew that I was stepping into a show that had already been running for the best part of a year. I wanted to make sure that I could bring a fresh energy whilst also being on par with everyone who was staying on for the last leg of the run.

In Kinky Boots you understudied the lead and now you’re playing a lead! How was it making that progression?

The progression was actually relatively seamless because I was lucky enough to become Standby Lola for my last few weeks at Kinky Boots, so that helped ease the transition for me. It’s been a few years since I’ve played a lead in a show so it’s great to be able to sing solos and hear how my voice has developed since I was 18/19. On Kinky Boots it was great to understudy Matt Henry. He’s a good friend and such a talented actor, so being able to learn from him about how to take care of yourself on and off stage was really beneficial too.

And Lola is quite different to Benny! Have you enjoyed the change?!
I am loving being a man again haha! Doing drag for 14 months was an intense and
unforgettable experience. Benny is a really chilled character in comparison to Lola’s fierce flair. I’ve had a lot of fun discovering his youth and physical energy.

Looking at your career, you’ve got a lot of variety in there! From Musical Theatre to Shakespeare; do you enjoy that variety?
Absolutely! I just hope that I can continue to be challenged because growth as an actor is essential. So if I’m lucky enough to be able to keep doing work that forces me to step outside of my comfort zone and take risks then I will be very happy. I love Shakespeare and am looking forward to doing some more in the future!

Is there a certain genre you prefer doing?
I don’t have a preference. I just like good stories with well-written characters and interesting narratives.

If you could describe In The Heights to someone who has never heard of it in one sentence, what would it be?
In The Heights is a beautiful story about how one community in Washington Heights is
struggling to survive amidst gentrification and the dramas that unfold over the Fourth of July Weekend.

If you could play any other character in the show, which would it be and why?

I love Abuela! She’s the matriarch of the barrio and has a connect with everyone, so probably her. Also she is very different to Benny so I think it would be quite cool to be able to experience the show from Abuela’s perspective.

You’re working on an EP currently, can you tell us what we can expect from that?

It’s all written and the demos are done, so now I just need to get into the studio and lay down the proper versions of the tracks. It’s something I’ve been writing for a little while. I’m super excited about it. It’s a little melancholic, a little synthy and a little R&B. Yeah, it's a Synth & Blues record for sure.

When will it be released?
Sometime in 2017!

Do you have any plans for after In The Heights?
Nothing set in stone as of yet. I’m looking forward to having some time to create and play in the studio and I also cannot wait to go on holiday and see more of the world! 2017 is going to be the best yet!
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