Simon Bowman on his acting career and new role in The Prodigals musical

(Photo: Keith Pattinson)
Simon Bowman in rehearsal for The Prodigals

You've enjoyed a hugely successful career on the West End playing the lead in iconic shows such as Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables and Miss Saigon, what have been your particular career highlights?

Simon: Well there have been so many highlights so far in my career. The first came immediately after leaving drama college when I landed the lead role as Elvis Presley in Alan Bleasdale's play Are you lonesome Tonight? with Martin Shaw at the London Phoenix Theatre. The play won the Evening Standard Award for Best New Musical and it was my big break. I then went on to play Marius across the road in Les Misérables with the original cast at the Palace Theatre which was an exciting time. Then I landed the role of Chris in Miss Saigon which was a world-wide hit and ultimately launched me into international recognition. I also played Raoul and then The Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, which was another career highlight. When asked what has been my favourite production to work on I don't really have one as they were all wonderful, but I suppose when you create a role from scratch, as I did in Miss Saigon, and make it your own original character then that is always something very special and will be there to stay long after I'm gone.

You're about to take to the stage at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry as Colonel Luke Gibson in new musical The Prodigals. What made you want to get involved in the show?

Simon: With The Prodigals I had the same gut feeling as I've had accepting other roles in the past after reading the script and listening to the music. It excited me to want to be involved in an innovative new show.

You played military sergeant Chris Scott in Miss Saigon, and your latest role in The Prodigals sees you play another military character, Colonel Luke Gibson. Do you need to undergo any particular training/preparation to play military characters? If so what have you had to do for The Prodigals?

Simon: I do think as much research as possible is always a huge bonus to playing any role in order to bring the character to life and create an honest interpretation of the character you are portraying. Before rehearsal for The Prodigals commenced I met a Colonel who had been through unimaginable, brave and heroic situations on the front line and I found it a great insight to help my character development. Body conditioning for stature and body language is important so visits to the gym came into the mix too.

Playing the lead in a musical, with sometimes two shows a day, can be very demanding. How do you look after yourself and preserve your voice when performing?

Simon: The key to looking after your voice and maintaining your energy levels so you can get yourself through matinees and that eighth show at the end of the week is, in a word, discipline! This means not having too many late nights and no drinking and talking in bars. Drinking plenty of water, as well as steam inhalation is a must and restful Sundays if possible.

Aside from your West End work and your upcoming role in The Prodigals at the Belgrade Theatre, what other projects have you been working on?

Simon: I have my own self penned acoustic evenings and concert tours planned, as well as a musical I have written. I also provide master classes as I enjoy working with the younger generation of actors and there are some other un-finalised shows on the horizon so I have lots of interesting work ahead to keep me busy!

How did you get involved in the theatre industry?

Simon: It all started when I helped out on a school production as I wanted to be picked to play in the first eleven cricket team and the music teacher was also in charge of the cricket team! I was taking my A levels at the time so I helped out in the chorus to make up the numbers with my cricket mates. During the rehearsal period the lead boy was sick so they asked me to just stand where he would be and I started to fool around singing and being silly. I then saw the teachers gather together talking and looking at me. I automatically thought I would get a detention for fooling around but they asked me if had I auditioned for any parts and I laughed and said no. They asked me if I would help out next year during my finals so I said of course, then I found that they cast me as the lead the following year and encouraged me to go to drama school in London. The rest is history!

In your opinion, how has the theatre industry changed since you started?

Simon: Things have changed a lot since I left drama college. We had to work 42 weeks to get a full equity card, but the catch was you had to have an equity card to work, it was crazy! You don't need an equity card to work in West End theatre anymore and I do think things are more open and easier today to be granted to work in shows.

These days there is also the TV shows that launch people into the theatre limelight. I'm not against these entirely, but I do feel like it could be damaging to the self esteem of those who aren't successful, and also if the winners are not trained to deal with everything that is thrown at them they could damage their ability to survive long term in this profession. One thing I do know that hasn't changed is the amazing talent out there today!

Simon Bowman will be playing Colonel Luke Gibson in The Prodigals at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry from 30 Aug to 14 Sept.

Tickets for The Prodigals are available now from the Belgrade Theatre Box Office on 024 7655 3055 or via www.belgrade.co.uk

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