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Richard Fleeshman on Dating Samantha Barks & Grossing Out Brits in Urinetown's London Premiere

Richard Fleeshman on Dating Samantha Barks & Grossing Out Brits in Urinetown's London Premiere
RIchard Fleeshman as Bobby Strong in 'Urinetown'
'I don’t think someone can appreciate how hard people in musical theater work if they’ve never done it.'

While Richard Fleeshman still considers himself new to the musical theater scene, the 24-year-old actor is racking up quite a list of credits, including Legally Blonde in the West End, and the Broadway and London productions of Ghost. Prior to his career as a theater heartthrob, the actor and singer-songwriter was a steady presence on the small screen and the radio airwaves. Now, Fleeshman is starting a revolution in the London premiere of Urinetown, opening March 11 at the St. James Theatre. caught up with the versatile performer to chat about wacky show titles, cramped dressing rooms and his lady love, Samantha Barks.

You’ve played an American in three musicals, but you’re northern English through and through. How did this come about?
[Laughs.] I know, and I just keep hoping I pass as one! What’s good, I suppose, about playing any accent is that you can lose your own skin and be as far away from yourself every night as possible, though it did feel like a particular challenge on Ghost. It’s one thing to do an American accent in front of a load of people on the West End and quite another going over and doing it in front of a theater full of native New Yorkers!

Did you even know what Urinetown was when the offer came your way?
Not at all. Musical theater isn’t the world I come from and even though it has taken over my life over the past few years, there’s still a vast amount of musicals from the early 2000s that I don’t know anything about.

Did you consult with your former Ghost co-star Caissie Levy?
I certainly did! At first I thought, “This doesn’t sound like my kind of thing,” but I rang Caissie and she said it was this great satirical musical and that Bobby Strong was an amazing part and that I should take it. So I did [laughs].

I was just saw Bobby Strong described as one of the 100 greatest parts in musical theater.
I heard that as well, which is amazing! I can attest to that—I am having literally the time of my life playing it. But I also should say that I probably haven’t heard of most of the 99 others [laughs].

That’s OK, you’ve got plenty of time yet! How do you find the demands of this role compared to Sam in Ghost?
This is a big sing, but the part itself is different in terms of the angst and screaming and crying and God knows what else Ghost entailed. In terms of the strain on my voice, it’s not nearly as bad. But every role has its difficulties. It’s an incredibly tough job, and I don’t think someone can appreciate how hard people in musical theater work if they’ve never done it. To have the discipline you need to be on form and healthy and to give the necessary commitment really is an amazing thing.

It’s fascinating how squeamish some Brits seem to be about the title of Urinetown. I saw you on breakfast TV and the hosts could barely bring themselves to say it.
I know, but it is breakfast time and the BBC and I’m sure they’re scared that Mrs. Whoever from Berwick-upon-Tweed is going to write a complaint letter about it. It was fine, though. By the end, [the hosts] were shouting the title out with me, and we were all chanting “Urinetown! Urinetown!” [Laughs.]

Your Ghost co-stars Caissie Levy (Les Miserables) and Bryce Pinkham (A Gentleman’s Guide) are both on Broadway now—time for a New York visit?
God, I would love to, maybe if I get some downtime after this. Caissie and I went through such a lot on that show and she is such a good friend. And I really think Bryce is one of the most talented actors I have ever worked with—I would love to see his show.

You have a tie to Les Miz at this moment in your life [Fleeshman is dating film star Samantha Barks]. How is it going?
It’s going wonderfully, thank you! We get asked about [our relationship] a lot and are really trying to keep it private. Not in a boring way, but just because it is private to a certain extent. But, yes, it’s all great and thank you for asking.

And you’re not feeling too nostalgic for the grandeur of your onetime Broadway dressing room, with its spaciousness and balcony?
[Laughs.] There I was in a three-room suite with a balcony that had at different times also housed Sting, Nathan Lane, and Elizabeth Taylor and now here I am at the St. James Theatre in London sharing a converted office backstage with five other men.

Wow, there's a change. How does that feel?
Don't get the violins out just yet! It was incredible to have that palatial set-up in New York but it also could be quite lonely. Now, I’m with Simon Paisley Day and Jonathan Slinger, and I could not be in better company.

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