Originally published on Broadway Baby
Now in the final few days of rehearsals, how has Seussical been coming along?
It’s been a really cool process, really, it’s such a fun show and I think that’s true of any process where the aim is to have a good time. It’s been hard work and tiring, as it always is, but the material’s so beautiful it’s hard not to enjoy it. I feel like I’m sweating a lot when I’m onstage, there’s a lot of running around! It’s high energy that you can’t let drop at any point, but as the run goes on we can learn to have more fun with it. It’ll be great to get an audience in now and feel them responding to what works and what doesn’t.
So tell us a little about the show itself…
It’s written by a Tony award-winning group called Flaherty and Ahrns, who have written musicals like Ragtime, A Man of No Importance and Lucky Stiff which I’ve been in. They wrote Seussical with Eric Idle, one of the Monty Python gang, and so it’s fantastic. The plot ties a lot of Dr Seuss stories together, focusing around Horton Hears a Who. It’s mad, really, but it’s such an honest story and really relatable even though it’s about elephants or whatever else. Instead of caring about losing a loved one, the characters care about losing a tiny world on a speck of dust: it’s ridiculous things made important. If you can buy into the world of the play, invest in it; it’s a lovely truthful play. I’m just blown away by how the more you explore it, the more interesting it gets.
Do you think it appeals to all levels, not just children?
Yeah, absolutely – Seuss wrote Yertle the Turtle, which is about Adolf Hitler, and he wrote How the Grinch Stole Christmas about commercialism at Christmas. You look at his stories, and his other work – he was a political cartoonist originally – and he has a lot to say. It would be easy to think Seussical is kids’ stuff, but you’re bringing them along as an excuse rather than a reason. There’s plenty here for everyone.
What kind of character is Horton?
The story follows this elephant and his attempt to protect this tiny world he finds on a speck of dust, full of “Whos”. He’s loyal, warm-hearted and passionate but he grows throughout the show to the point where he’s able to stick his neck out a bit more and he becomes quite steadfast towards the end.
How long have you been rehearsing for?
It’s only been three weeks – I think that’s why it’s felt like a long process in many ways, because we’re in grafting every day, making sure everything gets together in time. So it’s long days. I’d just finished Tommy which also had just three weeks rehearsal, and that was performed on the Monday night, and then I started [Seussical] first thing on the Tuesday morning! It was pretty strange going from a big bullying cousin to a warm-hearted elephant. It was quite a shift… The rest of the cast have been brilliant, phenomenally talented and really dedicated to making a great show. If you have a show where you have someone who doesn’t care as much then it makes it really difficult, but I think I’ve been lucky time and time again working with these incredible people.
How do you compare this with other work that you’ve done on the stage before?
I think the main thing that stands out for me is working on a piece that is so brilliantly written; it’s just all on the page for you. It’s great because sometimes you go into processes where you look at the script and you’re battling with it, but for this one you can read your lines on the first day and know how you’re going to do this. Also if you look at One Man Two Guv’nors [in which Hunter was involved in the West End production], there was an amazing all star cast – I was just watching from the sides an awful lot and doing my little bits. It’s great to be back playing a lead again, because you get to enjoy every scene, instead of watching all the fun things going on, you get to do them. If there’s going to be someone doing a backflip, you want to be that person!
Lots of people know you from the ITV Superstar series, was that a good experience, or has it helped you in any way – or would you rather blot it out from your memory completely?
No, not at all! It was an amazing experience. I went into it quite naively really, because it could have been awful, but that didn’t really cross my mind. We were very well taken care of, and I think it was unlike a lot of other reality TV shows. I remember turning up to see the final forty and there were a good handful of them who I’d seen in big shows, playing the lead in Rock of Ages or We Will Rock You – really established leading men. It was very highly pressured, and the competition was difficult because we all lived together for six weeks before the show started. It was all very speculative and you would drive yourself nuts thinking about every possible outcome. Now the stress is gone I can look back and see that it was just a brilliant adventure where we got to perform in front of millions of people every night, which is all I’ve ever wanted to do.
Did you find that competitive element when you were at LIPA?
Yeah, I guess so, as soon as you said that I remembered conversations from the LIPA bar, when we were getting to the end of our third year and were about to get released into the big wide world of auditions. Conversations like “oh, he won’t do much”, or “hasn’t he got a funny shaped nose” – so much speculation and competition. The weird thing was, as soon as we left drama school and did the showcase and got agents, we realised that we were never really in competition with each other because you we all so different.
Your musical work took off when you were still at Liverpool, was that always the plan or did that come about by accident?
By accident. I went to LIPA on the acting course and I still consider myself an actor before anything else, that’s how I work when I’m given a song or a bit of text. I always come at it from an actor’s point of view and look at it that way, because that’s how I was trained. I got into musicals because I could sing so I kind of combined music and theatre together. I trained and then I went off and I was in a band [Reemer] for a long time, and I got to marry those two things together. Superstar as well was acting and pop-rock added together so that was also a great opportunity. I love acting through song, it’s a great medium.
When you were singing with the band what was it like? Was that a different period of your life or does it all tie in together?
It does tie in together, I joined the band when I was still at LIPA – we were gigging at the weekends. I really felt that the singing was giving me confidence and helping me to stand out from the crowd. My acting training was really helping with the gigs as well; it was another part I was playing. That’s what my mum always used to say, anyway, she used to say, “When you go on stage, you go all funny and you act the rockstar!” It was kind of a four-year job. It was great to come back to acting at the end of it; it’s a much kinder world even if it is tough and competitive. You don’t have to lug your gear about and gig in tiny, dungeon-like venues with dripping walls and sticky floors. As I’ve got a bit older, I’m enjoying this environment a bit more.
Do you think that children are the harshest critics?
Haha, I guess so yes, because if they don’t like it they’ll just talk over it. That’s the thing with kids; they don’t have to be polite about something, if they don’t like something they’ll tell you. Maybe they’re not the harshest critics, but at least the most honest. It’s hard to get such honest feedback – even shows I know haven’t been very good, afterwards people aren’t going to say, “God, that was awful, what were you thinking?” because it would be rude. Whereas kids would have left, given the choice – they’d have walked out, saying, “I’m bored of this, I’m going to go and do something else.”
Do you think that feedback after shows is a contentious issue? With the current BAC dialogue on star ratings and whether they are useful or that theatre should be free of them – do you have an opinion on this?
I don’t see reviews as very helpful at all, really. You’re kind of in a position where nine times out of ten, reviews don’t offer a constructive criticism, they just offer a point of view. The difficulty is that not everyone’s point of view is the same. I understand that reviews and five-star ratings are important because it helps shows to sell tickets, and that’s where stars are useful: when you get a lot of them. I have total faith in this show, but I’m still really scared about reviews, because there have been occasions when critics have been harsh or cutting because they want to make a point, or they want to be that reviewer. There are times when I’ve read reviews where something’s been absolutely slammed, and I’ve thought it was absolutely brilliant. It’s particularly hard when it’s your baby, or it’s your work. Reviews are useful for producers, but I try and avoid them and just do work that I believe in. Reviews aren’t going to change much, they can just make you doubt. And the star rating is a very brief way of saying what you think, I can totally relate to that.
Well, part of me says that reducing something that has been made, something that has been created by a group of people, and has had this much time put into it, and ultimately is a work of art, shouldn’t just be reduced to a number just to sell tickets.
Yeah – and you wouldn’t go to an art gallery and rate a painting out of five, would you, like you say.
It’s coming up to Christmas, so what are you doing?
We’ve got shows the day before Christmas Eve, and then I’m actually getting a plane – I’ve been bumped up! I’ve been working over Christmas for the past three years, and the first time I drove home for Christmas; the second time I got the train; and this time I’m getting a plane, so I think I’m going up in the world! I’m going up to Warrington, where I’m from, to sit with my family and drink lots of cups of tea and have mince pies and look at the river that we live by. Just veg out for two or three days, and then come back and get back into the shows.