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Beyond Les Mis
A touring production, featuring the songs from a selection of show tunes including Les Mis, is heading for Sunderland later this month. Singer Andy Reiss tells Steve Pratt how his link with the hit stage muscial began
Andy Reiss is proof that you can go into an audition an unknown and come out, if not exactly a star, then a performer in a hit stage musical. What he coul not predict was that two decades later he’d still be closely associated with that first show – Les Miserables.
Beyond The Barricade, a touring production featuring stars from that show and Les Mis numbers among its selection of show tunes, is now in its 14th year and making a return visit to Sunderland Empire this month.
“It astounds me people are still coming to see us.
We really do mean it when we say we’re eternally grateful. The only reason we can do this show is because audiences keep coming,” he says.
His first brush with Les Mis came in 1992 when he walked into an audition, never having performed professionally before. He’d begun his musical career at the age of five when he learned to read and play music with Hednesford Salvation Army brass band. He played in various rock bands and sang in local music societies, paving the way for a career in musical theatre.
“I walked in off the street and auditioned for Les Mis at an open audition,” recalls Reiss, who was working at the time with youngsters in the police probation services.
“I took the afternoon off, then was recalled by the producers. Then they offered me a job. It was one of those stars-aligning moments. I was in the situation where I was thinking about changing jobs, so I handed in my notice.”
Without any formal training or an agent, he found himself in Les Mis at Manchester Palace Theatre.
He became assistant to the resident director, and says that watching the creative team of Ken Caswell and John Caird was worth a three-year course at any drama college.
He appeared in the show in Dublin and Edinburgh and, after a two-year break, returned as the resident director for the first national tour.
Over the years he’s played most of the male characters, including Enjoiras and Valjean. He remains the only person to be both resident director and perform in the show at the same time. He was also involved in the 25th anniversary concert.
Beyond the Barricade arose from putting on Sunday night charity shows while appearing in Les Mis during the week. Fellow performer David Fawcett asked if he’d help fundraise in his local area.
They began doing a handful of shows every year.
That number rose each year and 14 years ago they decided to put Beyond The Barricade on the road full-time with Reiss and Fawcett alongside two female performers, usually from past Les Mis casts.
The box office success of the film version of Les Mis is increasing interest in the show and Beyond The Barricade. “The movie will open it up to people who’ve always wanted to go and see the show but never bothered. I hope it will generate more interest in live theatre,” says Reiss.
What did he think of the film? “I wanted to be blown away by the film because it’s been such a major part of my life and musical theatre history. I was nervous that I would not enjoy it but I thought it was removed so much from the stage and was epic in all proportions.”
In other words, he liked it a lot. New orchestrations in the film even inspired him to re-orchestrate some of the Beyond The Barricade score.
His long association with the show has meant he’s thought about the reasons for its long-running success. “The first point is that it’s a fantastic story and puts elements of that story into the music,” he says. “It’s a gorgeous score, pulls all the right heartstrings and makes you cry. There are other musicals that have that but there’s a special magic that happens with Les Mis.”
Not that Beyond The Barricade is totally about Les Mis. The programme also includes numbers from shows such as Miss Saigon, Blood Brothers and Jesus Christ Superstar.
He and Fawcett have also included a couple of numbers from Carousel in the show. Audiences are loving it, so more from that era may follow.
He hasn’t forgotten his roots in amateur theatre.
When he takes workshops and masterclasses, he’s keen to point out there are outstanding talents in the amateur world – and that there’s always room for sheer hard work and commitment.
- Beyond The Barricade: Sunderland Empire, Feb 25. Box office 0844-8713022 and online atgtickets.com/sunderland
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