On paper, you shouldn't like Andy Reiss: Despite not having any formal training, his natural talent has led him to have an incredible career in musical theatre, and he has taken his own creation Beyond The Barricade around the world and the show will be celebrating it's 15th anniversary next year.
The reality is, local man Andy (born in Stone, raised in Hednesford) is one of the loveliest people you will ever have the pleasure of meeting. His passion for his work is evident as soon as he starts speaking. We met with Andy to talk about his life growing up in Staffordshire and what's new to this year's production of Beyond The Barricade.
Hello Andy, could you tell us a little more about your love for musical theatre developed?
"I was first introduced to music by my mother, who was part of the Hednesford Salvation Army brass band. At the age of 5 I learnt how to read and play music. I think that definitely gave me a good grounding in music for my future. I played in a few bands as a teen and it wasn't really till my late teens that I became immersed in musical theatre, and I always felt that was the career I should pursue"
So did you start working in musical theatre as soon as you left school?
"Actually no! I went to university and studied economics with child care law. In my spare time I performed with Stafford, Rugely and Cannock operatic societies, then I decided to use my annual leave to attend an open audition for the first production of Les Miserables outside the west end. When I got a role I thought it would just be 12 months work and I would go back to my day job! I never dreamt I would stay with Les Miserables for the entire residency in Manchester, let alone end up being the shows Resident Director whilst performing in the show!" (Andy still remains the only person to ever do this!)
Why do you think classic musicals have stayed so popular over the years?
"I think the success behind classic musicals like Les Mis, Blood Brothers etcetera is the great stories. That is the key of these shows, alongside deep characters that the audience can relate to easily. The scores were written to complement the wonderful stories, so the two together just make a great recipe for success"
How often do you get to see other shows? And what do you think of the new musicals on the scene?
"It's hard to find the time with touring! But I think newer musicals like Matilda, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Mamma Mia! and so on, have been great new products for getting a new generation interested in musical theatre and helping youngsters discover other classic shows"
How would you describe Beyond The Barricade to those who have never seen the show before?
"It's essentially one night of big musical theatre! We have a full band, and all of the cast have been principle performers in Les Mis. We perform many of the popular songs from musicals such as Phantom of The Opera, The Lion King, Jersey Boys,with a spectacular huge finale from Les Miserables, which has always stayed popluar with our audiences over the years"
What's new to this year's show?
"Quite a lot! Wicked has just gone on tour, so we have including a new section of songs from the show. We thought it would be a good way for people to get a taster of it before seeing the full show! For the first time we have also delved further back in musical theatre, including songs from West Side Story and Carousel, and the repsonse to the new material has been great"
And finally, what's been your biggest career highlight to date?
"Being picked to perform as part of a world wide cast of Les Miserables performers to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the show was pretty major. Performing with them at the Royal Albert Hall was very special"
Beyond The Barricade will be performed at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre on Saturday 26th October at 7.30pm. Book tickets.