Dream West End debut for Piterman

Josh Piterman outside London’s Her Majesty’s Theatre where The Phantom of the Opera has played for the past 33 years.

Josh Piterman singing at the Australia Day Live 2019 concert led to a casting call for a prized lead role on London’s West End. He tells Danny Gocs about following in the footsteps of Michael Crawford in the long-running The Phantom of the Opera.

MELBOURNE musical theatre star Josh Piterman is in London preparing to make his West End debut in the lead role of the hit musical The Phantom of the Opera, which has been running for the past 33 years and has been seen by millions of theatregoers.

Piterman steps into the role of the Phantom on Monday, September 9 at Her Majesty’s Theatre and is thrilled that his parents will travel from Melbourne to be in the audience.

“It is so exciting – it’s a dream that I have had for a long time,” Piterman told The AJN by phone from London.

A scene from The Phantom of the Opera.

“The magnitude of the show only hit me once I came back to London for rehearsals – The Phantom of the Opera has been playing at Her Majesty’s since 1986 when Michael Crawford starred as the Phantom and now the show is etched in the annals of music theatre.”

Piterman performed on stage in Britain a few years ago in a touring production of the musical Hairspray playing Corny Collins, and is well known to Australian audiences for his starring roles in Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, West Side Story and Cats.

About 11 years ago Piterman was cast in an Australian production of The Phantom of the Opera as an understudy for Raoul, but had to decline as he was touring with The Ten Tenors.

“Ever since, I’ve been hoping for another opportunity to be in Phantom, but it has not been staged in Australia since then,” said Piterman.

“This opportunity came about because the casting directors in London saw a video of me singing the opera favourite Nessun Dorma at the Australia Day Live 2019 concert from the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House.

“Soon afterwards I was in London visiting my girlfriend Charlotte and they asked to meet me. I sang Music of the Night for them – that’s what started the process of getting the Phantom role.”

The masquerade ball in the London production of The Phantom of the Opera. Photo: Johan Persson

With the announcement by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh that a production of The Phantom of the Opera would tour regional cities in Britain and Ireland for most of 2020, Piterman thought that was the production they were auditioning him for.

“When my agent told me that I had been offered the role for the West End production, I could not believe it,” he said.

“Especially since I was unable to attend the final audition, which Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh normally attend and sign off on major casting decisions, because I had to return to Australia for my concert tour. So they videoed my instead.”

Piterman takes over from Canadian Tim Howar, who started in the role of the Phantom two years ago and took time off earlier this year to tour as the lead singer of his reformed Mike and The Mechanics group.

The Phantom of the Opera is set around a disfigured musical genius who haunts the depths of the Paris Opera House. Mesmerised by the talents and beauty of a young soprano, Christine, the Phantom lures her as his protege and falls in love with her.

Unaware of Christine’s love for Raoul, the Phantom’s obsession sets the scene for plenty of drama. It features the hit numbers Music of the Night, All I Ask of You, Masquerade and the iconic title song.

The Phantom of the Opera has been staged in 41 countries, performed in 17 languages and seen by more than 145 million people. It is currently being staged in London, New York, Prague and Sao Paulo.

The Phantom of the Opera has won more than 70 major theatre awards, including seven Tony Awards and four Olivier Awards, making it one of the most successful musicals in entertainment history.

Piterman will perform eight shows a week and is contracted for a minimum of 12 months. Now his sights are set on making his London stage debut next month.

“This is my West End debut, which makes it really exciting –there will be family and friends in the audience which will make it special for me,” he said.

“And that there’s so much history to London theatre. My dressing room was once used by Sir Laurence Olivier!”

Joining the cast of The Phantom of the Opera means that Piterman has withdrawn from the Production Company’s musical Ragtime, which will be staged at the State Theatre in November.

“It’s disappointing that I can’t play the role of the Jewish immigrant Tateh in Ragtime, but the Production Company has been very supportive and are so excited about me getting the role of Phantom.”