Interview with Brent Barrett
by Kenneth Loging
Over the last twenty years, Brent Barrett has quietly graced the stages of Broadway and beyond with his portrayals of such characters as Tommy Albright in Brigadoon, the Baron Felix Von Gaigen in Grand Hotel, and Billy Flynn in Chicago. He recently costarred opposite Reba McEntire in the revitalized revival of Annie Get Your Gun at the Marquis Theatre and will be starring as Fred Graham this fall in Kiss Me Kate when it opens in London. Ben Brantley sums it up neatly when he writes that Brent is "a handsome, gleaming toothed baritone in the tradition of Alfred Drake and Howard Keel ... [he] recalls an earlier era of leading men."
I was able to sit down with Brent during his run in Annie Get Your Gun.
KL: Where are you from originally?
BB: I'm from Quinter, Kansas. It's a small town in northwest Kansas near Colorado and Nebraska.
KL: When did you decide this is what you wanted to do?
BB: I guess, deep inside I always knew that I would be some type of performer.
KL: Were your parents supportive or did they want you to get a regular job?
BB: They really didn't know what I was doing, but they were always supportive.
KL: Where did you go to college?
BB: I went to Fort Hayes State in Kansas and then I transferred to Carnegie Mellon and graduated from there.
KL: A lot of people in this business seem to graduate from there ...
BB: Yes, I majored in musical theatre. I graduated from the first musical theatre class.
KL: Did you come to New York right after college?
BB: Yes. Actually, I had already been cast in West Side Story before I graduated. I was just in the ensemble, one of the Jets. Debbie Allen and Josie DeGuzman were Anita and Maria.
KL: So, you're also a dancer?
BB: Well, I wouldn't cast myself in a show as a dancer, but I can dance. I love dance; it can be so moving, so expressive.
KL: A job right out of school ... that's great. So you never had to wait tables?
BB: Not in New York, no.
KL: Throughout your career, you've ended up taking over roles more than originating them ...
BB: That's just the way things turn out. Of course, you'd rather originate them, but I've been very lucky, working.
KL: One role that you did originate, although it never made it to Broadway was Victor in Busker Alley. What was that?
BB: Busker Alley was a musical by the Sherman Brothers, who wrote the scores to some of the Disney movies like "Mary Poppins" and "The Jungle Book." Tommy Tune played the lead, a busker who was in love with another busker, but she really wanted to be a big star in the theatre so she leaves him to follow her dream.
KL: And whom did you play?
BB: I played the biggest star in the West End.
KL: Were you the romantic rival?
BB: No, that would have been impossible. Victor was only in love with himself ... very ego driven and campy ... over the top. There was another character, a composer, who was the romantic rival.
KL: What was Tommy like?
BB: Tommy's amazing. Grand Hotel wouldn't have been a show without him.
KL: Speaking of Grand Hotel, I know you did the tour and London, and the cast album, but did you ever get to do it on Broadway?
BB: I came in for a few weeks when David [Carroll] got sick. Everybody thought he'd be back. Then when we found out he wasn't coming back, Rex Smith took over and I went back into the tour.
KL: So, what is it like having your name on half the cabs in New York City?
BB: Well, its funny, when I was in London doing Grand Hotel, I was renting a small flat in Chelsea, and one morning I woke up, looked out the window, and on this huge billboard across the street was a picture of my naked torso advertising the show. So after something like that, your name on a cab kind of fades in comparison.
KL: What is it like working with Reba McEntire in Annie Get Your Gun?
KL: She's totally turned that show around.
BB: She's just so perfect for the part ...
KL: Do you like the changes that have been made to the book as opposed to when the tour you did with Cathy Rigby?
BB: Well, that version was rewritten, too. Today, Annie Get Your Gun kind of has to be rewritten. There are certain things like "I'm an Indian, Too" that you just can't do today. I do miss "I'm a Bad, Bad Man" because I think it set up the character of Frank so well.
KL: I didn't like the cuts that were made in the verses from some of the songs like "Doin' What Comes Naturally" and "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun" ...
BB: On the other hand, you can't have a show run three hours anymore either ...
KL: Have they approached you about the CBS movie version? You and Reba have such great chemistry. I would think she would be a big enough draw that they wouldn't need another big name.
BB: I'd like to think so, too. I'd really love to do the movie.
KL: You've done some television before, haven't you?
BB: Yes, I was on "All My Children," back in 1984; I played Tony Barclay. I was in it for a couple of years and then I got killed off.
KL: Would you like to do more?
BB: In a minute.
KL: So, You'll be going into the studio soon to record an Alan Jay Lerner CD?
BB: Yes, probably in September. I'll be meeting with my musical director soon.
KL: What songs are going to be on it?
BB: It's going to be the love songs of Alan Jay Lerner.
KL: How is the Broadway Tenors project coming along?
BB: It's going great. The Broadway Tenors is a theatrical concert event that incorporates different Broadway songs and some other stuff.
KL: And I read that you'll be on a studio recording of One Touch of Venus.
BB: We recorded some of it last fall when I was in Europe, but it's not finished yet. I don't know when it'll be out. I play Rodney.
KL: That's a switch. You get to play the geeky role.
BB: Yeah, Rodney's a better role. There's more to play.
KL: Are there any roles on Broadway right now that you'd like to take a crack at?
BB: Ummm ... no; I'd really like to do something original next.
KL: Who would you most like to work with, that you haven't already?
BB: I would love to work with Trevor Nunn. I think he's brilliant.
KL: His production of My Fair Lady just opened in London ...
BB: Yeah ... it got raves.
KL: If he mounted it over here, would you want to play Henry Higgins?
BB: I would most definitely be interested in playing Henry Higgins.
KL: What kind of music do you listen to when you're at home, besides show?
BB: I listen to a wide and very eclectic mix of things, everything from country to jazz, some classical. I like Bonnie Raitt, Vince Gill, Ann Hampton Callaway ... .I just picked up this Chet Baker CD that was recorded in the fifties that's just great ... really laid back and easy.
KL: Two more questions; what is your favorite character you've played so far?
BB: Billy Flynn, although he's also probably the shallowest.
KL: And name a musical that you'd like to do ...
BB: I'd like to do Carnival.
KL: Well, thank you; it was a pleasure talking to you.
BB: You're welcome.
Brent Barrett is an inveterate performer at the height of his powers whether it be in the recording studio, on stage, or in the concert hall. He is also one of Broadway's best kept secrets who has not yet been given the chance at a part in a show that could showcase his considerable skill. Brent is not only talented and gifted, he is also, to quote a song he once sang in the Maltby/ Shire revue Closer Than Ever, "One of the Good Guys". He is truly a generous, funny, warm, and intelligent individual.
For more information, visit www.brentbarrett.com.
Search What's New on the Rialto