Ahead of the European premiere of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella at Hope Mill Theatre, I had the pleasure of sitting down with its male lead, Jacob Fowler (Prince Topher), for a candid chat about Cinderella and his career so far.
Please note, this is a short, easy-to-read version of the interview. Stay tuned for the full, in-depth in conversation!
Fowler first found fame on Little Mix The Search, which he won with his band Since September. I previously interviewed his bandmate Patrick Ralphson as part of my A Tough Act to Follow series.
He left Since September after they opened for Little Mix on their farewell The Confetti Tour, and ahead of their own farewell tour, to focus on his career in musical theatre. Whilst Jacob was sad to have missed Since September’s farewell tour, he does not regret his bold decision to leave; it was the right thing to do, for it is musical theatre, not music, that he wants to focus on. Further, touring was one of his least favourite parts of being a musician!
Jacob had previously played the male lead (and antagonist), J.D., in Heathers in the West End. He told me that he got that role super last-minute but jumped at the chance to play it, even though it is not his preferred type of role. He much prefers roles with a more classical-type of singing; they are much nicer on the vocal chords. Heathers, meanwhile, is a rock musical, and the role of J.D. is particularly vocally demanding.
Thus, Jacob is happy to be part of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical; you can’t get more classical than that! But more than the role being nicer on the vocal chords, by starring in this production, he is part of an original European cast.
Cinderella is the only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical written for television (1957), and it has been adapted for the screen two more times. Whilst there have been some smaller stage productions, beginning with a holiday pantomime adaptation at the London Coliseum in 1958, it did not become an actual Broadway musical until 2013. It had its Australian premiere earlier this year, and now, at last, it has made it to the continent where the fairy tale originated.
Jacob feels the pressure of playing such an iconic role in such an iconic musical, but he is excited to put his spin on it. After starring in a Broadway musical in a big theatre in the West End, he looks forward to starring in a Broadway musical in a small, intimate space in a regional theatre. The guys at Hope Mill Theatre have proven themselves time and time again; from Pippin to Rent to The Wiz, they know how to take a Broadway musical and squeeze it into their quaint, little performance space – without losing much majesty. Jacob knows he is in safe hands.
Jacob is thrilled to be starring alongside Grace Mouat (Cinderella), an insanely talented musical theatre star who previously played swings in the original casts of Six and & Juliet – and, as Jacob said himself, is finally getting the recognition she deserves.
Jacob and I then had an in-depth discussion about older musicals, such as those created by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and their relevance today. How do you keep an old musical from feeling dated and problematic? Should older musicals be left alone; is that part of the appeal? Should they be updated with the times?
I recently saw the Chichester Festival Theatre production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, and I noted the effort to make it less problematic, but certain things still irked me. But one has to acknowledge the social and historical context: the musical was created with an anti-racist message at its heart, and this intention was so obvious that it offended conservatives in southern states.
Likewise, the Lincoln Centre production of The King and I. I loved this musical so much that after seeing it in the West End, I caught it again in Manchester (I don’t have the best record on problematic fiction; heck, my bedroom is Breakfast at Tiffany’s-themed). This production (which is touring the UK again next year) made a conscious effort to de-orientalise itself, with less outlandish costumes and sets and a mission to humanise its Asian characters – but one can only go so far without breaking apart the musical.
Fowler eloquently explained his position. He recognises that some musicals are dated (offensive, even) and creatives should do all they can to fix those flaws without completely deconstructing and reinventing these classic works of art that are loved by so many. It’s about getting the balance right.
Whilst Jacob is already killing it in musical theatre, he is nothing if not ambitious, and he is already thinking about the future. As aforementioned, he prefers musical theatre with a classical sound, so it is unsurprising that his dream role is the titular Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera (though he knows he has to age a little before taking on that role).
Whilst we anticipate Jacob’s stint in the biggest musical of all time, be sure to catch him as Prince Topher in the European premiere of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which runs at Hope Mill Theatre from November 1 to December 11.