There are some great shows playing in the West End right now. As with anything in life, they might not all be to everyone’s taste, but the beauty of theatre is that there is always something for everyone. The popularity of more recent additions such as Miss Saigon and Urinetown is equally matched by the long-term residents of the West End, which draw fans back time and again. One of the longest-running shows in the West End is the ABBA musical Mamma Mia, which has been ‘thankful for the music’ since its 1999 première at the Prince Edward Theatre. Fifteen years later, it is now playing at the Novello Theatre, but although the venue has changed, the quality of its entertainment merits has not. The current cast keeping the show alive and well is peppered with many talented performers, such as Rebecca Lock, Alasdair Harvey and Dianne Pilkington, but that talent is not limited to just the principal cast. The ensemble team contains just as many names which warrant recognition, and In Profile aims to do just that: this edition of the series recognises Mamma Mia ensemble member and West End regular, Matthew Barrow.
A graduate of the Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts, Barrow grew up in Weymouth, Dorset and first developed his love of performing in a local youth theatre company there. He was involved in WOW youth musical theatre between the ages of nine and seventeen; years which still remain a memorable period of his life. He later went on to train at the acclaimed drama school which counts such names as Lara Pulver, John Partridge, Melanie Chisholm and Gavin Lee among its notable list of alumni.
Since graduating from Bird College, he has appeared in a high number of theatrical productions. One of his earliest credits was an ensemble role in an international production of Grease, staged at the Pattichoun Ampitheatre in Cyprus. He then played the role of Tom Hart in new musical From The Hart, a musical biopic of American lyricist Lorenz Hart which made its world première at the New End Theatre, London in 2007. He was also an ensemble member in the UK Tour of Miss Saigon and has subsequently travelled in the touring production of the musical Fame, playing the role of Goody and 1st Cover Joe Vegas in the European Tour.
On 10th May 2009, Barrow was involved in the Mum’s the Word production of RENT at the Garrick Theatre, playing Steve/Mr Grey in a cast of West End performers which which also included such names as Jonathan Williams, Kelly-Anne Gower, Jodie Jacobs, Tim Driesen, Jenny Fitzpatrick and Leon Lopez. He then returned to life on the road after joining the UK Tour of Mary Poppins as a Swing, covering various male-based roles. He came back to London to perform at the Theatre Royal Haymarket as a Swing and understudy Herman in Sweet Charity.
His next West End role saw him join the original London cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Wizard of Oz revival, which opened at the London Palladium in March 2011 following the TV search for an unknown star to play Dorothy: the role went to Over The Rainbow winner Danielle Hope. Barrow played a variety of characters as part of his ensemble duties, most notably that of the Munchkin Mayor, and covered a number of the lead roles. During his time in the show, he played Uncle Henry on stage and also had an extensive run as Professor Marvel/The Wizard whilst Russell Grant was recovering from an injury.
Following the closure of The Wizard of Oz, he was cast in the Menier Chocolate Factory’s acclaimed revival of Merrily We Roll Along. Appearing alongside the likes of Damian Humbley, Clare Foster, Mark Umbers and Zizi Strallen, he played Ru and was Humbley’s understudy for the role of Charley Kringas. He and the rest of the cast reprised their roles when the production transferred to the West End a month after its original run at the Chocolate Factory ended. The show opened at the Harold Pinter Theatre in April 2013 for a limited 12-week run. Most recently, he starred in a regional production of Chicago at the Leicester Curve, playing the principal role of Amos Hart.
Other theatre credits include playing Euphemus in the workshop of Jason and the Argonauts (New Players Theatre), Broadway and Beyond (UK Tour), The 12 Irish Tenors (European Tour, Dubai Norway), The Twelve Days of Christmas (Tilbury Docks), Hey Mr Producer! (NCL Sky), Encore! Mr Producer (NCL Sun), and Music of the Night – The Music of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (NCL Star). He was also Merlin the Narrator in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Cresset, Peterborough) and Lee in Here and Now (Steps tribute group, Weymouth Pavilion).
Off-stage, Barrow has also dipped his toe into the world of producing. In 2011, he organised the sold-out London début concert of American composer Jonathan Reid Gealt with then-WOZ cast mates Ceili and Aisling O’Connor under the name of Conrow Productions. It was a wonderful evening of new musical theatre writing, with a superb line-up of West End names, including Caissie Levy, Jonathan Williams, Kelly-Anne Gower, Katie Hall and Stuart Matthew Price, among many more. Their follow-up event featured another up-and-coming American composer, David Are. Slip Into Your Skin: Songs of David Are took place at Freedom Bar on 18th March 2012 with the man himself in attendance to perform alongside more West End stars, such as Sharon D. Clarke, John Addison and Liam Doyle. Conrow Productions is now known under the name of ILIADebuts and has presented many more events since then.
Barrow can also be heard on the cast recording of Christopher J Orton and Robert Gould’s original Welsh musical, My Land’s Shore, where he features as part of the ensemble. It was during one of the studio sessions that I first met him in fact, and I’ve continued to follow his career with interest since then. Like me, he too is a big supporter of new musical theatre writing and he has had two original songs written for him by up-and-coming names in the world of new writing. The trans-Atlantic team of Anderson & Petty wrote the song ‘Only Me’ for Barrow, which he recorded for their début album and has also performed at live events, including the Songwriter’s Union concert at the Union Theatre on 12th August 2012. Chris and Amy Passey, the talented songwriter’s behind the popular ‘Stagey and Proud’, also composed the song ‘Til Tomorrow’ for him. Barrow also recently worked with US composer Jonathan Reid Gealt (who he first met when bringing him over for his London début concert) on some world début material as Jack the Ripper in his new musical Dust and Shadow. He has also been supporting Gealt in his Kickstarter campaign to raise funding to record his next album, Whatever I Want It To Be.
He is currently back in the West End appearing in Mamma Mia at the Novello Theatre. He has an ensemble role in the show and understudies the three ‘father’ roles of Harry Bright, Bill Austin and Sam Carmichael.
Matthew Barrow has taken great strides in the world of musical theatre since he first graduated from Birds, and this talented actor is sure to enjoy a long and fruitful career on the stage.
You can follow Matthew on Twitter @mattjbarr82
By Julie Robinson: @missjulie23
Saturday 3rd January 2015