Gerónimo Rauch, Jan 2014

Gerónimo Rauch: 'Thank God I’m Playing The Phantom Because I Can Do Whatever I Want'

Interview by Glenn Rice

For a man who admits that he actively resisted becoming a singer, musical theatre sensation Gerónimo Rauch has done remarkably well for himself. 

The 35 year-old Argentinian star is currently thrilling audiences at the West End's Her Majesty's Theatre in the title role of The Phantom Of The Opera, following a decade-long ascent to international fame that began in his homeland when he was the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar and a member of boyband Mambrú, and continued through raved-about tenures as Valjean in the Madrid and London productions of Les Misérables.

We meet in Rauch's expansive dressing room at Her Majesty's, which today has been unceremoniously co-opted as a wardrobe for the show's costumes. Raoul's pin-sharp tunics and Christine's opulent gowns monopolise a substantial chunk of his chill-space, but if the man behind the Phantom is peeved by the intrusion, he’s not letting on. As backstage crew buzz around us in preparation for showtime, he’s a model of relaxation and contentment, and most definitely one of the gang.

Rauch is charming, open and funny, the fiery passion for which his performances are noted evidently reserved for the stage. He’s endearingly apologetic about his in-fact excellent English, and as thoughtful and articulate as one might expect from a son of the famously literate Argentina. As we discuss his career and his work in Phantom, it becomes apparent that his un-starry demeanour arises from beginnings in a country where success in musical theatre is almost unheard of. He thinks he’s lucky - but he also knows he’s good.

You’ve been the Phantom in London since September.

2nd September was the opening night. 

Were you nervous?

I'm always nervous. Every night, just a bit. Mainly because English is not my first language, so I have that to add to the situation. But we were all very well trained and rehearsed and prepared for that night. You always feel that you have a lot of work to do, but it worked perfectly. There was a big cast change this year, so we were all thrilled with the opportunity. 

We know that the Phantom is a disfigured musical genius and not a happy soul, but not much else. What’s your personal take on him, and how deep did you dig for his backstory?

There are answers that we as performers ask for all the time, and in the original novel of The Phantom Of The Opera, they’re not there. So the director and I created stories ourselves. I went deep into the story of the Phantom’s mother, because I think that’s the key point of all his attitudes and all his reactions. It’s why he’s so extreme, why he loves with such passion and why he hates and kills with the same passion.

I think that all comes from the relationship with his mother, and how he was abandoned when he was very young. He wants to be loved, and he’s rejected all his life. Suddenly, Christine doesn’t reject him but allows him to get into her world, and the other way ’round. It’s the first time in his life he has a relationship with someone who doesn’t reject him.

I work every night with that relationship with his mother and suddenly, in the final scene, I can see my mother there.

You obviously connect to a great deal more in the show than just its surface spectacle. What, for you, is at the heart of its success?

It’s just an incredible story and incredible music, and the original creative team created a masterpiece.

Saying that, people come to London and they want to see the London Eye, the typical things to see, and they want to see Phantom. It’s a monument in this city, and that’s its success.

You've played opposite two actresses who've alternated the part of Christine since your run in Phantom began. How’s that been?

I'm enjoying both Olivia Brereton and Harriet Jones who are sharing the role. It’s lovely, because I get new vibes and new energy from them every night.

What's the secret to keeping the character fresh over a long run?

I just love my job. That's the most important thing about keeping it fresh. I come to work with a smile, and what I really try to do is to let my feelings come out. If I'm having a bad day then thank God I'm playing the Phantom because I can do whatever I want. If I'm happy I could do a joyful Phantom, if I’m sad I could be aggressive. It changes, it depends on the day, the orchestra, the sound – every show is different.

It depends on the audience also.  It's part of our job to keep it fresh and to understand that even though this might be my hundredth performance, people are watching the show for the first time, and we need to make this show new, unique and refreshing for them.

You've done pop, you've done classical. Why did you choose musical theatre as your career over these other choices, and who inspired you to get into it?

I was a rugby player. I wasn’t even interested. I rejected my intentions of being singer, and fought against that all my life.

You fought against it?

Yes, yes, yes. I come from a country that, twenty years ago, was very narrow-minded. But thanks to Miss Saigon and the tenth anniversary of Les Mis and - mainly - Freddy Mercury and Queen, I just couldn't avoid being a singer. It was there inside of me and I just needed to let it out. I started singing and training, but only as a hobby. I did three years of advertising at university, and suddenly Cameron Mackintosh gave me this opportunity. 

Just like that?

In Buenos Aires I auditioned for Les Mis. There were four thousand people there and I was a total amateur with nothing in my CV, but the creative team decided to give me a chance, and there I was in the ensemble of Les Mis – my first professional job. Since then, I’ve simply found that even though I trained in classical music and also had a boy band in Argentina, musical theatre is my language. I feel that I use all of my abilities on stage in musical theatre. 

But you’ve dipped your toe back into classical music again recently. What led you to that?

I was studying musical theatre and pop singing, and I felt that a roof was there and I couldn’t continue growing. Five years ago I started training classically, and that changed my way of singing and my career, because I got big roles after that. I got Valjean in Spain, then Valjean here, and the Phantom, mainly because I just trained so much.

Reading your standard bio, it looks like you went straight from obscurity to international leading man without having to struggle for years in the chorus like most people have to. Is that true?

No. I come from a country where everything is a struggle and there are just no opportunities in the business. There's only one big musical a year there, and they never last more than ten months, so it's a struggle all the time. Right after I'd played Doody, a small part in Grease, the country had a financial crash and there were no musicals at all.

I did win a reality show in Argentina though; we recorded three CDs and it was massive but even so, after it ended it was very hard to continue. I did an amateur production of Jesus in Argentina and because of that I received an opportunity to audition for Jesus in Spain, and then my career started again in musical theatre. That was 2008, and since then I’ve been growing.

You've played three of the biggest male roles in musical theatre – Phantom, Valjean and Jesus. What have you brought to them that other actors haven’t?

I believe that we are unique as people and as performers, so what I’ve brought to these parts is myself. I’m not going to compare myself to anyone, I don’t like that. But we actors and performers, we search for the truth in the characters that we play, and the only way to be as truthful as you can is to open your soul. Even though I’m not a murderer, it’s me performing every night, and I open my soul to share the feelings of the Phantom. But they are my feelings also, so what I think I bring to the character is Gerónimo.

You played Valjean in both English and Spanish, two languages with very different personalities. Did you find that you rendered the character differently as a result of that?

The translation they did for the Spanish version was really good. What happens sometimes is that the meaning of the phrase is there but it’s not in the same place, and that can be hard. But in the Spanish version of Les Mis I had the same intentions in the lines. It was a very good work. For example (sings): 'Become a thief in the night, become a dog on the run…' – all in the same place.

What was different was that I did the twenty-fifth anniversary production in Spain, and here I did the original one. So I had to 'erase' a bit when I did it in Spain and start afresh, because there are different movements, different directions. But I loved it. It was my first challenge in English and I had to work a lot.

I heard you got to know your fellow Valjean Hugh Jackman too.

Well, that’s marketing, my friend, ha ha! But yeah, there was a meeting that the office arranged for us, because he was Valjean in the movie and I was Valjean in the West End. Just the same, he is an amazing person. Just in the few minutes I was there, I was like: 'Oh my God, this superstar is talking to me'. But he deserves to be there, because he’s really nice.

Given the high-profile roles you’ve already got under your belt, are there any parts that you still have ambitions to play?

I think I need to do Sondheim. I always wanted to but never did. I’ve always loved the music of Jekyll and Hyde [by Lesley Bricusse - Ed] and I think that’s a part that would suit me if the occasion should arise. That’s a dream, just to sing it. But I’m happy. Three of my dream roles are already done.

It’s pretty good going.

Yes, and I would do them again if asked. Well, I’m still performing Phantom now, of course.

Finally, I have to ask you about your name. I've heard of the artist Hieronymous Bosch and the Apache leader Geronimo, but there’s no 'Gerónimo' on any list of Argentinian boy’s names I could find.

It’s not a stage name – you can see it in my passport. My father decided to call me Gerónimo after the Apache. In France it’s spelled with a 'J' and mine’s with a 'G' – the American version.

When I was a child I hated being called Gerónimo, because I was always the different one. But now I love it. Every time I hear that name it’s like: Ah! You’re calling me! I’m not Tom, I’m not John, you know? I’m Gerónimo. Not that anyone says it properly anyway, because here it’s pronounced 'Jerónimo', while in Spanish it’s 'Herónimo'. But don’t worry. I’ll still respond if you call me Jerónimo, ha ha!