Monday, 23 May 2016

Big Interview: Nadim Naaman & Celinde Schoenmaker

Nadim Naaman and Celinde Schoenmaker are currently starring as Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny and Christine Daaé in the West End production of The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

Whilst appearing in Phantom, Nadim is working on his second solo album Sides which follows his 2013 debut album We All Want The Same. Sides features nine self-penned songs by Nadim as well as nine musical theatre tracks, including the title song from Phantom featuring Celinde.

Having understudied Raoul between 2010 and 2012, last year Nadim returned to The Phantom of the Opera to play the role full-time. His theatre credits include: Anthony in Sweeney Todd (Harrington Pie & Mash Shop), Rolf in The Sound Of Music (Palladium), Jamie in The Last Five Years (Pleasance), Charles Clarke in Titanic (Southwark Playhouse/Toronto), Anatoly in Chess (Union), understudy Alan/Alfie in One Man Two Guvnors (Theatre Royal Haymarket), Armand in Marguerite (Tabard), Andrei in Thirteen Days & Sam in Goodbye Barcelona (both Arcola) and James in James and The Giant Peach (Watermill).

Born in the Netherlands, Celinde made her West End debut as Fantine in Les Misérables (Queen’s Theatre) and went on to play Jenny in Love Story in Holland. Before joining The Phantom of the Opera, Celinde reprised her performance in Les Misérables for a second run. She was cast as Molly in the Dutch production of Ghost , but sadly the show was later postponed.

Through the wonders of FaceTime, I recently spoke to Nadim and Celinde live in the recording studio. We discussed what people can expect from Nadim’s new album and why people might be surprised by their version of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. We also spoke about life behind the scenes in Phantom, their daily routines and whether we can expect any solo shows/albums from Celinde in the near future…

Nadim, this is album number two! Following the success of We All Want The Same, what did you set out to do with Sides?

Nadim: So We All Want The Same was as much of an experiment as anything else – it was the first time I had the balls to do something with songs I’d written. All the songs were written very independently from one another over a ten year period, whereas all of the original songs on this album have been written over the last eighteen months. The main difference is that this one is a combination of originals and covers. I wanted to reflect both sides of my musical personality because I’m a musical theatre performer, but I’m also very passionate about songwriting and creating new things. That’s how we came up with the concept of an album called Sides – there are nine new songs and nine musical theatre covers.

Nadim in the recording studio
Celinde: Every time he plays me anything that isn’t Phantom-related, I say “Is this really you?” [Nadim laughs] because it’s so different. He really does have two voices!

How would you sum up the style/sound?

Celinde: I haven’t heard it all, but when it’s pop it’s really pop. He can do completely different things with his voice. We just recorded ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ – previously I’d obviously only heard him sing Raoul’s songs, and then suddenly he sounded like a Phantom. This album is so versatile, it’s not one style. You can obviously hear it’s Nadim – it’s really good music.

Nadim: Thank you! I think I probably speak for most actors and performers in our business when I say that it’s frustrating when people see you in a role and assume that’s the only thing you can do. When you train in musical theatre they put you through all the different genres and make you develop a varied repertoire, but then most casting directors and producers will always see you as the first thing they catch you in. I only sang pop really during my time at RAM (Royal Academy of Music), but then I did Phantom and people went “Oh Nadim’s got a legit voice because he’s done Phantom and Titanic and Sweeney, that’s all he does”. Of course one job leads to another and that’s nice, but it’s also really cool to get back to basics and approach each song for how it was written. I think Celinde has that kind of voice too.

Celinde: Yes, I think we both have two different sides to our voices and it’s always difficult to get out of one and make people believe you can do the other. People say things like, “that’s a musical theatre voice”, but what does that mean? We have jukebox musicals, classical musicals – there are so many different voices in musical theatre.

But you broke the mould when you went from Fantine to Christine! Lots of Fantines have gone on to play Elphaba, whereas more Cosettes have gone on to play Christine…

Celinde: I think I started out with my belt and then learnt to do the soprano stuff. You have to be really lucky for people to give you the opportunity to show that you can do both – half the time if you’ve done a belt role they won’t even see you for a soprano role. You need a lot of luck.

Has it been nice for the two of you to be able to work on something outside of Phantom? 

Celinde: Well we’re still doing a Phantom song [laughs]. 

Celinde in the recording studio

Nadim: With the covers on this album, we said from day one that we wanted to do songs people are familiar with in a new way. We’ve come up with a concept or theme for each cover that makes it original. We haven’t actually changed the music or structure – every note is the same – but for instance with ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ I had the idea from the Moulin Rouge film of doing a Latin, flamenco version of the song. The whole thing has completely come together and I’m really excited about people hearing it. I wanted to surprise people by not choosing ‘All I Ask Of You’ because we do that every night.

Is The Phantom a role you would like to play one day?

Nadim: I mean…

Celinde: He should!

Nadim: …absolutely! I would be lying if I said otherwise because Phantom is one of those shows you see as a teenager that makes you want to be an actor. Sometimes people say, “You’re doing a year in Phantom, that’s a long time!” but why wouldn’t you want to do a year in Phantom? It’s so iconic. I’m having the time of my life playing Raoul and am thrilled to be in the show with the thirtieth birthday coming up. It’s terrific! A few years down the line, if they asked me to audition for The Phantom I would be over the moon. 

Celinde: It’s going to happen!

Album Artwork
Talk me through your daily routines – how does performing in such a big show affect your lives?

Celinde: Well I only do six shows a week so I’m free on Mondays and Fridays which is when I just do nothing. I try and meet up with friends and do little things. The problem is you can’t do too much during the days because you still have to do a show in the evening, you have to pace your energy. I wish I could tell you a really cool story about going to yoga and writing a book… but I can’t [laughs]. I sleep, I eat and I watch lots of Netflix. I love it! Because I’m foreign – I still feel like I’m foreign even though I’ve been here for a long time [laughs] – I fly back home quite regularly.

Nadim: Because I only have the one day off on a Sunday, I find the best way to stay excited and fresh for eight shows a week is to keep my brain occupied on other things during the day. I try and leave Phantom at the door when I leave the theatre. Luckily for the past four months my focus during the day has been on this album! I always try and go to the gym or go for a run at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Instead of it being a chore, I make it part of my routine. So then I arrive at work feeling like I’ve had a productive day. 

Celinde: That’s literally the perfect answer! I wish I could have answered like that [both laugh]. 

Are you able to put your own stamps on the roles?

Celinde: One hundred percent – they really let us do our thing with the roles.

Nadim: There’s a preconception that in these long-running shows you get given the blocking and have to do it the same as the person before you… that couldn’t be further from the truth at Phantom. I see it on a weekly basis because I perform with Celinde six times a week, and then with the alternate Christine, Emmi Christensson, twice a week. If Celinde or Emmi are on holiday then Lisa-Anne Wood, the understudy, does two shows. I love doing the show with all three. They are literally completely different to one another; they stand in different places, they look in different directions, they do different things on every line. It’s fantastic because it means the show is always changing. It would be very different if you were told where to stand on a certain line…

Celinde: …and then people wouldn’t stay for more than one contract. 

Nadim & Celinde in The Phantom of the Opera

You have so many people in the cast who have been there for years! What is the whole atmosphere like backstage?

Celinde: We have Philip Griffiths who is the longest serving cast member in the world… in the history of musical theatre! He is as fresh as a daisy. He’s always giving it one hundred percent and I have so much respect for that. I think it’s very much family-like backstage, but it’s also chilled.

Nadim: There’s something very healthy about having a wide age range and loads of different departments – there are ballet dancers, actors, opera singers, musical theatre singers. Everyone has a different skill set and background so there’s a mutual respect. That’s not the case with all shows, for example Les Mis has about twenty-five young lads who all look and sound quite similar and have a similar amount of experience. Phantom is very much old school – it feels like you do your time and work your way up. We all talk about a lot of things other than what we do for a living which is also very healthy. 

Nadim, after understudying Raoul, how does it feel to now be well into your run as the lead? It must be one of the best feelings?

Nadim: It is literally one of the best feelings! My two years there as an understudy were brilliant, I learnt so much and understudied some really nice guys in Will Barratt and Killian Donnelly who taught me quite a lot. But now… I feel like the last nine/ten years since being at drama school have been to try and get a lead in the West End – I’ve been working towards this point. To be offered the part made me feel like everything along that way was completely worth it. It feels like a weight is lifted off your shoulders because you’ve achieved what you set out to do.

Celinde in Phantom
When I left the show the first time, the creative team were very supportive and said, “We love what you’ve done but think you should go away, do some more work, meet some new people and then come back one day in the future. At the time I thought, ‘Maybe they say that to everybody that doesn’t get the job’… but they meant it. I went away and did some of the best jobs of my career – interesting, different work like Titanic and the pie shop Sweeney Todd and Chess at the Union. These little gems meant I got to play really good parts in shows which obviously developed me to the point they went “He’s ready now, come on back”. It’s a lovely, lovely feeling!

Time for the West End Frame killer stagey question – I’m sending you to a desert island and you can only take three musical theatre songs with you. What are you going to take and why?

Celinde: The first one I’m going to bring is ‘By The River’ by Maury Yeston. Then, do you know The Hunchback of Notre Dame? I would take ‘Esmeralda’ – it’s this huge act one finale. I can’t believe that you guys don’t know the show! It needs to come over here. You need it in your life! It’s so good. Finally… there’s another song from that show called ‘Belle’ and it’s with a tenor, a baritone and a bass. It’s stunning. 

Two songs from the same show? That’s so controversial!

[laughs] If I don’t want to be controversial I would take… I can’t remember the show… David Hasselhoff was in it!

Nadim: Oh… Jekyll and Hyde?

Celinde: Yes Jekyll and Hyde!

Nadim: ‘The show David Hasselhoff was in’ [laughs], that’s a much stagier answer!

Celinde: I would choose ‘The Dangerous Game’. But then I also love ‘The I Love You Song’ from Spelling Bee!

[laughs] You need to clarify your three!

Celinde: Oh well because you guys don’t know The Hunchback of Notre Dame over here, I would take ‘The I Love You Song’ from Spelling Bee, ‘By The River’ by Maury Yeston and… I’ve changed my mind again… ‘Make Me Happy’ from The Wild Party!

Nadim: Celinde is taking about nine songs with her!

Nadim Naaman & Rob Houchen in the recording studio

What would you take, Nadim?

Nadim: I would also choose a Maury Yeston… I would take the opening sequence of Titanic. It’s just so big and contains about twenty different uplifting melodies. I would take ‘My Friends’ from Sweeney Todd because I just think it’s beautiful. I know it’s about a pair of razor blades… but it doesn’t sound like it’s about a pair of razor blades, it sounds like a love song. I’ve never seen a production of Sweeney and not been given goosebumps by that moment. My final one would be ‘Moving Too Fast’ from The Last Five Years. That show was the first job I had out of college and I’ve loved that song ever since. I try and sing it as often as I can. It’s on the album which is cool!

Hooray – we did it!

Celinde: [laughs] I’m so sorry – there are just too many!

Nadim: [jokingly] Oh wait… can I change…

Celinde: You made me feel like I was really going… and really had to pick these songs!

[laughs] We don’t mess around at West End Frame! Nadim, it’s very exciting that you’re doing another solo show at the Hippodrome to launch the album! Would you like to plan a few more?

Nadim: I absolutely would, but the rest of this year is quite tricky because there’s a lot up in the air at the moment… I don’t know specifically where I’m going to be for the autumn and before Christmas. I want to promote the album for the rest of this year, as soon as I have more concrete plans for the next twelve to eighteen months I would love to book in a couple of bigger shows, like one at Cadogan Hall. I think I’m up for the idea of developing a cabaret night somewhere like Crazy Coqs. Maybe a monthly thing. I really enjoy putting things together.

And Celinde, when are we going to get your solo show?!

Celinde: [laughs] Me?! I was actually just talking about it… I would love to do something. I wish I was a writer because I love doing new stuff. I should definitely do something. I’ve actually started working with this guy who is an amazing jazz pianist. I want to switch things up a bit… who knows… maybe it will turn into an album.

Nadim: You should make it into a gig definitely! I’ll produce it…

Celinde: We should do that!

Nadim: There you go – it has just been decided!

Celinde: It’s all going to happen next year.

What’s it like to have so much support behind you from theatre fans? Supporters of big shows like Phantom are so dedicated!

Nadim: Absolutely! It’s one of the most important parts of doing this. These iconic shows are a gift because they touch so many people; to be a part of that and to know you’re making somebody’s day is incredible. If you do it justice, which hopefully we do, they are very generous and kind people – without them coming back these shows wouldn’t last as long.

Celinde: It’s honestly so great! I never thought Christine was a role I would even be able to audition for, so at the beginning I was like ‘I hope they accept me’. They really know the show, and I felt like they really did accept me and that’s really cool. But then I also love that sometimes after the show you meet people who say it was their first time, and I’m their first Christine! 

Nadim: Me too! I kind of just assume that everyone has seen it, but every day there are people in the audience seeing it for the first time.

Celinde: With the Olivier and everything that’s been going on, I think it’s an exciting time to be in the building.

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Sides is released with independent label Auburn Jam Records on 20th June 2016. A limited run of physical CD copies of Sides will be released, which can be pre-ordered now.

To launch the album, Nadim will play a solo show at the Hippodrome on 19th June 2016 with guests including Celinde, Rob Houchen, Jeremy Secomb, Laura Tebbutt and Will Barratt. Tickets are on sale now.

The Phantom of the Opera is booking at Her Majesty's Theatre until 1st October 2016.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 5&6: Johan Persson

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