Joe Aaron Reid is currently making his London theatre debut starring as Benny in In The Heights at King’s Cross Theatre. His theatre credits include If/Then (Scott/ Stephen opposite Idina Menzel, Broadway); Ghost – the Musical (Broadway); Catch Me if You Can (Broadway); Finian’s Rainbow (Broadway); Chicago (Fred Casely, Broadway) and Curtains (Ronnie Driscoll, Broadway); Once on This Island (Daniel, Lucille Lortel); The Tin Pan Alley Rag (Roundabout/Laura Pels); Finian’s Rainbow (Encores); Why We Tell the Story (Lucille Lortel); Kismet (Encores); Lines (Joe, TBG); On the Town (Gabey, 5th Avenue Theatre); A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Gymnasia, Williamstown Theatre Festival); Ragtime (Paper Mill Playhouse); Cats (Munkustrap, Northern Stage); Camelot (North Shore Music Theatre, Boston); Beauty and the Beast (Les Places des Arts, Montreal, and Lyric, Baltimore); If/Then (National, Washington DC); Curtains (Ahmanson); Guys and Dolls (MIMF, Macau, China) and Kiss Me, Kate (Paul, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company).
Joe kindly took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about moving across the pond, living in London, being part of In The Heights and what the future might hold.
You moved to London in March after living and working in New York for years. What made you take such a huge step and is London starting to feel like home now?
I moved to London at the end of March, after closing If/Then on Broadway. We actually moved because of my husband’s job. He works in finance, where it’s actually quite common to move overseas. He is French, so for him it was coming home in a way. I agreed to move because I was living in NYC for 10 years, and although acting is a huge part of my life, adventure is a bigger part. I figured I could do what I love here, and be on a great adventure with my family at the same time. We’ll be back at some point, but for now, I’m happy. We’ve now been here for almost a year, and I enjoy it, but it takes time to feel like you’re at home. I’ll get there soon, I’m sure.
Can you name three things you love about London and three things you dislike?
Three things I love:
1. They are big on Haloumi. I had never heard of it until I moved here. It’s DELICIOUS.
2. The tube is super clean, and there seem to be trains about every 2-3minutes.
3. The architecture. The mixture of such historical buildings with modern skyscrapers is really cool. I love to walk along the Thames and see the juxtaposition between buildings like Big Ben and Parliament vs. the London Eye, and the Shard.
Three things I dislike:
1. The city is very spread out, so it takes quite a long time to get places. That being said, you feel like you are breathing fresh air, most of the time.
2. This is a gross generalization, but…customer service is different over here. I’ve said this before, but in the US, “the customer is always right”. Here, they treat you as if they are doing you a favor, even though you are paying for a service.
3. London is more expensive than NYC. Not. Cool.
Have you had the chance to check out the London theatre scene?
I have been able to see some things. I was able to see Gypsy, in which Imelda Staunton SLAYED! I saw The Curious Incident… and absolutely loved it. Some amazing performances in Miss Saigon!! I’ve seen a couple of other things, as well. Some new and smaller things, and some old staples.
In The Heights
In The Heights marks your first appearance on a London stage. I’ve seen the show several times and the one thing that always gets me is the energy on stage. Everyone seems to put their heart and soul into this production. What’s it like to be a part of In The Heights and are you happy to make your London stage debut in this Show?
YES and YES! The show is so vibrant, and everyone gives it everything they have. What’s funny, is that I wasn’t supposed to be doing In The Heights. I was slated to do Stardust Road at the St. James, but it unfortunately was cancelled. It just so happened that they were in final callbacks for In The Heights, and they agreed to see me. I feel like everything happens for a reason, and I was meant to be doing this show at this point in my life.
This is a question I’ve been asking myself over and over again: Where did Victoria Hamilton-Barritt get her energy from (performing 7 months pregnant)?
I have no clue!!! It’s mindboggling!! I just met her through this process, and so I have only known her pregnant. I can only imagine her force when she’s just eating for one.
What is your favourite song or scene in the show and why?
Oooooh, That’s a tough one. I like different songs/scenes for different reasons. So, I’ll give you a few that I love. I love the scene into “Benny’s Dispatch”. So much of my show is dramatic, so I enjoy starting off the show being goofy and playful. I love singing “When You’re Home”. Hearing Lily sing “Breathe”. If I stand in the right position backstage, I can see “Carnival” and I love watching everyone throwdown for that one. It’s such a powerful moment. The list goes on…
I saw In the Heights on Broadway in 2009 and while I liked it I didn’t love it as much as this production. I feel it works better in a smaller space where the audience has the chance to really connect with the characters and story. Do you enjoy performing in such an intimate venue?
I do enjoy it. Most of my past experiences have been in large houses on Broadway, with the traditional proscenium. This traverse stage and smaller house allows you to play more with nuance, because the audience is so close. Now that we’ve been running a while, I’m finding myself discovering new things almost weekly, about the sound, the sightlines, and Benny in general. I imagine playing Benny would be very different on a proscenium. Also, the audience is basically in your lap…or maybe it’s the other way around. When you have a supercharged audience, the energy is truly palpable. You don’t get that in a traditional venue in quite the same way.
Looking into the future: If you could join any West End production in 2016 which one would it be and why?
Well, I find it a little more gratifying when I am originating something. Five of my six Broadway shows were original casts, and there is a bit more creativity and artistic freedom when originating, versus the “move here and speak here” scenario. NOT poo pooing replacements, though!!! That comes with it’s own set of challenges, like HOW to be creatively fulfilled, while staying within the realm of what is currently happening eight shows a week. I will say, I’m sad to see Miss Saigon go. I really wanted a chance to play John. I wouldn’t mind a Fiyero in Wicked situation. Fingers crossed it’ll be something new though. We shall see.
Do you have the ultimate dream role you would love to play at some point in your career?
YES…well of course the obvious answer is it hasn’t been written yet, because IDEALLY, like I stated in the question before, the goal is to originate something, BUT in terms of roles that are already out there…Coalhouse Walker, Jr. in Ragtime. I had the chance to understudy the role at Paper Mill Playhouse, right out of college, but I’ve never actually had the chance to play it. Being a bit older now, and more right for it agewise, I’ve definitely got my eyes peeled for a production of it.
Final question: Why should people come and see In the Heights?
I think people should come see In The Heights because it has something for everyone. I know a lot of people say “rap isn’t my thing”, but as someone who raps in the show and then has multiple ballads, this show is SO MUCH MORE than rap. Traditional musical theatre lovers still get their West Side Story, while people who like contemporary music and musical theatre get more than their fill. If you like dance, it is jampacked with many different styles. If you like sweeping ballads, there are quite a few. If you are young, there are characters you can relate to. If you are older, there are characters you can relate to. The story is relatable, no matter what your background. You laugh, you cry, you party and at the end of the night you feel joy. NOT the cheesy joy, but the heart open, toothy smile joy. If you are human, you will enjoy it.
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