THE LEADING MEN: Richard Fleeshman, the Soul and Body of Ghost The Musical

By Brandon Voss
16 May 2012

Fleeshman in Legally Blonde.
Photo by Ellie Kurtz

Before Ghost, what was the extent of your theatrical experience?
RF: I'd been on tour and onstage with my music, but in terms of musical theatre, my only professional credential was as Warner in Legally Blonde. I had a brilliant time with that, and it taught me so much. It was great to work with Sheridan Smith, who was taking the West End by storm with her performance as Elle. Before that, I'd only ever done amateur stuff when I was a kid.

I've read various reports that you were in talks to either replace Daniel Radcliffe in Equus on the West End or lead the Equus tour in the United Kingdom. What happened there?
RF: Yeah, I was very much in talks to go on the tour, actually, but the tour was going to go on for a lot longer than I'd necessarily thought out, and just one thing led to another, so we ultimately decided I wouldn't take part.

But you were ready to bare all for the role?
RF: I've never done it before, but both my parents have. I'm not one for nudity for no reason, which just seems pointless, but it's so vital in Equus. So I think I had gotten my head around it, but there's a huge difference between getting your head around it and actually doing it. I'm certainly not against it. If another part calls for nudity one day, I'd potentially do it.

You grew up in Manchester in a family of actors. When you first became interested in acting, was theatre always a part of your game plan?
RF: I wouldn't say that I had a game plan, and I still don't. This industry is so precarious. As an actor, I want to play lots of different parts, and it doesn't matter what medium that comes in, whether it's onstage, on film, or on TV. A great script and a great part is what gets me. I was really lucky I got to experience TV and film early on. Sort of switching over to theatre now, I've learned so much, not only about the business but also about holding on to those professional qualities that enable you to go out there every night and do a show like this one. I've gotten to work with some amazing people who've taught me a hell of a lot.

What was your earliest exposure to live theatre?
RF: From really young, I went to see my parents in shows. When I was six years old, I went to see my dad in A Midsummer Night's Dream something like 16 times. I remember that the guy playing Puck had these little florescent things as the magic he'd drop into the peoples' eyes. So yeah, I caught the bug quite young. Now I think sitting through 16 Shakespeare shows would be a bit of a struggle.

Did you have a particular actor's career that you admired and wanted to emulate?
RF: When I was young, because I was a musician as well, I'd look at Elton John and want to be like him. But then I'd look at John Travolta in "Grease" and go, "I want to be Danny Zuko!" Then I'd look at Al Pacino and want to be in the "Godfather" films. I wanted to do everything, which I think you should. That hasn't gone away. I'm still quite schizophrenic, doing one thing one minute and doing another the next. But I'm lucky to have all those opportunities, so I'm not going to complain.

Fleeshman in Ghost
photo by Joan Marcus

While promoting your album, you toured extensively with Elton John, who is certainly one of our more theatrical performers. What did you learn from him that you've applied to your own work?
RF: So much. For a year when we were touring together, I watched him be the most professional, hardworking person. It didn't matter what else was going on, he gave 40,000 people the most amazing show every night. That speaks volumes to why he's still around and still successful after all these years. Other than that, he's been incredibly supportive of me. Not to mention the incredible opportunities he's given me, but he'll still send me emails on first nights, wishing me luck, and it just means the world to have someone like him supporting me like that.

You've been with Ghost since its Manchester tryout in early 2011. Did you have an active part in crafting your role in terms of things like dialogue and vocal arrangements?
RF: Oh, absolutely. For both me and Caissie, it was the first time we had originated a part, and we had no clue how integral our role was in that. It's lovely to think that, if Ghost The Musical is still running somewhere in 20 years' time, the reason that the character walks stage left at that moment is because I decided to, or that the reason that melody line goes like that is because that's how I sang it. It's an incredible thing to leave your handprints on something. It's something I may never get the chance to do again, so I feel very privileged.

I've read that you had a near-death experience during rehearsals.
RF: Well, it wasn't near-death, but it was certainly bad. I was in London, in Soho, where the streets are very tiny and winding. I was standing out on a corner with my friend Andy Langtree, who was playing Carl. We were just two weeks into the rehearsal process, so it was all very early stages, and I got hit by a car. The car drove over my foot and broke my ankle in two places. So you can imagine now I felt, having just landed this dream role, knowing all the stunts and whatever else the show required, and I'm suddenly in hospital having an operation on my foot. The doctor said, "You're not going to be walking for about nine weeks." And I said, "Well, we open in seven." It was the worst experience ever. But the producers were amazing, and they got the best people to look after me, and I made it on to the first night.

Because you were briefly in the wrong place at the wrong time, Ghost could have gone on without you.
RF: Very early on, Bruce Rubin, who's very British in his approach to everything, said, "This is something that eventually you'll look back on as something that was meant to happen." Whether you believe that kind of thing or not, it was lovely to have his calming influence. He helped me see the positive in it. It definitely helped me as an actor to get that take on a situation where everything can be taken away in one second.