Most recently, Riotafari Gardner headed out on his first UK Tour playing the role of Fletcher in The Bodyguard alongside Alexandra Burke as his stage mother, Rachel Marron, and was touring with the show until the end of the run earlier this year. In 2018, Riotafari made his West End debut as Young Craig in Tina – The Tina Turner Musical at the Aldwych Theatre. Chatting with Rio, he tells us about joining the cast of The Bodyguard, playing Fletcher on tour and making his West End debut in Tina – The Tina Turner Musical.
Can you tell us about playing Fletcher in The Bodyguard on their recent UK Tour?
Playing Fletcher was one of the best opportunities I’ve had in my life because it was really fun and I got to meet one of my favourite singers Alexandra Burke and got to work with many great and talented actors and dancers. I also got to learn how to do a type of flip called the 540.
What did you enjoy most about being in the cast and touring for the first time?
I enjoyed meeting new people and making lots of friends. I also enjoyed going to lots of different places such as Manchester, Birmingham, Sunderland etc. and finding out their histories.
How was it sharing the role with the other boys in the company and how did you spend your time backstage?
Sharing the role of Fletcher was fun. Although I was the youngest Fletcher on tour, I still shared a strong connection with each of the boys in my group. Backstage we would prepare ourselves with our vocal warm up, get costumes ready and have a laugh with the cast. When I didn’t perform, I was sometimes able to watch the show backstage, I love Whitney Houston’s music so I’d always enjoy watching when I had the chance!
Can you say about how it felt performing the songs with your stage mother Alexandra Burke?
Performing with Alexandra Burke was amazing, and one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Every night had a special moment. I was able to fulfil all my tasks and act right because she made me feel so comfortable and welcomed me. No matter if we were on stage or off, she always had good vibes which made me have a connection during the performance.
What was it like finding out you’d booked your first West End role in Tina – The Tina Turner Musical as Young Craig?
When I found out I’d been booked for the role of Young Craig, I was extremely excited as I couldn’t wait to be in the West End because I was inspired by my brother who plays Young Simba in The Lion King West End. The thought of following in his footsteps and being in the same environment as him felt great.
What was it like performing for the first time on a West End stage?
On my first performance, I felt nervous in case I’d mess up, but I was still excited to get on the stage. When I stepped on the stage, I felt full of happiness, and from that moment on, I knew that this is what I wanted to do.
How did you find your time in the production?
After being in Tina for a year, I became very familiar with the cast members. They became my second family, and some days I couldn’t wait to go and see them again. I was always excited to be in the theatre!
What did you know about the show and Tina Turner before being cast?
My parents play Tina Turner songs all the time, and I used to be familiar and like listening to her music. My favourite song of hers is Disco Inferno.
When did you know you wanted a musical theatre career?
I knew from when I was in nursery that I wanted to be a performer. I’d always get chosen to be the main role in plays and in my spare time, I’d do it for fun. When I saw my brother perform as Young Lola in Kinky Boots West End, I knew I wanted to take performing further.
What theatre shows have you seen and enjoyed?
I have seen The Bodyguard, The Lion King, The Tina Turner Musical, Kinky Boots and INALA and I enjoyed every single one of them! I have lots more on my list but I really want to see Wicked.
Do you have any favourite actors you’d like to work with?
I’d like to work with Will Smith and Matt Lucas and Jason Callender. I’d also like to work with Kobna Holdbrook-Smith again because he is fun, polite and is a very talented actor.
As a young actor who’s been on tour, what advice would you give another young performer thinking of auditioning for a musical tour?
I’d say go for it, give it all you’ve got but don’t forget to have fun. Always remember what you have to do, but don’t overthink it.
What do you like doing away from acting?
Aside from acting, I like to sing, dance, play football and my video games!
We understand you train in performing arts, can you tell us about this?
Yes, I attend part-time at Akomaasa Arts Academy. I like it because there are so many children there from various ages that all have a passion for the same thing. And we have such great times together whilst learning and doing what we love at the same time. I get lots of different opportunities and I also got to perform in front of the Mayor of London which was good.
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