Most recently on stage, Masashi Fujimoto performed at the Charing Cross Theatre as Tatsuo Kimura in George Takei’s Allegiance, working alongside the show’s inspiration George Takei for the UK premiere of the Broadway musical. Masashi has been involved in numerous pantomimes as the Emperor of China in Aladdin, and he was in the cast of The King and I at the Royal Albert Hall. With his work at The Capitol Theatre in Horsham, Masashi composed Hexwood, The Musical (which will be performed this summer as a workshop), written Santa’s Magical Gift (which is heading to Woking this Christmas), and he is currently writing The Gingerbread Boy for the theatre. For Masashi’s first major UK and US TV appearance, he played Mr Banzai in Banzai on Channel 4 and FOX, and he is the founder and musical director of Union Chapel Voices. We talked with Masashi, who told us about his time as Tatsuo Kimura in George Takei’s Allegiance, working with The Capitol Theatre in Horsham and performing in pantomimes.
You have recently finished performing as Tatsuo Kimura in the UK premiere of George Takei’s Allegiance, was there anything that drew you to the musical and your character?
I had seen the musical on Broadway in 2016. I knew very little about this musical and I had not learnt anything about Japanese internment camp during WW2 at school in Japan. Highly likely I might have been sleeping in history class though! Because of its story, I did not think this Broadway musical would be transferred to London. This wouldn’t attract a British audience. But, when I saw it, immediately I rang my agent.
What was Tatsuo like to play and what did you enjoy most about performing in the show?
Tatsuo is a father of Sam, he was born in Japan and immigrated to the US. He is very much like my father, who is 89 years old now, he experienced the war on another side of the pond in Hiroshima. I used him as a model to develop the character.
Looking at the production pictures, I was surprised how much I look like my father now. I left Japan 30 years ago in 1992.
What was it like being part of the UK premiere of George Takei’s Allegiance and how was it working alongside the rest of the cast?
It was an honour to work with George Takei, the legend, and Telly Leung, Broadway star, of course with highly talented upcoming UK actors, especially young Asian actors. They called me GranPa, and I felt like that.
How was it performing at the Charing Cross Theatre and seeing the audience response to the musical?
I have only been once to Charing Cross Theatre with traverse setting. I have performed on a round stage like Royal Albert Hall or Arenas before. So, two-sided audiences were not really new to me. But I really enjoyed the intimacy. I guess they enjoyed it too. The first row of seating was actually on the stage. The Broadway production I saw was at a 1,110-seat theatre. I felt we could share the story – George’s story with audience together and deeply.
What do you think you will miss most about performing as Tatsuo in George Takei’s Allegiance and what was it like returning to the stage for this production?
The young cast call me GranPa, I feel we have made a new family there in the Charing Cross Theatre. George said (to the young actors) that they are my children. I told him, they are my grandchildren, thus your great-grandchildren.
What are some of your favourite memories from performing in The King and I at the Royal Albert Hall?
That was in 2009. The production was much bigger than the Palladium one. We had a bigger cast and also a full orchestra. As I was a trained classical/opera singer, I really enjoyed the sound of it.
Having previously performed in pantomimes as the Emperor of China in Aladdin, how did you find the experience working on this type of show?
When I started working as an actor here in the UK, my agent asked me “Do you want to do panto?” and I said “no, I am not a physical actor”, I did not know what a British Christmas pantomime was. I thought a pantomime mime. But Bobby Davro brought me into the panto world, which started in Birmingham Hippodrome. And I have done 11 major city pantos with Britain’s greatest comedy performers. And I enjoyed it. I would like to do it again if I have a chance.
You are the composer of Hexwood, The Musical and Santa’s Magical Gift, can you tell us about these?
Hexwood was my first musical play I have supplied the songs. It’s a 50-minute one-act show with three actors. It was performed at Horsham Capitol. It will be performed in summer 2023 as a workshop as we added another song into the show recently.
Because of Hexwood, we were asked to make a new family Christmas show for Horsham Capitol, so we made Santa’s Magical Gift. I am writing a new show at the moment for Horsham again, The Gingerbread Boy, I am so excited. Santa’s Magical Gift will go to Woking this Christmas 2023!
What is your process of composing a musical and what is it like seeing a musical you have composed come together into a full production?
Composing musicals is a dream job. Especially family and children shows. When you make it, you sing, dance, smile, shout, cry and whatever emotion. I love it. Same as performing in Christmas panto, we have to find the world we (children) would dream of. Once I finish writing and hand to performers/director, my work is done. As a composer, I usually say nothing in the rehearsal rooms. I just enjoy how they develop it. Everything I want is on the sheet music!
Do you have a favourite aspect of working as a composer and how did you get into it?
I have written some music for short films, but I mainly write songs. I also composed some song/song cycles for classical singers. I studied music at university, but composition was not my main subject. So I taught myself, especially orchestration and backing track production and recordings. I started to make sheet music and backing tracks myself for auditions, because I could not find something to suit my voice or my taste. That’s the beginning of setting up my recording studio with all the sound libraries.
Can you tell us about some of the concerts you’ve been part of over the years as the founder and musical director of Union Chapel Voices?
My partner is a Church minister. I moved church wherever he will go. And we set up a choir in every church. We were so lucky that we have a commercial standard music venue inside our chapel at Union Chapel.
We started bringing lots of music into services, seasonal events like Christmas Carol, Good Friday Easter Concert, Black History Month Concert, LGBTQ, Holocaust Memorial Services, Hiroshima Day etc in the chapel. Also, we have had many small gatherings like world music, environment, social justice, etc in the upstairs bar. Yes, we have a bar in our church!
And we formed a gospel vocal group Union Chapel Voices as a part of Union Chapel Church Gospel Arts Project in 2019.
We understand you filmed for an episode of comedy series Mandy, how was this?
My agent told me that a BBC producer and Diane Morgan wanted to have a chat with me. I knew the producer from BBC comedy Roman’s Empire, which I did a long time ago. I was so excited to meet Diane. She is just a naturally funny person. It was fun to work within the production. One of the actors in the episode was Sean Lock. He passed away after years of lung cancer battle. Now I see he was suffering from the onset of symptoms. I was the same, I was suffering from my first cancer operation of bowel and just before my second cancer treatment which was lung. I had two more cancers after that. I could have shared something with him on set if I knew. I regret.
You made your first major UK and US TV appearance in Banzai, what do you remember most from filming as Mr Banzai and how was it being part of the show?
It is a long time ago, and we had so much fun making the programme with doing such hilarious games. It was pure luck to get involved in the production with Channel 4 for four years and two years in the US with FOX. I had to miss some auditions for this work such as the Miss Saigon UK Tour. But this opened the door for me to get into mainstream works in the UK.
Where does your love of acting come from and was it something you always wanted to do?
It always has been in me, but it took a long time to discover. I am a late bloomer.
What are some of your favourite theatre shows to watch and how do you like to spend your time away from your career?
When I was young, I used to watch musicals on TV or LaserDisc (no DVD invented yet, much before streaming!), which brought me into performing arts, and they were Pippin, 42nd Street and Grand Hotel.
I like eating and cooking. As I spent three years in Italy for singing training before I came to London, I love to go back there on holiday and do nothing but just eat and drink.
What are you hoping 2023 brings for you?
After four cancers were diagnosed, I got discharged from five years of treatment, two operations, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy, which killed cancers and impacted on me. I am fully recovered and was back to where I was when Allegiance started. So I must enjoy every single moment of my life. I am 60 years old this year. I do not want to waste my precious time. I cannot afford it.
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