This year has seen Bob Harms perform at Chichester Festival Theatre in Stephen Sondheim’s musical Assassins, as well as being part of the MT Fest workshop Train on Fire at The Other Palace, with the show written by Annabelle Lee Revak. Before the pandemic, Bob had just opened as Happy Man/Mr Thompson in the original West End cast of Pretty Woman: The Musical, and when theatres could reopen in 2021, he reprised his role at the Savoy Theatre. Since making his professional stage debut in Chicago, Bob has gone on to appear in many projects including Come From Away for their UK premiere, Spamalot, Sweet Charity, Show Boat, the international tour of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, and he played Frankie in the touring production of Jackie the Musical. Bob is set to play Captain Hook in Woking’s pantomime of Peter Pan, which will open on 8th December at New Victoria Theatre, and he is due to be busy on stage until mid 2025. Chatting to Bob, we found out about his time in Assassins this year, playing Happy Man/Mr Thompson in Pretty Woman: The Musical and being part of the UK premiere of Come From Away.
You’ve most recently been performing at Chichester Festival Theatre in their production of Assassins, how was your time in the show?
Chichester is a lovely place to work, like many of the regional theatres in the UK. Being a part of Assassins was an absolute joy, I wasn’t personally doing that much, popping up as different presidents here and there but I remember when the original casting came out, there were so many actors that I respected in it that I wanted to be a part of it.
What was it like working on a Stephen Sondheim musical and how was it seeing the audience response?
It was my second Stephen Sondheim musical – ten years ago I was a standby on Merrily We Roll Along – his musical intricacies and lyrical genius are unrivalled in my opinion. Our version of Assassins was mostly well-received, apparently Stephen Sondheim considered it his greatest work but I’m not sure all theatregoers would agree, it’s quite an odd piece.
Earlier this year, you were in the MT Fest workshop of Train on Fire, how was this?
MT Fest is a great platform for new writing. As an industry we are starting to trust more in new writing, and having a showcase to get a feel of what an audience might think or whether there is an audience for it at all is obviously a huge help to writers and producers. Train on Fire, written by Annabelle Lee Revak, tells the story of singer turned suffragette Kitty Marion and discusses past and present feminist issues through the lens of a dangerous woman erased from history. I played “All the Men” and I could feel the glares and see the frowns from patrons uncomfortable with my dealings within the piece, which hopefully means I served my purpose.
What did you enjoy most about playing Happy Man/Mr Thompson in Pretty Woman: The Musical and how was it getting into character?
The part itself is just a great showcase for anyone at a decent level in all disciplines, for me though, I enjoyed the nurturing side of Mr Thompson as I like to think that’s a trait I possess.
Getting into character can be achieved by something as simple as putting the costume on, a three-piece suit for example makes you hold yourself in a different way than Hawaiian shirt and a tatty pork pie hat would.
What was it like being part of the original West End cast, and how was it returning to the show after the pandemic closed theatres?
When we first opened the show, it felt like there was a buzz about it, I’d been a part of new shows in the past but rarely had as much responsibility and I was happy to have it! Our press night was 2nd March and by the 16th we were shut down. The next 15 months were tough, as they were for everyone. When we reopened, I remember the elation felt by everyone on stage, the audiences were only at 50% capacity, but they too seemed thrilled to be back in the theatre.
How did you find the experience being a Standby in Come From Away at the Phoenix Theatre for their UK premiere?
Come From Away was one of the best years of my life, the ethos of the show carried throughout the building, and it was a lovely, supportive environment to work in. There has been a recent surge in praise for standbys, swings and covers and I like to think that was propelled by the standbys on CFA. All standbys had to learn five different roles in the show, all with tricky plots and “chairography” (moving different chairs with every change of scene on a revolving stage).
In 2017, you played King Arthur in Spamalot at Mercury Theatre in Colchester, what was this like to do?
Spamalot was an absolute riot! I’d always been a fan of Monty Python and I’d seen different versions of the show over the years but felt like it had lost its way in the modernisation of latter productions that were more to do with stunt casting than the show. The team at Colchester stripped it back to its Python roots, with costume and illustrations likened to the film Quest for the Holy Grail. We were given a small bit of free licence to add in places, we may have run with that a little too much though.
Can you tell us about touring with Jackie the Musical as Frankie and what was the role like to play?
Jackie the Musical was one of the most underrated musicals to have ever existed. It was a short tour – five to six months – and was sold out in pretty much every venue. It was based on the Jackie magazine, a magazine aimed at teenage girls. It had a great jukebox soundtrack of the era the magazine was at its height (1970s). I played an all singing and dancing barman called Frankie, it was a lot of fun! As a cast, we were all disappointed that it didn’t get the further life it deserved.
You performed at Manchester Royal Exchange in 2016 in Sweet Charity, what was the show like to be part of as Vittorio Vidal?
I’d always wanted to work at the Royal Exchange and work in the round so was delighted to be cast in Sweet Charity. I had worked on the show before at school and fancied playing Vittorio someday. It’s actually one of my favourite musicals, I’m a huge admirer of the film and Bob Fosse’s work in general.
What are some of your favourite memories from playing Steve Baker/Jim Greene in Show Boat at Sheffield Crucible?
Show Boat was a very special show. I’ve worked at the Crucible three times and that was the last time, I always enjoyed the rehearsal room with Daniel Evans and Alistair David but that show was so beautiful to be a part of. Some sensitive material directed with such care and ultimately very moving. I was very torn with the decision not to go to London with it.
Over your career so far, you’ve worked on a number of other shows including Anything Goes, Chicago, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Dirty Dancing, Footloose and Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, can you tell us about some of them?
Gosh, it’s very hard to leave any out because I had great but very different experiences with all of them. Certainly Swan Lake was a fantastic experience, being as young as I was and travelling to Asia, I felt very lucky. I made some of my best friends on Footloose and I’ll always be grateful to Karen Bruce for bringing us all together. Chicago I’ve been in at four different moments of my life, it was my first job and although it’s second hand Fosse I always wanted to be in it to hone the style.
How did you get into acting and was it something you always wanted to do?
I was a dancer predominantly when I left school, dancing was what I really wanted to do and luckily, I got to dance loads in my early career, I learnt everything else on the job really.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
I’m really into these plays with music at the minute – Standing at the Sky’s Edge and Girl from the North Country, both of which I thought were excellent. I’m an Arthur Miller fan also and I’d love to work on one at some point.
I’ve recently seen The Little Big Things, I really enjoyed it, its inclusivity, relatability and charm being some of the bullet points.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
I’ve recently had enough time away from acting but things I enjoy are travelling to see friends across the pond when I can, holidays in general, football, interior design and my cat Shakespeare….. I quite like beer too….
What do you hope the rest of the year brings you and do you have any upcoming plans that you can tell us about?
It’s been a difficult year work-wise but I’m happy to report that I shall shortly be booked up till mid 2025 with a few interesting projects, starting with pantomime in Woking, playing Captain Hook.
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