‘Pan’-o-rama

B’way veteran Brent Barrett brings chills to ‘Peter Pan’ following his campy take on Hannibal Lector

BY HOOK OR BY CROOK | Brent Barrett, center, has remained a busy working actor for three decades, but the new production of ‘Peter Pan,’ which launches from Fair Park Music Hall this week, marks his return to touring following a 15-year absence from the road.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

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PETER PAN
Music Hall at Fair Park,
901 First Ave. July 10–22.
DallasSummerMusicals.org

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Without becoming a household name, over the course of an impressive three decades, musical actor Brent Barrett has shared the stage with many of our reigning divas. Starting with Debbie Allen in his Broadway debut, the 1980 revival of West Side Story, and through co-stars including Kristin Chenoweth, Faith Prince, Rachel York, Charlotte D’Amboise, Karen Ziemba, Sandy Duncan and Reba McEntire, he’s racked up a storied list of leading ladies.

So the natural question is: Who was his favorite?

“I’ve been so fortunate — it would be easier to tell you the ones I didn’t enjoy working with … which I won’t do,” Barrett teases.

Ah, well. Worth a shot.

At least one leading lady liked working enough with Barrett to give him his latest role. Twenty years ago, Barrett and Cathy Rigby toured together in Annie Get Your Gun. At the time, Rigby asked Barrett to play Capt. Hook opposite her Boy from Neverland in the musical Peter Pan. Barrett passed.

“I had been on the road so much, I just needed some time at home,” he says. Then a few months ago, Rigby announced she was producing and starring in a new tour Peter Pan (which launches Tuesday at Fair Park as part of the Dallas Summer Musicals). She asked him again to play Hook. This time, he said yes.

It was a long time coming to the show, which he wasn’t all that familiar with.

“I never saw the stage production [as a kid],” he says. “My introduction to it was watching it on television with Mary Martin in black and white. And I certainly remember my first ride on the Peter Pan ride at DisneyWorld.”

In the 1980s, he finally saw Sandy Duncan do it; about 10 years ago, he saw Rigby’s version. But the role is new to him. While Peter Pan has been around more than half a century, he thinks a lot of people haven’t seen it. And this version might surprise those who do.

“There’s no sense to playing down to [the kids in the] audience, because kids these days are so smart,” he says. “You do the role, you play the show — what the children will get, the children will get. But we are not going for the camp aspect here — we want kids to be scared of Capt. Hook.”

In his 30-plus year career, Barrett has had plenty of opportunities to delight and frighten audiences. For two years, he starred in the $40 million Las Vegas production of Phantom of the Opera; prior to that, he spent more than two years in Grand Hotel (starring as the mysterious Baron both on Broadway and London), played Arthur in Camelot (“one of the most satisfying male musical roles,” he declares), went toe-to-toe opposite both Rigby and Reba in Annie Get Your Gun and has, at least 10 times, played Billy Flynn in Chicago.

“I call Billy my day job — when I’m not doing anything else and they have an opening, [the producers] give me a call to play him,” he says. “I think I probably hold the record for playing that role most often.”

Still, one of his favorite experiences was one of the smallest: Last summer, he played Hannibal Lector in the off-Broadway production of the musical Silence!, a spoof of the horror classic The Silence of the Lambs (not the same as the drag version, The Silence of the Clams, which played in the Rose Room earlier this year).

“That version sounds very gay,” laughs the out actor. “Ours was not really gay so much as campy and over-the-top. My first big song is called ‘If I Could Smell Her Cunt.’ But it’s right out of Les Miz — very serious and intense and not played for laughs. None of the show is, which is why it’s so funny. I have to say, it was one of the most fun shows I’ve ever done.”

So how does a B’way veteran like Barrett, who has worked with A-list directors like Hal Prince and Michael Blakemore, wind up in a small off-Broadway house in a musical spoof? The answer may explain why Barrett has worked so much over the years.

“Sometimes you have to balance the financial with the artistic, and I decided this would be fun to do for the summer — most people wouldn’t cast me in this role, so I liked the opportunity,” he says. “And, it’s acting — not brain surgery.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 6, 2012.

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