Matt Blaker has joined the cast of the phenomenally successful West End production of The Phantom of The Opera as Raoul, returning to the production having previously appeared in the ensemble where he also understudied the role.
Matt Blaker graduated from the Guildford School of Acting with a First-Class Degree in Musical Theatre but a career that involved singing wasn’t always on the cards, “I was always musical as a child, but I would certainly never sing,” explains Matt, “I played the saxophone and clarinet, but never sang, and then when I was about 15, this is such a classic cliche story, we did Grease at school, and they wanted all the boys to audition.”
Despite his reservations, Matt landed the role of Danny, “once I did that,” says Matt, “I realised that I wanted to be on stage rather than sitting in the pit playing an instrument.”
Six years ago, Matt landed his first role in a West End show, and understudying Raoul was a big deal, “although there’s phenomenal work being created all over the country, and I think some of the best, most creative work is done in regional theatre, actually, it’s a real stamp of approval on your career when you tick that West End box and people seem to suddenly take you seriously.”
Joining The Phantom of the Opera at this time was extra special, “not only was it my first West End job, but about a month after we opened, we did the 30th anniversary of the show,” explains Matt, “they had this big gala night, the original cast came back, and we did this extended finale. Of course, then there was a really good after party!”
Matt says that he learned a great deal from his original run in Phantom, “I think doing the job for a year, and a year is a long time, you really develop through that time.”
“We had Hal Prince come in. We had Gillian Lynne come in. We had Andrew Lloyd Webber working on it. And you learn to listen to all of these people, and take the advice from all of them that works for you, and to create your version of the show.”
Some of Matt’s favourite memories come from working with such legends of musical theatre, “Hal was all about the pictures and the images, and Gillian was always about how your body works and your movement, and Andrew always wanted you to sing it more. So, combining your version of the 3 of them was always the funniest thing.”
“When Gillian Lynne came in, we were rehearsing Masquerade for a really, really long time, and I was the flunky who brings on the drinks for all of the principal characters. For some reason what I was doing was not right.” Laughs Matt, “the whole company was there, 38 people on stage, all the creatives are there, and all we’re doing is me walking across the stage with these cups over and over and over again.
“I was getting more and more nervous, and ended up walking into another actor, so the drinks tray tumbled and went everywhere. I was so upset about it, and Gillian just came over to me and said, “Darling, it’s only musical theatre.” I learned how to relax a little after that.”
During his original run in Phantom, Matt understudied for Nadim Naaman, “I can’t speak highly enough of Nadim because he was so gracious and generous and patient,” says Matt, “I learned so much from him and was able to go on for Raoul about 40 times throughout that year.”
Following his first year in Phantom, Matt went on to land roles in the UK tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the international tours of Jersey Boys and Jesus Christ Superstar, and most recently Carousel at Kilworth House, in which he played Billy Bigelow.
But the pandemic took it’s toll, and left Matt questioning his choice of career, “the world got turned upside down for a couple of years, and coming out of the pandemic, I felt like I wasn’t sure where my place was in the business anymore. I couldn’t book a job for love or money.”
“Then this year I got really lucky, I worked on the Jekyll and Hyde workshop, and then went straight from that into Carousel, which was the most amazing experience. Then I got the call saying they’d like me to come back and play Raoul full-time in Phantom, it felt like such a vindication of my career journey.”
Matt has a deep affection for Raoul, and says the role is very rewarding, “I think that the gift of Raoul is that he gets to perform in two of the most iconic scenes in the show. The rooftop section is so, so beautiful, because it’s so full of conflict, and then All I Ask of You is almost the resolution of the conflict.”
“And obviously, to be a part of the Final Lair is just so spectacular every time, and to work so closely with Lucy who plays Christina, and Killian who’s the Phantom, is very special.”
Working with Killian Donnelly is a dream come true for Matt, “When I was at drama school, I used to sit in and watch videos of Killian on YouTube, and I would think ‘I really want to do what he’s doing. I want to be like him. He’s got it down. He’s nailing it.’ I remember on opening night looking over at him and thinking, ‘I’m actually doing it. That’s Killian.’ I always sound like a competition winner when I tell that story but it does kind of feel like that.”
Matt values his original run at Phantom, saying it gave him a good grounding for what was to come, “I wasn’t daunted by coming back, which was really nice, because I think if I’d have got it at the start of my career as a graduate, it would have been a lot. But coming into it now, I feel so settled, and so able to attack the challenge 8 times a week, which is wonderful.”
Matt’s family are keeping him grounded though, “my parents came to see it about twelve times the first time I was in it, when I told them I was going back to play Raoul, they asked if they really needed to see it again because they’d seen it so often last time!”
“But they did come to watch again on opening night, and that felt really special, especially after everything we’ve just been through, and for me it felt like things had come full circle, it felt like I was coming home.”