In Conversation With... Damian Buhagiar | Thoroughly Modern Millie | Interview


Damian Buhagiar recently finished starring in In The Heights, is currently part of the UK tour of Thoroughly Modern Millie playing Ching Ho and will soon be starring in Mamma Mia  in the West End. Damian was lovely enough to do this interview for Rewrite This Story and I can't wait to see him in the show!

For those who don't know, can you explain a little about your career and highlights so far?

I have always been attracted towards theatre and musicals from a young age of 3. Being a Maltese student at Stagecoach was a great introduction to this form of career. When you are young, you don't actually realise that this could be a future job so it all starts as a hobby and a recreation from other school work, or activities. 

As I grew older I started taking it even more seriously by taking private singing lessons, dance classes and acting classes. When I hit the age of 15, the time i had my GCSEs back home in Malta, my singing teacher adviced me to audition for Tring Park School For the Performing Arts, a brilliant boarding school. So I did and after  a couple of weeks I was accepted to persue my musical theatre training further as well as do my A levels for 2 years. Without the love, help and support from my parents this would have never happened especially being away from home. After those 2 years I was than chosen to attend the BA Hons musical theatre course for another 3 years which was such a incredible excperience. You learn new things everyday, you learn so much about yourself and the training and the teachers have been fantastic. 

Once my third year was coming to an end we started having people from the business coming to see our shows and showcases, people such as directors, choreographers, producers, agents and more.  To me that was one of the highlights as I got to introduce myself to the business and express what I love most, my passion for theatre which leads me to my second highlight which was being a massive part of Lin Manuel's hit  musical 'In the Heights' playing the role of Sonny at the Southwark Playhouse. The reason I say this was one of the highlights in my life is because it has enabled me to show my passion in my own style of dance and defined me and so it couldn'thave been a better show to enter the musical theatre business with. 

I then moved on to an 18 month UK Tour of Jersey Boys playing the role of Joe Pesci and 2nd cover Frankie Valli which was another highlight in my career as I got to explore England a bit more, see different cultures and make new friends outside of London as well as the insanely stunning theatre built around the country. I have than moved on to playing on stage swing in Bugsy Malone at the  Lyric Theatre, working with the choreographer  Drew McOnie and which then led me to reprising my role as Sonny in In the Heights, this time at the Kings Cross Theatre in London for 4 months. Of course the biggest highlight from this was the fact I got the chance to meet the legendary Lin Manuel Miranda in person. I am now currently on the UK Tour of Thoroughly Modern Millie playing a completely different character to what I normally play called 'Ching Ho', a Chinese role which I am glad to say I am loving.


Was being a performer what you always wanted or did you have a different career path in mind when you were younger?



As mentioned earlier, I have always taken musical theatre, singing, dancing and acting as a hobby up until the age of fourteen. I was mainly aiming to invest time in my studies to eventually become a Mechanic Engineer (seeing I am pretty into mechanics and cars) or an architect.




You recently finished playing Sonny in In The Heights, did you know from the Southwark that you were a part of something special? How was it returning to the show?

In The Heights, has been one of the biggest adventures that has happened in my life. Playing the role of Sonny, literally has been my unexpected dream role straight after grauduating from college. It felt like it was just meant to happen and came at the right time. What made even more special was the company. Seeing how we all become one unit and one family creates something magical. Creates a spark that is unexplainable. As the Southward was a small intimate venue this proved how much of a unit we really were as we all shared our passion with the audiences which gave such a great response. 



Returning to the show after a year and a half this time at the Kings Cross Theatre, created that spark again in a different way. It was interesting to see that my heart was always there, my spirit enlightened and I was just 'Living' and recreating Sonny again, sharing the live with different members of the cast..(some of them from the Southwark).




How was the transition from the Southwark to Kings Cross theatre? What changed in the show?

I think moving to a different style of venue definitley created a change in space and motion however the one thing that made it feel like there was no difference at al was the spirit and the community we as a cast and a team all had.  As the Southwark Playhouse had much of a smaller theatre, there was a lot of intimacy and more of an interraction with auditiences which makes it even more appreciative being that close. Kings Cross had a wider stage being on Traverse stage, so that as a team made us work harder to use eachother to get the story accross morr and put our chatacters on a higher level that in the southwark for audiences to have the same feeling. 


The idea of heritage is very important in Heights, being from Malta, did you face any of the same struggles as Nina and Usnavi?

In The Heights couldn't possibly be a successfull show/production if there isnt any heart and love and care between not just the cast but even the company. Same with everything, if you are working in a lovely safe environment where you feel you can trust and open up your heart to your collegues without being scared, that same feeling will definitely show on stage. Especially for someone like myself being away from home away from my loved family, having a second family in a show like that has made me feel like home and it has always been a job travelling to work to express this love shared with the other talented cast members. Luckily I have never been in Usnavi's or Nina's position however I can relate to how difficult it really is to follow your dreams and what really genuinly makes you happy. Luckily I had ultimate support from my loved family where both my parents have enabled me to follow the dream career I have always wanted. A big sacrifice on their part that without them I woudn't be here doing what I love most...theatre/performing and hopefully being an inspiration to others.


You're currently starring in Thoroughly Modern Millie, can you explain the storyline a little and how your character fits into it?

The story is about this new naive girl in town called Millie, coming to new york for the first time when she sets her sights on marrying her whealthy boss. Problem arises when she checks into a hotel owned by the leader of a white slavery ring in China. Where my character "Ching Ho" along with his brother "Bun Foo", helping to kidnap pretty and suspecting orphan girls and shipping them to the Orient. Ching Ho however takes a shine to one of the 4 girls "Miss Dorothy'' and rescues her from Mrs. Meers, who at the end the truth is revealed and Mrs. Meers is captured.



What's the biggest challenge about taking on this role?

The biggest challenge in taking the role of 'Ching Ho', the Chinese part, is because of the obvious....its a Chinese role and I am Maltese. Performing this role everyday has enabled me to discover more aspects of him that allow me to invest and play around with on stage. I have been blessed to have my fellow cast memeber Andy who is actually from Hong Kong himself so has tought me the language patiently. It has been an interesting process however I always love a chalenge and at least I could say I have tested that language and might want to investtime it too in future. I've also learnt a lot about Chinese history and what makes the characters: Ching Ho and Bun Foo work as slaves in the show... their background stories.



How are you enjoying touring life? What do you miss most about being away from home?

I have always loved touring. I just love getting away from london and get to see different cultures in different places in the UK or abroad, make new friends in the digs I stay in as well as enjoy my own company and driving. Being away also makes you apreciate lot of things and miss a lot of things. Having a lot of free time on my hands make you think about your life in depth such as my parents and my lifestyle back home and the time I share with them.



What are your hobbies and passions outside of performing? 

Drawing has always been a massive part of my life that enables me to forget the real world and just zone out completely and focus on one things...cars. The passion I always had ever since I was 5 years old. 


Can you name a few of your dream roles?

Playing Sonny in the musical In The Heights has already been one of my dream roles. I would say playing Phantom in Phantom of the Opera and Clyde in Bonnie and Clyde would definitely be two of my dream roles in musical theatre however I like variety and a challenge so I love exoloring as opportunities come my way, what a dream role would be.



If you could go back to any era, when would it be and why?

If I had to go back to an era I would go back to 1950s. I love that all men were mostly gentleman with manner, respectful towards their women and also live a fashionable suit. Life back that would have been very classy.



What's the best piece of advice you've ever received and what advice would you give to aspiring performers?

Best advice I have ever recieved have been to just be yourself. If it makes you happy do it. Always follow your gut. If you ever come in doubt just ask yourself 'but why not?'. If you have a dream, fight for it however long it takes to achieve it.


A huge thank you to Damian for doing this interview. Make sure you book tickets to see Thoroughly Modern Millie on its UK tour!


Interview by Olivia Mitchell, Editor