Last year, John Barrowman finished his junior year at United States International University, but it doesn't look like he'll be graduating any time soon.
First, he has to star in the London hit production of "Miss Saigon."
And then he has to prepare for the possibility of going with the show to Broadway in January.
"I would like to graduate, I would like to get my diploma," the 23-year-old actor said in a telephone interview from London.
"But at this point if I have to go back to do that, I don't think I will. I don't think I need to. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing at the moment."
Barrowman feels he's got momentum in his career right now and he wants to roll with it. No one has confirmed a Broadway move for him yet, but for the London production he signed an eight-month contract to alternate the role of the American G. I. Chris with British actor Simon Bowman, beginning last week. Two actors playing the same role leaves open the possibility that one will keep the part in London and the other will open it on Broadway.
Barrowman has an advantage, too. His dual citizenship in the United States and the United Kingdom would mean producer Cameron Mackintosh could hire him for Broadway without negotiating with the Actors Equity union about bringing in a foreigner.
And after all the controversy over casting British actor Jonathan Pryce in the starring role of a Eurasian, Mackintosh's relationship with Actors Equity is pretty strained.
Barrowman's situation is very attractive. It's not just that he is a Caucasian playing a Caucasian--in his case an American G.I. who impregnates a Vietnamese girl and then abruptly has to leave her and the country when Saigon falls. The key here is his dual citizenship. He was born in Scotland, just outside Glasgow, which gives him British citizenship, and moved with his parents to Joliet, Ill., near Chicago, when he was 7. When he attained U.S. citizenship at 14, he did not have to give up his British citizenship.
"I was speaking with Cameron (Mackintosh) and he said, 'You have something that I don't have and no one else I know of has,' " Barrowman said. "It's a plus. He said I'll be able to work in London and on Broadway."
How did the USIU junior land one of the most coveted roles on either side of the Atlantic?
The musical by the creators of "Les Miserables," Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil, has been selling out since it opened in London (the controversy has only fanned ticket sales, Barrowman said) and has the largest advance sale of any Broadway-bound show in history--$25 million. Barrowman's story would undoubtedly make one of the most interesting "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" reports ever.
"My mom and dad and myself and my girlfriend came here for a vacation in July of last year," Barrowman said.
"I was supposed to be continuing a semester of school here and I went to this audition for 'Anything Goes' because I thought, 'Why not give it a try?' Forty-eight hours after I auditioned, they said, 'Won't you please come down to meet the director, Jerry Zaks? Then they said we would like you to stay and do the show. That was the start of it all."
Barrowman, of course, hadn't landed just any part in "Anything Goes." He landed the lead, opposite veteran actress Elaine Paige.
He drew rave notices and was asked to perform a scene from the show for the Queen Mother in honor of her birthday.
When his contract for "Anything Goes" neared its close, he decided it was time to start auditioning again.
He heard about an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's "Just So Stories" that was being produced by Mackintosh as a Christmas show for children on the West End. But when he went to the audition on a Wednesday, Mackintosh pulled him aside and told him he was too good for the musical and asked him to take the script for "Miss Saigon" and sing the part of the American G.I. for him on Friday.
By Friday afternoon, Barrowman had a lead part in the hottest show in London. He opened in the show last week.
"It's amazing that this caliber of people is interested in me," he said. "It's a shock, but I'm learning to live with it."
Barrowman attributes part of his success to being "extremely lucky. I was in the right place at the right time and the opportunity arose and I took it. And I had the talent to back it up."
Both parts also called for young Americans. In "Anything Goes," Billy Crocker has just graduated from college. In "Miss Saigon" he plays a young American soldier.
And then there are those other wonderful coincidences.
Barely six years before he got the part of Billy in the London production, Barrowman played Billy in "Anything Goes" at a community theater near his hometown, the Joliet Drama Guild. "Things came back to me extremely fast," he said about reprising the role.
He had also just started working with singing coach Ian Adam when he was given the script of "Miss Saigon" to look at. Adam just happens to be the singing coach used by Michael Crawford, star of another Mackintosh production, "The Phantom of the Opera," as well as Sarah Brightman, star of "Phantom" and one-time wife of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
"I think there's a demand for the young leading man who can do it all--singing, dancing and acting," said Barrowman. "Elaine (Paige) once said to me, 'There's not a lot of men in the West End who can do what you can do, John.' Although I think there must be hundreds more who can do it in the States than can do it in London."
Barrowman said that while luck may have played a part in his getting his two most recent roles, there is nothing accidental about his being an actor. He has wanted to be in theater all his life.
"My mom says that ever since I've been able to talk or walk, I've been singing. I've always wanted to pursue an acting career. When I was 18, I auditioned for Opryland, Tennessee, and worked there for two seasons. That is where I met Marilyn (Barrowman's girlfriend, who is now living in Los Angeles). She was going to USIU and she said, 'Why don't you look at the school.' "
Barrowman said that what sold him on the school was the chance to perform in a regular season at the Theatre in Old Town.
He played in "The Boyfriend," "Tintypes," "My Fair Lady," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Man of La Mancha" right before summer vacation two years ago.
He liked "Man of La Mancha" best because it was the first time he was not cast as a romantic leading man, playing instead a fat, bald priest.
Now he's back to playing romantic leads, but he doesn't mind. And he appreciates what he learned in San Diego, even if he does wish he had studied more new musicals in school.
"USIU was very good in that their school is a microcosm of the business. But I think they should lean more on contemporary musicals. When I was singing the 'Miss Saigon' score, it called for a new voice. I had always been used to singing the old-fashioned songs by Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein."
One thing he doesn't have any complaints about, however, is his life right now.
"I'm very happy. I'm ecstatic. I still have to pinch myself. My girlfriend said, 'Do you want me to slap you, so that you'll know it's not a dream?' And I say 'No, please don't. If it's a dream, I want to keep dreaming.' "