Interview: Greg Castiglioni on growing up with the Sherman Brothers in Italy

Greg Castiglioni plays macaw Baalthazar in Love Birds at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe

Greg Castiglioni plays macaw Baalthazar in Love Birds at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe

As the Love Birds cast prepare to fly the London coop and head to Edinburgh, we catch up with the show’s flamboyant opera-singing macaw Baalthazar (a.k.a. actor Greg Castiglioni).


Tell us more about Baalthazar. What do you like most about him?

Baalthazar is a fantastically fun part to play. There aren’t many larger-than-life characters written for male actors, and on top of this, he isn’t human so the possibilities are endless. The most fun part of bringing him to life, however, is the fact that he doesn’t realise he’s larger than life; in his mind he is just a living creature with the same feelings, weaknesses and disappointments as anyone else. Therefore, finding realism within this character is key; otherwise he just becomes fluff, his story doesn’t mean anything and he isn’t believable, which also means that he becomes impossible to empathise with.

“There aren’t many larger-than-life characters written for male actors, and on top of this, Baalthazar isn’t human so the possibilities are endless”

What’s been the best bit from rehearsals?

Rehearsing a new show is always fantastic because no one knows exactly what the end product is going to be. However, in this case, there is an added benefit – I have always wanted to do a voiceover for an animated movie, and rehearsing this show has felt a little like preparation for that. Finding the voice and playing with varying pitches (and the occasional squawk) has been a lot of fun.

You were born and raised in Italy. What brought you to the UK? 

My father is Italian and my mother is English. Consequently, growing up in Italy, we would visit my English parents in London at least once a year. Ever since childhood, I have known and loved being in London. However, I was always a tourist. Once I finished high school and the time came to choose a university, it seemed like a good opportunity to try living in London. I was accepted at the University of Westminster, and moved to London to study law. London proved to be as exciting as I had hoped and so the rest is history. I’ve lived here ever since.

Why did you choose to become an actor instead of a lawyer?

Many people ask why I chose to go into acting rather than become a lawyer, and my answer is usually “studying law was a lapse in concentration”. The truth is that I have always been an actor and a singer at heart, even before I knew it could be a profession. While I was at university, I started having singing lessons privately and also attended an evening course in acting. As the course was coming to an end, I seemed to show promise and was therefore encouraged to audition for the full-time course. I did and was successful in being offered a place, which they were happy to keep open until the following year in order to allow me to graduate. I was then also awarded a full scholarship.

“I have always been an actor and a singer at heart, even before I knew it could be a profession.”

Who's a pretty bird? Greg as Baalthazar, that's who

Who’s a pretty bird? Greg as Baalthazar, that’s who

It seemed like the stars had aligned and so, before I had really thought about it, I accepted and started a whole new chapter of my life. Nevertheless, I am happy to have studied law, not only because it meant that I went to drama school when I was slightly older – which I believe allowed me to get more from the course – but also because my degree now still comes in handy occasionally. As actors, we are very often dealing with contracts since with each new job comes a new written contract, so my training means that I am able to understand, and not be intimidated by, the legal jargon.

You previously worked with writer Robert J Sherman and director Stewart Nicholls on A Spoonful of Sherman. Did you know much about the Sherman family music before that?

Like most people of my generation, I assume, I was more aware of the Sherman Brothers’ catalogue of music than I realised. Growing up, Mary Poppins had a regular showing in our house (we had it on VHS) as did the original Hayley Mills version of The Parent Trap – although the video we had was the Italian dubbed version, entitled “Il Cowboy con il Velo da Sposa” (translated as “The Cowboy with the Bridal Veil”… interesting translation right?). It wasn’t until I worked on A Spoonful of Sherman that I met Robbie Sherman and was made aware exactly of exactly how much material the Sherman Brothers had written and how much of it I already knew.

What do you think the secret is to enduring appeal of the Sherman Brothers’ music?

Who can tell? And who am I to say? The marriage of this sibling team with the Disney giant seems to mimic the famous story of “Androcles and the Lion”, where one, seemingly stronger than the other, was actually helped to flourish by the seemingly weaker one. A pair of young singer/songwriter men joined the Disney corporation and began a series of hugely successful soundtracks that still stir emotions today, in both children hearing them for the first time and in grownups re-experiencing them.

The reason for the success of the Sherman Brothers may not be something I can define but the success ofA Spoonful of Sherman is undoubtedly due to this stirring of emotions where audience members (and also people now listening to the CD) are catapulted back to their childhood as they listen to the songs. It is no coincidence that this cabaret has been described as “the songbook of your childhood”.

What do you think Sherman Brothers fans will make of Robbie Sherman’s music for Love Birds?

I’m certain that fans of the Sherman dynasty music will not be disappointed with this new Robbie Sherman creation. The music is instantly appealing and, in a way, has the same way of speaking to your inner child as his father and uncle’s music did before him.

“Robbie has also written the story and script – that’s a task which was never asked of his predecessors and it adds a whole new facet to the talents of this writing family.”

To top it all off, although the medium is theatre rather than film, the cartoon-esque style of this piece only helps to reiterate this family’s talent for writing for an audience of all ages. The one obvious difference here, however, is that Robbie has also written the story and script – that’s a task which was never asked of his predecessors and it adds a whole new facet to the talents of this writing family.

You’ve done a huge mix of both new and established musicals. What are the special challenges and rewards of working on new writing?

I’ve been very lucky so far in my career and have been involved in a great array of diverse styles and types of shows. Some have been very established shows like Les Misérables and Starlight Express and others have been at the ‘creation’ stage. Although the new material usually needs a longer and more manic rehearsal period, with a lot of changes and re-writes along the way, the finished product ends up being a collaboration of everyone who was in the room at the time. You never know who the next good idea is going to come from and since, when you are ‘creating’ something, everyone chips in along the way, yours may be the next good idea the show is in need of.

Consequently, being involved with new material can feel like a more creative process. On the other hand, you have no idea what the audience reaction is going to be because by its very nature, it is not a tried and tested product yet, like a long-running established show is. Like the saying goes, though, whatever happens, the show must go on… and the cast of Love Birds has been busily rehearsing to get an avian show on which leaves the audience aflutter.

Love Birds runs 12.35pm daily 5-31 August (except 19 August) at the Pleasance Courtyard during the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe. BOOK TICKETS HERE.