I was eight years old when I first realised I could sing. It was at my first school where they were putting on a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I was fairly young so I can’t remember too much about it, but I remember it being liberating. Years later I was asked by Andrew Lloyd Webber to play Joseph in the West End and I jumped at the chance. It just hasn’t stopped since!
Did you know Footloose before joining this production?
I am a big fan of the film. It was released the year I was born in 1984 and I remember watching it quite a bit growing up. It’s a classic. I actively went after this job; the role really appealed to me. I’m playing the comedy role which is a type of character that I’ve never played before, and it’s great.
I’m playing Willard, who is the character who can’t dance. To be honest, that suits me down to the ground! He’s a cowboy from Beaumont. It’s a really small town in the United Stated where everybody knows everybody’s business, and dancing is banned. Ren arrives in Beaumont and shakes everything up; he teaches Willard how to dance. Willard is a goofy character, and this is brand new for me. I am really enjoying playing someone completely different. I like to challenge myself.
What can audiences expect from the show?
It is quite true to the film and features all the hits from that time and from the film itself, songs like Let’s Hear it for the Boy, Holding out for a Hero and the title track Footloose. It is a great show with some really special moments. We do a mega mix of all the songs at the end and everyone is on their feet and having a good time, so it is a feel-good show. With this cast, everybody sings, acts, dances and plays instruments live too. I really have the greatest respect for this cast, they are a really talented bunch.
What is your favourite musical?
That’s a really tough one. I absolutely loved the 25th Anniversary production of Les Miserables which toured a few years back. It was stunning. The cast were incredible and the venues just huge. I learnt my craft on that job, from the best. We even got to take the show to Paris, which was obviously incredible.
Have you always been able to dance? Did you have lessons?
I’m fortunate that I play a cowboy who can’t dance! At the end of the show he’s had to learn how to dance though. I have done parts before where I’ve had to dance and, of course there was Dancing on Ice, so I picked up the steps OK and I think I manage to pull it off at the end.
You’ve now done a lot of musical theatre, do you still want to pursue your pop career?
I want to release another album – but one that I’ve written. As I can write music as well as lyrics, I have been doing so. I like coming up with melodies. I have written some already – 3 acoustic versions were on my greatest hits album. But I really want to finish it. As I want to do it myself, it’s mostly going to be down to me finding or making the time!
Much has been written and televised about your stammer and the public have seen how much you have improved through the McGuire Programme. How do you cope on stage having lines to speak?
I have found a technique that works for me. It involves having a lot of control and willpower. This can be really hard for me when I am busy or stressed. I lost my singing voice in 2015 and was put on voice rest. This meant no speaking so it set me back a lot so it’s something I am now working on again. Everyone involved in the programme is so supportive – we all support each other and don’t judge. No one understands a stammerer other than another one. Everyone involved in the programme has a stammer but everyone is at different stages of recovery. We don’t use the word cured – as you take your eye off the ball and it can return.
Would you like to do more acting?
I’ve always been a fan of musical theatre – and I love being part of a production. It’s like a family – which is so totally different to being a solo star. Musically, performing is what I love to do and we get to do it every day to different audiences and creating something new.
Footloose the Musical, starring Gareth Gates and Maureen Nolan, will be at Richmond Theatre from Monday 15th to Saturday 20th May