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Norwich-bound musical that's right up our 42nd Street

PUBLISHED: 09:40 08 October 2012

42nd Street

42nd Street

© Robert Workman

Having previously starred in everything from Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera, Dave Willetts returns to Norwich this week in 42nd Street. JOHN BULTITUDE caught up with the West End star.

For someone with a huge global theatrical pedigree, you would forgive Dave Willetts if he had airs and graces.

But if there is ever an award for Most Down-To-Earth Performer, he could add that to the wealth of other silverware on his mantelpiece for his stage performances over the years.

A family man, he is renowned for being a relaxed and grounded person both on and off stage, although there is no doubting his excitement at taking on the lead role of Julian Marsh in 42nd Street, which comes to Norwich Theatre Royal next week.

When he got the call to take on the role shortly after finishing a run as Professor Callaghan in the Legally Blonde tour, he had no hesitation in saying yes. He recalls: “I just love 42nd Street. I think it is exactly what people expect of a Broadway show. It has got a cast of around 30, some amazing choreography and even stairs that light up as you walk down them. What more could you want?”

Winner of the 1980 Tony Award for Best New Musical and then gaining another one 21 years later for Best Revival, the timeless show tells the tale of small town Peggy Sawyer’s rise from the chorus to becoming a star of Broadway.

And it features a host of timeless musical favourites including Lullaby Of Broadway, We’re In The Money, Shuffle Off To Buffalo, Keep Young and Beautiful, and the ever-popular title song.

A former engineer who loved amateur dramatics, Dave decided to give the professional ranks a go and was fortunate enough to be able to make it his full-time career within 12 months thanks to a part in one of the globe’s most iconic shows – Jean Valjean in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Les Misérables.

He recalled: “I just decided to give the career a whirl and I was very lucky. It was very much a family decision for me to go into it. I couldn’t be selfish as I have two children and I was very fortunate things worked out for me.

“I think coming into the business from a different direction gave me a different approach to it. I suppose I was the right age for the part and I have had some wonderful roles since then. I suppose I am lucky in that I get the very interesting parts. I’m not going to get the juvenile male lead any more and at least, I don’t have to colour my hair.”

Working with top director Trevor Nunn in Les Misérables was his first major break at London’s Palace Theatre recreating the role in 1997 for the 10th anniversary production at the Theatre Royal in Sydney.

But that is not the only major show Dave has been a part of. He played the Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom Of The Opera in the West End.

He also created a number of roles in musicals, won huge critical acclaim for singing the role of Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Barbican, and has also starred in a number of hugely successful stage concerts highlighting the big musical numbers.

Dave’s ability and dedication have won him a loyal following from musical lovers and the public as well as some big names in the show business world with the legendary Sammy Davis Jr sending a limo to pick him up to attend a family party while starring in Phantom in the West End.

He recalled: “Sammy Davis Jr was a hero of mine. I met him shortly before he unfortunately passed away. We got together around the piano and it was a truly magical time. It is what I call a ‘bottle moment.’ You want to put experiences like that in a bottle to hang on to them and take the cork off to enjoy them again. A similar time was when I got a letter from Peter Cushing. We ended up becoming friends.”

As well as being incredibly passionate about his job, Dave also has a strong work ethic. He has been working on a show called J’Accuse based on the life of French author Emile Zola and a concept album. While working on this, he was also asked about doing another album to mark 25-plus years in show business.

He said: “They asked me about my back catalogue and I went up into the attic and found all these old cassettes. It was amazing.

“I took them into the studio, they pressed some buttons, and then the tracks went off to Singapore where they did some more technical work before they came back.

“I don’t know exactly what they did but the songs now sound as though I have just recorded them. It is just fantastic. The album features a lot of my live work and is called Once In A Lifetime.”

Meanwhile he is relishing the chance to come back to the Theatre Royal and star in 42nd Street.

He said: “I like Norwich. It is one of my favourite theatres, not only because the building is so nice but because the audience really appreciate the shows. They are always out to have a really good time, enjoy themselves and really enter into the spirit of things.”

■ 42nd Street, Norwich Theatre Royal, October 9-13, £32.50-£6.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

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