First look: Strictly star Kevin Clifton goes glam at Ipswich Regent for Rock of Ages musical
PUBLISHED: 20:00 16 January 2019
Strictly Come Dancing champion Kevin Clifton is enjoying himself as he learns to sing for the UK tour of West End musical Rock of Ages. Arts editor Andrew Clarke caught up with him in rehearsal
Kevin Clifton is a nice bloke. It’s one of the facts of life. You see him on Strictly on Dancing empowering and inspiring novice celebrities to give their all in order to become accomplished dancers. He clearly invests a lot of himself in the series and his partner and for all but one of his six series he has made it through to the final but until last year had never lifted the trophy.
When he and investigative journalist Stacey Dooley were declared Strictly champions 2018, his sense of joy (and relief) were palpable. So when I learn that Kevin from Grimsby (as he is affectionately known on Strictly) is following his sister Joanne into the world of musicals, I wanted to have a chat to find out how it feels to be the learner rather than the expert.
When I phone Kevin for the interview he’s in the back of a London cab going to rehearsals – only it quickly becomes apparent that the cab driver doesn’t really know where he is going and unflappable Kevin breaks off from talking to me to issue directions.
Kevin will be chatting away when he suddenly tells the driver: “Take the first on your right then at the end turn left and it should be on the right.”
Kevin says that he is excited by his stage debut and also rather nervous. He is playing the part of glam-rock front man Stacee Jaxx in the exuberant 1980s-themed musical Rock of Ages. It’s the part played by Tom Cruise in the film, so Kevin admits he’s got big shoes to fill but so far rehearsals are going well.
Strictly involves acting and a bit of musical theatre in their themed weeks so has Rock of Ages been a challenge or have you slipped into the rehearsals quite smoothly?
KC: “It is very different in terms of anything I have done before. I was in Dirty Dancing: The Musical back in 2010 but I was very much a dancer in that, I didn’t have any lines – here I have to sing and act and dance.
“I have had acting and singing lessons for quite a long time and it’s something I have always had my eye on but dancing has always had that special hold on me. It’s something I have done since I was four years old. I am really looking forward to it because it will be something different – a new challenge.”
How do you feel about filling the shoes vacated by Tom Cruise?
KC: “I know! That’s the reason I want to be the best that I can be because people will be wondering whether I can do it or not. I am playing an arrogant, sexy rock star with a big personality who’s the front guy of a band, so it couldn’t be further from me really, so it really will be acting. I can’t go out there and be me on stage.
How did the offer to star in a UK tour of a West End musical come about? Were you approached or did you go out looking for a show like this?
KC: “The director, Nick Winston, I have worked with before on a dance show called Flash Mob. I was rehearsing for something in a dance studio in Fulham when I bumped into him and he was directing a show next door and we were just having a chat and he asked if I had ever wanted to do musical theatre. I said: ‘Yeah but it depends a lot on timing because Strictly takes up a lot of the year and I have my own tours, so it becomes all about schedule.’ I thought no more about it and a week later I saw that he was directing Rock of Ages and put out a tweet saying that he was looking for dancers. I tongue-in-cheek replied, just for a laugh really, and he immediately responded and said: ‘Seriously, how do you feel about being involved?’ I said I was interested after Strictly had finished and he sent over a couple of scenes for me to learn, I went in to audition and I was offered the part of Stacee Jaxx, which is amazing.”
So how does it feel to be novice rather than teacher in the rehearsal room?
“I am really enjoying it. Normally I am the one doing the teaching but I am just loving the experience of the rehearsal room, learning some new skills, I am just soaking it all up. Everyone has been so encouraging that I can’t wait to get before an audience and taking it to that next stage.”
Has it been a big leap because Strictly has become more theatrical in recent years. Have the boundaries between musical theatre and Strictly-style ballroom dancing become blurred?
KC: “We have always had the musicals week, movie week and Halloween and I have always embraced these because I have always been about narrative and story in the dance and it’s not just a display of movement. Because I am such a musical theatre fan I have always wanted to do routines which, although they are only a minute and a half long, are really a mini-musical on their own. I love dressing up!
Joanne did Flashdance last year. Do we see the spectre of sibling rivalry rearing its head?
KC: “There may be a bit of that.” (Laughs) “Joanne loves it and she has thrown down a challenge in a way because she has done such a good job. When I told her I was doing this, the comments started flying, but she also said: ‘I think you’re going to love this’ and she was right.
Because Strictly does take up six months of your year. Is it important to refresh your creative batteries?
KC: “I love dancing, of course I do, but for the last few years I have been dancing solidly throughout the year without a break. I go from Strictly to the Strictly tour, then my own tour and then back to Strictly and it begins again. I have been saying for a while I would love do a musical or something to change things around, so when Rock of Ages came up, it was perfect. Sometimes you need to do something really out of your comfort zone, just so you can be re-inspired. You have to challenge yourself.
What has been the biggest surprise during rehearsals or the biggest challenge?
KC: “I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to breathe differently. As dancers we take shallow, short bursts of air as we move, whereas when you’re singing and hitting these big notes you want to take in large amounts of air quite quickly and from quite low down. I’m training myself to be more conscious of my breathing and getting used to it. Otherwise I might run out of breath on stage. You don’t realise all these things until you start learning about them and it’s not just a case of thinking I can hold a tune therefore I can do a musical, there’s much more to it than that.
For those who haven’t seen the film, can you tell us a little about the show?
KC: “It’s the story of two wannabes that have headed to California to make it as stars, all told with the help of amazing 80s power rock songs. Drew wants to become a rock star, and Sherrie was to become an actress. They both end up working at this bar, waiting tables and falling in love. However, in walks this guy Stacee Jaxx who is the front man of a rock band. He’s the over the top, flamboyant megastar that all the girls want to be with and all the men want to be but at the same time he’s a bit of a villain – he’s pretentious and self obsessed, thinking he’s God’s gift to everything and ultimately he disrupts everyone else’s lives.
Finally, have you come down off your Strictly cloud yet? It clearly meant a lot to you to finally lift that trophy and will you be back next year?
KC: “I don’t think it has properly sunk in because we didn’t expect to win. There have been a few years where I have been really close and it hasn’t happened, so we went into the final, not thinking for a second that we had any chance of winning. Stacey got a bit down in the week and I asked her what was up and she said that Faye and Ashley were so good that ‘there was no way I can be as good as them’ and Joe was brilliant and had a huge fan base on social media and she said to me: ‘I don’t know where my place is in this final’ and I told her: ‘Don’t worry about that. We’ve just got to enjoy ourselves – don’t worry about the judges, don’t worry about the trophy, just go out there, do our best and have fun. We have enjoyed the series, so let’s just enjoy the final for the occasion it is and let everything else take care of itself. So if you watch it back, when Tess is preparing to make the announcement, you can see everyone else hugging one another wondering who was going to lift the trophy and Stacey and I just standing there, cool as a cucumber, just looking around, waiting to congratulate the winner. Then when Tess said our names, my knees just gave way, we couldn’t believe it and it was a wonderful moment and the perfect end to a perfect series.”
Rock of Ages, starring Kevin Clifton, is at Ipswich Regent Theatre from March 5-9. Tickets can be booked www.apps.ipswich.gov.uk