Footloose The Musical stars Gareth Gates and Maureen Nolan interviewed

Gareth Gates as Willard in Footloose The Musical. Photo: David Ellis

Gareth Gates as Willard in Footloose The Musical. Photo: David Ellis - Credit: Archant

Ready to kick off his Sunday shoes, entertainment writer Wayne Savage talks to Footloose The Musical stars Gareth Gates and Maureen Nolan.

Gareth Gates as Willard in Footloose The Musical. Photo: Matt Martin

Gareth Gates as Willard in Footloose The Musical. Photo: Matt Martin - Credit: Archant

Straight off the bat, an almost apologetic Gareth explains it’s important he takes things very easy in case I wonder why he’s speaking so slowly. He still constantly battles with his speech more than a decade after inspiring a generation of stammerers on ITV1 talent show Pop Idol.

“I have to do my warm-ups before interviews like this. I need to put the work in, get my diaphragm moving, get into the right mind set,” says the singer turned actor, appearing in Footloose The Musical at the Ipswich Regent next week. “During the actual shows I don’t necessarily need anybody, I just get into character and I’m often absolutely fine.”

He’s managed a lot in his career but thinks one of the greatest achievements was when he heightened the awareness of stammering.

“As a child I didn’t know anybody else who had a stammer, who shared the same affliction. The world was a very kind of lonely place for me. It was hard work, especially at school. Being on Pop Idol and my speech problem being so well known and well documented as it were it helped stammerers in general.”

Gareth Gates as Willard in Footloose The Musical. Photo: Matt Martin

Gareth Gates as Willard in Footloose The Musical. Photo: Matt Martin - Credit: Archant

Gareth, who plays Willard in the show, based on the hit 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon, has always been a firm believer in never letting his condition hold him back.

“It’s strange, being a performer you have to bare all and for a stammerer that’s hard to do because you avoid situations, you avoid speaking to people at all costs. It’s a strange thing I’ve got myself into but I had a passion to perform and definitely wasn’t going to let anything hold me back.”

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Appearing in shows including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Les Misérables on London’s West End, acting has given him more confidence on stage. In every day life he still has his good and bad days depending on how much work he puts in.

Joanna Sawyer as Rusty and Gareth Gates as Willard in Footloose The Musical. Photo: Matt Martin

Joanna Sawyer as Rusty and Gareth Gates as Willard in Footloose The Musical. Photo: Matt Martin - Credit: Archant

“The first time I ever had to step on stage I was apprehensive but I quickly learned if I take on the role of a different character, if I adopt a different persona, try breathing a different way, speaking a different way then I have absolutely no troubles with my speech. It’s only every day conversations like interviews that I often find hard because I have to be me.”

Starting off in song-heavy roles, Gareth’s run with the challenge; taking on more dialogue-driven parts in plays and absolutely loving it. In Footloose the multi-million record seller only gets to sing the one song and the rest is just spoken. Doesn’t he wish he had more?

“Oh no, I’m really enjoying my character, my every day job is to sing so I’m having a great time exploring the acting side of things. It’s going really well and apparently I’m quite funny it seems,” he laughs.

“I’m really enjoying that. Having a stammer, it’s hard to get yourself across. My closest friends and family know exactly what I’m like and I can have a laugh all the time. Sometimes when you meet new people it’s hard to get a personality across so being able to act on stage and have a laugh in that regard is really quite liberating.

Maureen Nolan as Vi Moore in Footloose. Photo: Matt Martin

Maureen Nolan as Vi Moore in Footloose. Photo: Matt Martin - Credit: Archant

“I love the challenge the show brings out, it’s the first time I’ve ever played a comedy role. That’s the reason why I accepted the job and I actually love it. I’m dying to get the laugh every night.”

Sizzling with the spirit of youth, rebellion and romance; city boy Ren thinks his life is over when he is forced to move to Bomont, an American rural backwater. Things are far worse than he could have ever imagined, as the town bans dancing. It isn’t long before he can’t resist breaking the rules and he’s not alone.

It boasts classic songs such as Holding Out for a Hero, Almost Paradise, Let’s Hear It For The Boy and the unforgettable title track Footloose.

“The director kept it very true to the film and has all the big 1980s classics in it. At the end everybody’s on their feet having a bit of a party and they leave the theatre on a real high.”

The cast of Footloose The Musical. Photo: Matt Martin

The cast of Footloose The Musical. Photo: Matt Martin - Credit: Archant

I can’t help but tell Gareth what I told Will Young, who pipped him to the title of the first Pop Idol, when we spoke a while back. I still can’t believe he didn’t win.

“It was the first of its kind, well before X Factor and it gripped the nation I guess like no other had. It tends to be one of those moments where people know exactly where they were at the time of the final and it was a bit of a shock at the time. I’ve had a great life so I’ve definitely got absolutely nothing to be ungrateful for.”

He has fingers in a lot of pies. His daily visit to the gym aside, when he’s not performing on stage Gareth pretty much has his head in his laptop. Quite the entrepreneur, he’s brought out a range of coconut tea of all things which you can find on the shelves of Holland and Barrett.

“It’s in all 700 stores and it’s really going well. I’ve got four staff who work for me now on that and keeping them busy every day is a full-time job in itself,” he laughs. “I’m constantly thinking of new ideas. I recognised coconut water’s on the market, coconut oil but there wasn’t any sort of hot coconut beverage as it were. It’s called Cuppanut and it’s the first ever pure ground coconut tea.”

So, if you’re parched during the interval of Footloose but the queue at the bar’s too long you know where to go.

The last time I saw Maureen Nolan at the Ipswich Regent was in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers, a tragic tale of a mother forced to give up one of her newborn sons with disastrous consequences.

As Vi Moore in Footloose, the wife of Bomont’s reverend who has banned dancing, she faces a similar conundrum.

“You get to an age and a stage in your career where it’s got to be mothers or grandmothers even. I’m a grandmother in real life so obviously you’re slotted into a certain kind of part. I’m waiting for the sexy vamp cougar type to come along,” she laughs, open to my suggestion she should audition for The Witches of Eastwick musical.

“I don’t think there’s enough really good parts out there for women in general, really, but certainly older women. I feel lucky this isn’t a big part in Footloose but it’s nice, you can get your teeth into it.

“I get to sing two beautiful songs but of course Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers was the best part ever. I’m just about to play Miss Havisham in Great Expectations The Musical over Christmas in Blackpool so I’m really looking forward to that. It’s a really great character part so I feel honoured actually that they’ve asked me to do it.”

There’s a certain irony about her being cast in a musical where dancing’s banned given she and her sisters had a smash hit in 1980 with I’m In The Mood For Dancing?

“Yeah,” she laughs. “Vi’s definitely not in the mood for dancing, well her husband’s certainly not. Maybe we should’ve had a line in there ‘but darling, why aren’t you in the mood for dancing?’ That would have been slightly cheesy wouldn’t it? It’s tempting isn’t it, maybe on the last night of the tour.”

The ups and downs of family life are at the heart of the show; something Maureen is more than familiar with. Although you shouldn’t believe everything you read she adds.

“I’m playing a mother with a troublesome child... I’m a mother, I’ve had a teenager, I know the pitfalls. I now have three grandaughters. You know we’ve had well documented feuds in our family and we’ve got through them and we all adore and are mad about each other but you have your arguments don’t you so families kind of are the same aren’t they?

“They (newspapers) get the wrong end of the stick you know? You’re reading these things thinking ‘well, that’s not at all how it happened’ but it’s not quite a dramatic story is it? You’ve just got to ride the storm really at the time.

“I’m working with Adam Rickitt, he’s had many things in his past and they were well documented and wrong at the time and (somebody) still always mentions them. You just have to keep saying the same thing, tell the truth, keep saying we’re over it now, but of course it’s always going to be brought up.”

Maureen, who played the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella at the Ipswich Regent in 2014, is looking forward to returning to the theatre.

“If you want to have a good night out and forget your troubles it’s a really great show.”

Footloose The Musical runs to October 8. Read our review online here.

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