Published: 05:00, 11 September 2014
Though former pop princess Suzanne Shaw is excited about debuting a new musical at a Kent theatre this week it won’t beat her most thrilling memory of the venue, where she went into labour nine years ago.
Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn were the songwriting duo that brought us Devil Gate Drive, Tiger Feet, Livin Next Door to Alice, Wig Wam Bam, Ballroom Blitz and Blockbuster.
The pair were a pop and glam rock powerhouse, penning chart hits for acts including Sweet, Suzi Quatro, Mud and Huey Lewis in the ’70s. In the ’80s the pair went their separate ways but were no less productive, with Chinn writing Dancing In The Dark for Kim Wilde while Chapman went on to work with Blondie on their Parallel Lines album among others.
Their story was simply crying out to be given the jukebox musical treatment that has seen shows such as We Will Rock You and Mamma Mia! dominate West End theatres.
It was only a matter of time and now Blockbuster is the resulting musical, which makes its world premiere at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre this week.
Starring former Hear’Say band member Suzanne Shaw, who knows a thing or two about topping the charts herself, alongside former TV golden boy of the 1980s and musical theatre star Paul Nicholas, it features most of the above hits and more.
Suzanne, the 32-year-old former Popstars contestant and Emmerdale actress, told What’s On that her return to Dartford’s Orchard Theatre brings with it some happy but wince-inducing memories...
You’re a mum to son Corey, nine. How do you and your family cope with the touring lifestyle?
“I actually gave birth in Dartford, I went into labour at the Orchard Theatre where I am right now! It’s got many painful but very happy memories! I wasn’t in a show, Darren [Day, Corey’s father] was in Cinderella doing panto. It’s hard juggling, but I’ve got great childcare, a great partner and family who help me out and so it works. I can often commute back to Buckinghamshire.”
You’ve starred in musicals previously, but have you opened a brand new show before?
“No, this is the first time, and I’m looking forward to the whole process. For Paul [Nicholas] to be directing, and starring alongside him, is so exciting, he’s such a legend. I’ve followed his musical career and Just Good Friends was a massive sitcom.”
You’re too young to remember the Blockbuster songs, aren’t you?
“Yes, I was born in 1981 but my parents were still playing the ’70s songs and so I grew up listening to Blondie and Suzy Quatro. When I started singing it was their songs, that was the style that I really took to at such an early age. Within Blockbuster my favourite song is If You Can’t Give Me Love by Suzi Quatro. I love that ballad and I’m doing it as a duet with my love interest in the show. Ballroom Blitz is another one of my favourites.”
As a true child of the ’80s I hear that you invested your pocket money in a karaoke machine?
“Yes, it was quite old-school stuff like The Nolans and Earth, Wind and Fire but when I got a little older it was Dina Carroll and Whitney Houston. I would be screaming those songs out of my bedroom and it used to really annoy my brother.”
Not many will know that you were a child star in a TV show called Elidor.
“Yes, I started my professional career at 12 with the CBBC drama. It was the first one to ever have special effects so we did a lot of green screen work, but it was a lot of fun and I got to really learn the art of TV.”
But I read that your first job upon leaving school was at a paper factory?
“I lasted two days and then I had an audition for Coronation Street and I left. I was up for the part of Maria in Corrie [Coronation Street] – the finalists were me, Kimberley Walsh [from Girls Aloud] and Samia [Ghadie] who plays the role. Once I went to college I got into an Abba tribute band and we toured doing the cruises, went to Bahrain, I did a lot of travelling with that band, and then I auditioned for Hear’Say and I got in. So I was very lucky to get not only the bits and pieces when I was a kid, but then to get into the business on a bigger scale very early on.”
When you entered Popstars to compete for a place in Hear’Say, was it specifically a recording career that you wanted?
“Well I was auditioning for everything; I was up for the part in Corrie, for Godspell, for a Robson Green drama, and I was auditioning for Hear’Say at the time. For me it was always acting that was my first passion, it was never to be a pop star but that was the job I got out of all of them. I was absolutely amazed and so excited that suddenly, from thinking ‘I’m going to be an actress’, I was a pop star instead.”
What is the ambition that motivates you now?
“Very much so my acting, that’s where I am. I’ve really been concentrating on doing lots of small fringe plays, I’ve been doing a lot of writing, and I’ve recently been at the King’s Head in Islington doing About Miss Julie. I’m actually really excited to now be back singing and dancing. It’s nice to have such diversity in my career.”
You’ve previously expressed an interest in going into comedy. Which are the TV comedies that you enjoy?
“I’m a massive fan of the British comedies like Only Fools and Horse, Men Behaving Badly, Birds of a Feather, Just Good Friends but I also love American shows. Friends is an absolute classic and I love dark comedy like Six Feet Under.”
Can we expect any comedy in Blockbuster?
“Yes, there are chuckles within the show and there is a lot of subtle undercurrent comedy as well. I think there are going to be lots of laugh-out-loud moments.”
What’s next for you?
“I did a pilot sitcom called The Cast which is about a musical theatre touring group, filmed
quite like a mockumentary. We shot the pilot for that and now it’s being changed up a bit. It’s gone a bit darker, it’s more like murder mystery in the theatre.
I hope you’ll see it but it takes a long process to get things like that commissioned. I’ve been helping out on a musical called Eugenius! which has just been picked up, so that will be workshopping soon and then going out next year.”
Suzanne’s co-star is TV actor and musical theatre star Paul Nicholas, most famous for his role as curly-haired blond charmer Vince in Just Good Friends.
He enjoyed a stint as a pop singer himself in the 1970s, achieving three top 20 hits Reggae Like It Used To Be, Dancing With The Captain and Grandma’s Party, before being cast in Just Good Friends in 1983, for which he also sung the title song.
Paul, now 68, was specifically chosen for the role of wide boy Vince by the show’s creator, John Sullivan – who had also written Citizen Smith and Only Fools and Horses – because he had already established a reputation for himself as a stage actor.
In 22 episodes over three years, the popular sitcom told the story of the cautious friendship between Vince and upmarket Penny, played by Jan Francis, whom he had previously jilted at the altar. It charted the obstacles to their will-they-won’t-they romance, and the couple’s ultimate reunion and wedding in Paris.
Paul has gone on to enjoy a long and varied career as an actor, director and producer on stage and within the musical theatre world, appearing in Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Pirates of Penzance and directing The Rocky Horror Show and Keeler among shows.
In Blockbuster, Paul plays Crazy Max, a mystical figure who oversees the hero Mickey’s mission to complete two selfless deeds within seven days to win his destiny.
Blockbuster The Musical has its world premiere at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre from Thursday, September 11 until Saturday, September 20. Tickets cost from £20. Visit www.orchardtheatre.co.uk or call 01322 220000.
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