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Former Strictly dance favourite Kevin Clifton talks about taking on the challenge of playing arrogant and self-obsessed rock star Stacee Jaxx in Rock Of Ages, the hit West End musical which is this month stopping off in Stoke-on-Trent...
What made you want to be involved with Rock of Ages, Kevin?
I first saw the show in 2009 on Broadway, when I was in New York with Burn The Floor. Rock Of Ages was on the next street over. I just loved it and went back and saw it two or three more times on Broadway. Then I saw it again when it came to the West End. I’m a big fan! I’ve always been a massive rock fan anyway, and before I was on Strictly I used to fancy myself a bit of a rock star. I used to have long black hair and eye makeup and black fingernails and used to swan about thinking I was the Jim Morrison of the ballroom!
To be part of the show a few years ago was a blast, so I’m really excited to be back playing Stacee Jaxx!
Could you tell us a little about the show?
It’s the story of two wannabes who’ve 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 wants 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 flamboyant, over-the-top 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!
Is it fun playing someone a bit villainous?
Oh yeah. I can definitely tap into the pretentious nature of him - I think I used to be a bit like that, thinking I was a rock star when I was just a ballroom dancer. Everyone goes through that sort of phase a bit, though! I used to think I was really rock’n’roll when in fact I’m the least rock’n’roll person in the world!
It’s a lot of fun to play Stacee, as he’s so different to how I am and how people are used to seeing me. Although, having said that, Rock Of Ages is just as flamboyant as Strictly, and has the same sense of fun, although in a different way!
Do you have a favourite song you look forward to performing in the show?
My first big song is Bon Jovi’s Dead Or Alive. That’s Stacee’s big moment, and I love that song. It’s his big opening in the show, and you’ve really got to come on and make a massive impact with the audience, really get them going and show what kind of character Stacee is. It should be fun!
What are the challenges of performing this style of music?
I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to breathe differently as a singer than I do as a dancer. 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. 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.
What was your first experience of musical theatre?
One of my earliest memories is me and my sister sat in front of the TV watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We used to get the fire guard from the fireplace and put it in front of us, pretending it was the car. We would sit there, one behind the other, singing! We used to get my dad’s snooker cue out of the garage and do Me Ol’ Bamboo!
When we were really young we came down to London to watch Cats, and I remember being so blown away by the whole spectacle of it all. I remember sitting there and thinking, this is amazing. Mum and Dad bought us the soundtrack on cassette, and I used to sit and listen to it all the time.
Do you have a role you’d love to play in the future?
I don’t know specifically - I think this is it, being Stacee Jaxx! Like I say, Rock Of Ages is my favourite show. It’s just so much fun, and you have such a good time when you watch it. I’ve been a little bit obsessed with it for a few years, so when they asked me about playing Stacee, I thought, ‘Perfect, I’m going to be able to be in a show I love!’.
You’ve toured before with various shows - is it something you enjoy, or do you find it a challenge?
I love it, actually. I don’t have a problem with tour life - I quite enjoy it and find it exciting. When you’re on tour with a cast, you really get to know them and you build a sense of family. It all feels like a bit of an adventure.
Do you have any ‘must-have’ items you take with you?
My podcast app on my phone. I’m constantly listening to podcasts - lots of motivational ones. My iPad too, so I can catch up on Match Of The Day and stuff!
Do you have a go-to karaoke tune?
Are You Gonna Be My Girl? by Jet. I love doing that at karaoke, but I used to really scream it out and not be able to talk afterwards!
Have you ever been given a piece of advice, or some words of wisdom, that have stuck with you?
I can’t remember who said it to me, but I took it on board: “It’s not about doing nothing wrong, it’s about doing something magical”. I think people make the mistake of thinking that to produce a good performance they’ve got to be technically perfect, but there are some brilliant performers who can hold a crowd in the palm of their hands without necessarily being the best dancers, singers or actors. They can create magic and make people feel something.
Finally, what can audiences expect when they come to see you in Rock Of Ages?
Don’t expect ‘Kevin from Grimsby’, as they call me on Strictly Come Dancing! It’s me in a completely different light, probably being a bit raunchier than you’re used to! I’m going to look completely different, but it will be a lot of fun and you should expect to have an amazing time.
Kevin stars as Stacee Jaxx in Rock Of Ages at Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, from Tuesday 2 to Saturday 6 November
Posted on Fri 26 Nov