Brief Encounter With ... Tommy SteeleDate: 27 September 2010
Tommy Steele is returning to the Northeast with the hit musical Scrooge, and Whatsonstage Northeast took the opportunity to chat with the show business legend, before the show arrives in October.
There is no doubting Tommy is a legend with a career that has included, so far, hit songs, films which include, Half A Sixpence, The Happiest Millionaire and Finian’s Rainbow, as well as award-winning stage musicals such as, Hans Andersen and Singin’ in the Rain.
During our discussion, one thing became very clear; Tommy loves the Sunderland Empire and ensures all his touring shows play there. Why? Well on November the 5th 1956, he made his very first appearance on any stage, and that stage just happened to be the Sunderland Empire. So any time Tommy appears at the Empire, it feels like he is coming home and he enthused that stepping back on the Empire stage, is like getting a great big kiss on the cheek by a maiden aunt. His last visit was with the musical Dr. Doolittle, which gave him the opportunity to see the changes made during the multimillion pound facelift and he is keen to see if there have been any further developments.
Tommy Steele has headlined in the musical Scrooge for the past few years and loves returning to the show, as it’s such a feel good family musical. But, he feels it’s such a shame that due to its seasonal story the production has only around a twelve week life span each year, as the audience has to be in the Christmas spirit.
But there is no doubting taking on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, is playing against type for the family entertainer Tommy. But he told us he loves his first entrance at every performance, as he senses the audience reaction when they see a scruffy old man come on stage and not the familiar happy go lucky smiling Tommy Steele. However, when you are dealing with a story as strong as a Christmas Carol (on which Scrooge is based) he can hear Dickens whisper in his ear "trust me" as he plays the horrible Ebenezer, before he is taken on his journey of redemption.
It is the rigors of working that keep Tommy touring and the belief that the audience should not have to come to London to see you perform. The performer should go to the audience and that’s why theatres such as the Sunderland Empire are so important, he told us.
His career has meant that apart from hits both on stage and screen he has worked with, and known, Hollywood legends, as well as breaking records at the London Palladium and being listed in the Guinness Book of Records. So we wanted to know what where the highlights of his career. He explained that while there had been so many three stood out, working with his idols Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly and the first time he stepped out on the stage of the Sunderland Empire!
When asked about how he spends the little spare time he has, Tommy told us, as a hobby he now plays more tennis than squash. But there will be no opportunity to see Tommy lead a sing-song at Wimbledon, as Cliff Richard once did, as he likes to get his strawberries from his local greengrocer and watch the games on TV. Tommy also attends theatre in London and catches all new shows. Recent favourites have included the London Assurance, at the National, and the 50s musical Dreamboats and Petticoats (which is currently at the Playhouse and visited the Empire while on tour).
This is one man that does not look back; he always looks to the future, so finally we wanted to know what the future after the Scrooge tour? He told us he is currently considering options on several shows, but it all depends on where and when, as well as, the production values.
There are two things for certain, first of all, if, and when, Tommy Steele decides to headline a new show the production values will be second to none, as we know Tommy Steele knows exactly what an audience wants and how to deliver it. Secondly, if any new production tours, the Sunderland Empire will be one place it will visit.
Scrooge plays the Sunderland Empire 25th to 30th October.
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