Dolenz found fame in the 1960s as the drummer/vocalist in popular made-for-TV band The Monkees, whose hits included “Daydream Believer”, "Last Train to Clarksville" and “I'm a Believer”.
His post-Monkees career has included multiple appearances in myriad American sitcoms as well as theatre credits including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Aida and The Point!, which came to the West End during the late 1970s.
How does it feel to be returning to London’s West End?
Are you kidding me? It's wonderful! I just love doing musical theatre in general and, besides Broadway, you don’t get any better than this. I’m thrilled to be here, both in Hairspray and in the West End.
How did your involvement in Hairspray come about?
I said to my English agent, "you should look around and see if anything comes up" and she said that they were looking for a new Wilbur in Hairspray. I’ve been aware of the piece for a while, and loved it - so I came over and, luckily, they offered it to me.
What do you like about Wilbur?
I think the thing that I found most touching about him is his relationship with his daughter. I have four daughters, so I’m sure that it immediately struck a chord. So that was very appealing, and of course that show stopping number, “Timeless to Me”.
Do you get on with Brian Conley, who plays your wife Edna?
Well so far he’s been incredibly supportive and very gracious. And he looks great in a fat suit!
You’ve performed in London before, in the late 70's. How would you compare your experience then to now?
That was one of the first things that I had done in musical theatre. I doubt that I was very good! Since then, I've got into this more intensively, and realised that I had to brush up on my theatre skills; television and film are very different disciplines. Growing up in Los Angeles doing film and TV, I didn’t have the same kind of background I might have if I had grown up in New York, where theatre is just everywhere. All the actors and singers in New York are basically founded in theatre, whereas in Los Angeles it’s TV and film.
After Hairspray, do you see yourself performing in another London musical?
Absolutely. I’d love doing more in the West End. I did Aida in New York, and that was when I realised I really love doing this. Funnily enough, when I started doing this musical theatre stuff on a more consistent basis, I realised that The Monkees Show was kind of a little musical theatre on television. If you look at an episode of The Monkees, we were singing, dancing, and doing bits of comedy with a scripted plot, very much like a musical. You get hooked to the kind of adrenaline buzz that you get from being on stage, live. I’ve done so much film and television where if you screw it up, somebody just says ‘cut’ and you do it again. Obviously that doesn’t happen in theatre, so there’s definitely that edge that everybody probably gets a little addicted to.
What are your thoughts on a potential Monkees musical?
Oh there’s been talk of that for years. There are lots of groups that have wonderful catalogues of songs, including the Spice Girls, the Monkees and the Rolling Stones. It just doesn’t necessarily equate to a successful musical theatre experience. In the States, there have been many attempts at wonderful catalogues, including the Beach Boys, but they just don’t work. It’s because they just depend on the popularity of the songs and there isn’t a coherent and dramatic storyline. If you look at Mamma Mia!, you could say "well that’s just great ABBA music", but I don’t think that show would have lasted as long as it did if they had just strung together ABBA tunes. That story is the story of a little girl trying to find her father. You actually care about the people. So the short answer is, I don’t know. Then again, the people who wrote those songs were just an amazing stable of writers, and I was blessed to have been able to sing them. In fact, I’m just coming out with a CD called King for a Day, a tribute album to Carole King that’s going to be coming out while I’m doing Hairspray.
Hairspray continues at the Shaftesbury Theatre until 28 March 2010. A new national tour launches at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff on 30 March 2010.