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Keith Jack on making the transition from screen to stage

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For the penultimate Screen to Stage interview, I caught up with Any Dream Will Do runner-up Keith Jack – just before a punishing three-show day playing the tile role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I found him nursing a badly-inflamed throat. He’s been playing that role for the past 18 months and previously was the Narrator for a year.

How hard was the Joseph television show?
It was really intense. There was a six o’clock start every morning and we’d then work until ten or 12; it was just one thing after another. We had to learn the songs and the dance routines, there were challenges every week – and then we had all the press to do as well. At the start we got one day off a week but, as the show went on, we never got a day off.

Literally, if you got through on the Saturday then you got your song on the Sunday, you had Monday off and then you started on Tuesday. I think it was when we got down to the final five that they took the day off away so we got the song on Sunday and it was straight back to work on the Monday.

After it was all over and you were runner-up, what happened next?
First off they took us upstairs to do interviews about how we felt, and then we went to a party. It was great fun, it was good. Lee Mead was always going to win in my eyes. He and I had a good chat the night before the final and it was obvious that he was ready for it. He was the most ready out of all of us. I was just 19 and had been working in a Tesco supermarket. So, for me, it was just about getting as far as I could really.

How soon after the show did you get offered the part of the Narrator in Joseph?
It was really strange because, even though I was-runner up, I didn’t have a moment to breathe. The minute I got home I had to go and do concerts and appearances, things like that. I sang at the Scottish Parliament, I sang for the Queen and I got flown over to Spain to sing for their King and Queen and all this was within about three weeks.

The opening night of Joseph was five weeks after the TV show finished and the following day Bill Kenwright and Andrew Lloyd-Webber called me into the office and told me that they wanted me to go on tour as the Narrator. I think I started about two months after that.

How did you deal with suddenly doing ten shows a week?
Actually, sometimes it was 12. The good thing about the Narrator is that it’s quite low for me, because I’m a tenor. So doing that part meant that I could still go out occasionally and have a couple of drinks without it affecting my voice and that was nice because doing the 10 or 12 shows in one week is very tough.

I only missed about four shows in a year as the Narrator and I’ve only missed four shows in the year and a half that I’ve played Joseph. Even today with my throat playing up, I’m here for the three shows.

Are they able to do anything to make it easier for you if your voice is suffering?
Yes they can, they have tweaked the mike just slightly, so I can sit back a little. Normally I do the big high stuff in the show like when I add different bits to “Close every door” and stuff, but right now I can’t do it. I’m sticking more with the company this week so my voice doesn’t just die.

What is it that you bring to the role of Joseph to make it your own?
It’s weird really because you kind of bring a bit of yourself to the role. It’s funny though because even though everyone thinks that the “smiley” part at the start is the bit I love – it’s not. The Prince of Egypt stuff is much more me.

Joseph has to have the story where he is this bouncy boy and that part is a lot of fun in terms of having a laugh and you can giggle about a bit. But in terms of his growth he has to be that way to contrast with the person he becomes at the end with everyone bowing at his feet.

Having said that, there’s the scene at the end where I meet with Jacob again and you’ll see that I try to pull up and continue to be that prince but, as I walk towards him, I just collapse because Jacob is his hero, his love. Because Joseph hasn’t seen him for so long he doesn’t know what to say so he just bows at Jacob’s feet.

I don’t just bring a part of me though, there are parts of the other Josephs I’ve seen too. I think my Prince of Egypt is slightly stricter than I have ever seen before and I, mostly, think this when I watch people like Donny Osmond doing it. Lee Mead’s version was a bit more towards strict but Donny had this sort of cheekiness and I try not to have that because I think that Joseph is hurt.

That’s why he has a go at them and I hold on to that hurt until the part where they are all bowing down begging for Benjamin and that’s where it changes for me. Although he still thinks: “Why did they do this to me?”, he starts to feel sorry for the brothers.

He realises that they have completely changed and I think that’s why he reveals himself to them. It’s such a moving moment that I literally have a lump in my throat. I think that if you get to the point of not quite crying, the point where you can hear someone’s voice quiver, it is so much more powerful than just bursting into tears.

When you finally got the part of Joseph in 2010, did you feel like you had won?
I did, but I kind of felt like I had won in my own right, from my own efforts. I’d been away and done shows and concerts, I’d grown and was older and I’d hit the gym a bit, so I wasn’t the same boy as I was when I did the TV show. The thing that was so great for me is that I honestly thought I would never get to play the part.

After I finished as the Narrator I thought that was me done with the show. So when Bill Kenwright asked me to come back as Joseph I was really excited and thrilled to get the chance to see what I could do with it. I think I do the part more justice now that would have been possible back then. It would have been a very different Joseph back then to what it is now so yes, I did feel like I had won.

A lot of the company have been with the show for a while now. Is it just like a big family?
Oh yes. That’s the thing, all of us really enjoy it. Because it’s 10 shows a week it is very tiring and although people always say: “You’re only on for two hours”, we’re all on stage for almost the whole two hours – especially the brothers. In other shows you’re off then you’re on and maybe you only do 45 minutes out of a whole show. But this is constant hard work and for so many of the cast to stay so long shows you how much we love it and how much everyone sticks together.

I want to move on to “What next?” in a minute but first can you tell me about your stage school?
Ah yes, it’s called Gie It Laldy – that’s a Scottish saying for give it your all. It’s something I always wanted to do. When I was in the final year at school I used to teach singing to the first years as part of my course. I loved it and I always said that one day, if I ever got the chance, I’d have a theatre school.

So one day I was talking to Alana Macfarlane, who was my girlfriend at the time and a dancer, and we decided to do it and it’s been fantastic. It’s been running in Edinburgh for nearly three years now and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. The pride and joy that you get watching the students get up on stage is amazing.

One of our students has just come down to London to work with my vocal coach Matthew Shaw who is just incredible. He’s worked with Pixie Lott and Jessie J and he’s amazing. He says that she’s got so much potential and when you see people like that and you know you’re giving them a chance it’s a really great thing. To think that they may get the opportunity to get what I have is just brilliant.

Do you stay as Joseph now, or do you move on to whatever comes next?
Well, Lee did two years in town so I’d be happy if I get to finish two years as well. The show stops in May and doesn’t come back until September and my agent said that they’ve been contacted to see if I want to come back. That would be great as it would give me three or four months off in the summer to do the other things I have planned. I’m working on something with Lee Mead for the summer and then, maybe at the end of the year, I’ll do something else.

Maybe an English pantomime?
My agent has said that I’ve been asked to a couple of pantos down South but it’s nice doing them in Scotland as I get to go home for Christmas. Having said that, I would like to do an English panto as they are slightly different in that Scottish ones are more story-driven but English ones are more star-driven.

In Scotland the story can’t get lost, whereas I feel that down South, if you have someone famous in one, it would just be him saying panto lines. Up there, you never get a cheap gag at the expense of the story. When I do them up there I never have any jokes. The lead characters stick to the story and there are comedians and stuff to get the laughs.

Keith Jack can currently be seen in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat  at the Colosseum, Watford 10-14 April, White Rock Theatre, Hastings 8-12 May, and then throughout the country when the tour resumes from 4 September.


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