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Brief Encounter With ... Rock of Ages' Justin Lee Collins

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After a brief stint in Chicago in 2009, TV and radio presenter Justin Lee Collins fulfils his dream to star in a West End musical next week (28 September 2011, previews from 31 August), when he opens, along with X Factor’s Shayne Ward, in head-banging Broadway import Rock of Ages at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

Why did you want to do Rock of Ages?
A few years ago I made a documentary for Sky about the process of me auditioning for the part of Amos Hart in Chicago. I did three performances, and that was the best creative experience of my life. I’ve been interested in doing something in the West End ever since. So it’s good timing. Also Rock of Ages is a piece that appeals to me directly. I was born in 1974 so I kind of grew up in the Eighties. That time and that music mean an awful lot to me. Eighties rock really gets to the core of my being. I’ve spent many a year walking around in a David Coverdale White Snake tour band t-shirt. I was kind of known for that shirt. Now I’m going to be appearing in a show where one of the great numbers we perform is “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake. And Mr Coverdale himself, the great man, does the pre-show announcement.

What’s so great about Eighties rock?
It’s fun and honest. It was balls out, big hair and tight jeans c*ck rock. I suppose it was the alternative at the time to a lot of the mainstream pop music of the time – you know, the big ballads and the divas. It was rock ‘n’ roll but dirtier, not like the glam rock of the 1970s.There was a certain amount of grubby glamour to it, which I look back on very fondly.

Rock of Ages is billed as “the ultimate mix tape musical”. Were you a tape mixer?
I would make mix tapes on almost a daily basis. Lots of songs appealed to me and little scenarios would play out in my head, ambitions that I had about singing a lot of these big numbers to an individual or an audience. There’s a song by Mr Big, “To Be With You, which is in the show, and of course, “Here I Go Again”. “Can’t Fight This Feeling” is the big number for my character, although my favourite REO Speedwagon song was “Take It On the Run”. I was still young at the time, but I would listen to songs like that and imagine that, if I had a girlfriend, I would sing it her.

How would you describe Dennis Dupree?
He owns the Bourbon Night Club, which he’s in danger of losing and he’ll do whatever he can to keep it. That’s the arc of the story. I would say he’s very much like The Dude in The Big Lebowski, but with more motivation and self-awareness. In the past, he was a roadie for Metallica and a political protester. Now he just drives around and goes bowling. But Dennis has still got this club he loves and he lives and breathes rock ’n’ roll.

The film version is of Rock Of Ages is out next year. Will it work on screen?
Absolutely, because the songs are great and it’s also very funny and the casting is brilliant. Alec Baldwin, who plays Dennis, is, for my money, one of the best screen actors around. But obviously people should come and see it on stage in the West End first. I’ve seen a lot of theatre and I love going to musicals myself, but I can’t remember having had an experience like this one before. It’s for both people who like musicals and people who like rock concerts - it’s a marriage of the two.

What are you doing to prepare stamina-wise for eight shows a week?
I’m trying to keep myself fit and well. I gave up drinking at the beginning of the year and I’m watching my diet so I’ve lost a lot of weight. And I’m having vocal training sessions, acting classes and dialect sessions - I’m working on my general American accent. It’s a tough schedule. All being well, I’ll be in the show for six months at least. Hopefully, it will be a success and I’ll get to do it for 20 years. I love it.

Why else should people see Rock of Ages?
If you’re older, you can come and relive your youth. If you’re younger, you can come and see how we used to do it back in the day. Also you’re going to be able to drink during our show – ushers will come to your seat to take your orders. That’s a West End first!

Rock of Ages opens at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 28 September 2011 (previews from 31 August). An extended version of this interview appears in next month’s Whatsonstage.com Magazine, available exclusively to members of our Theatre Club.


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