Sunderland-born musical theatre star Ben Forster is heading home – well, almost. Katy Wheeler reports
Mackem Jesus Ben Forster will rise again in the role that’s made his name.
Juggling the roles of a Brad Majors and the Messiah has become second nature to Ben Forster, from Millfield.
This year he’s been starring as the suspender-clad geek who undergoes a voyage of sexual discovery on a nationwide tour of The Rocky Horror Show.
However, he’s still found time to squeeze in stints of the eponymous hero in Jesus Christ Superstar – the role he won last summer after winning ITV talent show Superstar.
Last time I spoke to the down-to-earth musical star in February he was excited about bringing Rocky to the theatre, which sparked his love of the stage – the Sunderland Empire.
Since then his dream job has taken him to the other side of the world on an arena tour of Australia.
“Australia was a dream,” said the 32-year-old. “It was really hard work and really challenging, but things like flying to Australia first class is something I never thought I’d ever do.
“Jesus Christ Superstar is massive over there. It’s like Phantom of the Opera is over here, everyone has seen it at some point.
“They didn’t have the Superstar TV show over there so I was nervous as to how the audience would react to me, but they were amazing.
“It’s one of those parts where there’s so much pressure, you have to prove yourself every night.”
Back in Britain he was slipping on Brad’s glasses once more. But next month, it’s back to Jesus when Ben embarks on a whirlwind two-week UK tour which comes to Newcastle on October 6.
Ben’s been too busy with his other role to join rehearsals, but Jesus’ shoes are ones he’s more than comfortable with now.
“There are rehearsals, but I’m in Rocky Horror right up until the night before the tour starts, so I only have a day to get into Jesus’ sandals,” he said.
Ben’s story is a Billy Elliot-esque tale of chasing your stage dreams and becoming a star.
After leaving school, he worked as an apprentice graphic designer in Thompson’s Printers before securing a place at the prestigious Itali Conti School, in London.
At the time, the school fees cost more than his parents’ house, but a scholarship gave Ben the chance to pursue his passion and at 17 he moved to the bright lights of London.
His talent was soon spotted and in his second year at theatre school he secured a West End show. He worked prolifically in the field for the next decade, before he heard that Andrew Lloyd Webber was going to make an ITV show to search for the new star of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Winning that show would change Ben’s life forever, propelling him to theatre stardom.
“Newcastle Arena is the closest I get to home on the tour and all my family have booked tickets,” he said.
“I think there’s about a hundred of them coming.”
As well as Ben returning to the role of Jesus, award-winning Tim Minchin plays Judas Iscariot, Spice Girl Melanie C is Mary Magdalene and Chris Moyles plays King Herod.
So how does a show usually associated with the stage translate to a cavernous arena?
“What’s amazing about the arena shows is the huge big screens, in that sense it’s like a live movie,” he explained.
“The cameras follow you around the stage and it focuses on close-ups, so you can see the emotion on your face that you wouldn’t always get to see in a theatre.
“So in a way the audience is closer to the action, but they’re in this big space.
“It’s odd because you can’t see anyone past the first few rows and then lights go up at the end and it’s crazy.
“You can’t believe you’ve performed to that many people.”
He added: “There are a few things we changed in Australia, some choreography and some intentions.
“We always tweak it to make it more real, in that way the show grows and evolves. Fans of the show will notice.”
Ben isn’t just content with stage stardom, he’s hoping to conquer the charts too.
“I’m tied up until next year now so I can’t really plan any theatre roles, but I’m working on a new album,” he said.
“I did an acoustic album last year and I’ve recorded another one which is out in a couple of weeks, which I’m really excited about.
“Next year I’d like to be able to release an album of original songs.”
Ben’s maintained his popularity since winning the show thanks to his non-stop work ethic and gratitude to the viewers who voted him to win.
“Because my job takes me all over the country, and I’ve performed constantly since winning the show, people who may have voted for me can come up to the stage door and meet me on tour, and that makes a real difference,” he said.
“There’s also the whole Twitter thing. There’s a nice crowd of followers on there who keep up with what I’m doing. It’s like a community feel.”
* Tickets for the Jesus Christ Superstar tour priced £30-£65 are available from www.jesuschristsuperstar.com.
We’ve teamed up with the production to give away 10 pairs of tickets to Jesus Christ Superstar at Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle, on October 6.
To be in with a chance of winning a pair, answer this question: Which show propelled Ben to fame?
B) The Voice
C) Pop Idol.
Email your answer and contact details to Katy.Wheeler@Jpress.co.uk.
Closing date: September 24.