‘A dream role’ for Stefan Booth

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Theatre’s slinkiest and sexiest show is heading to Sunderland next month. Ahead of Chicago’s arrival, Katy Wheeler caught up with one its stars, Stefan Booth.

AS you can tell, I could talk about this musical forever,” says soap actor-cum-stage star Stefan Booth.

He’s right too. Stefan is practically effervescent about his role as smooth-talking puppet master Billy Flynn.

It sees him take a break from TV – where he’s earnt his acting stripes playing Tanya’s husband Greg in Eastenders, Sergeant Marc Rollins in The Bill and Jamie Nash in Hollyoaks – but he’s loving every minute of it.

“It means a lot to me to do this role,” he explains. “It prises me away from my family, but it’s a dream role for me to do. It’s an incredible part and I’m enjoying it immensely.

“I like to take jobs that challenge me and that help me to grow as an actor and this is no exception.”

Billy is Chicago’s lead sirens Velma and Roxie’s lawyer who makes celebrities of his clients in Prohibition-era Chicago, to win sympathy and sway public opinion.

Many an actor has stepped into Flynn’s impeccably-shiny shoes, but Stefan says he’s relishing making the role his own.

He said: “Duncan James is a friend of mine, so I’d been to see him in the role and also Terence Maynard.

“When you get the role they give you roughly an idea of what they want. But I think I could play this role for a couple of years and never get bored of it.

“There’s so much you can do with the character.

“I love singing. I’ve always been a singer and with this I get to croon every night which is great. He’s a great character to play because he’s the puppet master, he conducts what goes on every night.”

Over the years Stefan has kept his hand in theatre with pantomime while appearing on TV screens in hit shows such as Dancing on Ice, but this is his first musical theatre role since 2003.

“Stage and TV are so different,” he explains. “Stage is a completely-different monster. It’s absolutely one of the most enjoyable things being on stage, some people say it’s addictive and I can see why.

“TV is a lot more mechanical. When you’re on stage you can see straight away what works and what doesn’t.

“It’s great to have that instant connection with people and take them on a journey, you can feel yourself pulling them along.”

The show is based around real-life events back in the roaring 1920s when nightclub singer Roxie Hart shoots her lover and along with cell block rival, double-murderess Velma Kelly, they fight to keep off death row with the help of smooth-talking lawyer Billy.

Toe-tapping tracks include All That Jazz, When You’re Good to Mama, Mister Cellophane and Razzle Dazzle which has helped the musical to rack up numerous awards.

Speaking about its appeal, Stefan said: “There’s no set changes, no scene changes, there’s a massive band behind you. It’s very different to what you normally see with a musical. When you’re singing you can feel this monster behind you, the band making an amazing sound.

“I’m delighted to be a cog in this kind of wheel.”

In this tour, Stefan plays alongside former Hollyoaks actress Ali Bastian as Roxie Hart, former Coronation Street star Tupele Dorgu as Velma Kelly and Bernie Nolan as Mama Morton.

Stefan said: “Bernie, Ali and Tupele are all brilliant at what they do. I worked with Ali 10 years ago on Hollyoaks. I’ve done gigs with Tupele and I was on The Bill with Bernie, so although we haven’t been on the road long it feels like we’ve been doing it for ages.”

Though TV may be where Stefan made his name, it’s clear the stage has his heart for now.

“Well, I’ve signed up to this for a year and I’ve every intention of see it through, as you can tell I’m really enjoying myself. I’m really looking forward to getting my teeth stuck into the role.

“I love stage, but the part has to be right and Billy Flynn feels like a good fit right now.”

l Chicago is at the Sunderland Empire from March 26-31.

For tickets, priced £13.50-£35, call 0844 871 3022 or book online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland

l Stefan is a staunch supporter of Kidney Research UK and does much to promote its work. To learn more visit www.kidneyresearchuk.org