HE may refer to Hear’Say as a “hiccup”, but there’s no doubting that Noel Sullivan has now found his professional feet wowing the crowds as Galileo in We Will Rock You.
Ahead of the West End show’s arrival on Wearside, Katy Wheeler caught up with its star.
SINGING in a band borne through a reality TV show may have been what made Noel Sullivan’s name, but the stage has always had his heart.
A trained chorister, Noel came from a choral background before appearing in 2001’s Popstars, which saw him thrust into the media spotlight in band Hear’Say.
Despite huge international success – selling nearly three million records worldwide – Hear’Say was not to be.
The manufactured pop world’s loss, however, was the theatre’s gain.
Noel has gone back to what he enjoys most and is loving every minute of it.
He explains: “Hear’Say was a hiccup, it was always theatre I wanted to do. It was a great hiccup, but this is where I wanted to be.
“When I got this role Ben Elton (creator of the show) didn’t realise I had been in Hear’Say. When he found out, he said I’d been hired purely on my talent, not my background.”
Noel, who already had roles in Flashdance and Grease under his belt, was certainly put through his paces in his bid to become Galileo Figaro, the main player in Queen fantasy musical We Will Rock You (WWRY).
The brainchild of Ben Elton with musical supervision by Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor, and choreographed by Strictly Ballroom’s Arlene Phillips, it follows Galileo, a nervous boy who must become a bohemian hero to help save the future of rock music – an all-action tale told to 24 of Queen’s greatest hits.
“It was quite gruelling, there were nine auditions in total,” says Noel.
“The final one was the most nerve-racking of my career. It was in front of a panel including Ben Elton, Brian May and Arlene Phillips.
“You would think once the show’s set up they would leave it to run, but they are still very much involved.
“It’s a show I never thought I’d be able sing in. I had seen it in London and was blown away.
“I told Brian May how much I loved the music growing up because of its vocal arrangements, I don’t think he ever expected me to say that.”
The London production of the show is now in its eleventh year and is the longest-running musical ever staged at the West End’s Dominion Theatre.
When the touring show arrives in Sunderland next month, Noel will be joined by Eastenders and Coronation Street actor Ian Reddington as Pop, a librarian who is stuck in his hippie past and is searching to find answers to the end of rock music, and former Brookside star Leon Lopez, who heads up the bohemians as their leader, Britney.
Noel says: “I think it works better on the road. In London it’s a huge spectacle playing to an international audience every night, but I think on the road you can appreciate Ben Elton’s British humour more.”
He added: “I prefer performing further north, the audiences there know how to have a good time and I’m looking forward to the reaction in Sunderland.
“I think people are a lot more reserved down south because they have a lot more options. But when a show like WWRY comes to Sunderland it’s more of an event and people celebrate that.”
It’s the humour and strong storyline which, Noel says, means the show isn’t just for Queen fans.
“My favourite part of the show is the beginning of Act 2 when I sing Who Wants to Live Forever, it’s an amazing song. But I don’t think you have to be a fan of Queen music to enjoy the show.
“You forget though just how familiar that music is. They were such a legendary band, but WWRY has a strong story line to follow too.”
Noel is relishing every moment of his time with the musical.
He says: “Galileo is one of the biggest male leads there is. But after WWRY I would love to star in Miss Saigon if they ever brought it back. Aside from that I’d love to create my own role.
“This is the best part I’ve played so far though.
“When we performed at my home town in Cardiff at the Millennium Centre, Brian May performed Bohemian Rhapsody next to me.
“To have that happen and look out and see my family in the audience was such a moment for me.”
l We Will Rock You is at the Sunderland Empire from September 27 to October 8. Tickets costing £13.50–£43.50 are available from 0844 871 3022 or online at SunderlandEmpire.org.uk