West End actor happy to be home for Jersey Boys’ Sunderland shows

Michael Pickering at the Sunderland Empire.
Michael Pickering at the Sunderland Empire.
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A West End actor says it’s been one of the highlights of his career to play his home stage.

Michael Pickering, 30, has returned to Sunderland to play the alternate lead of Frankie Valli in hit musical Jersey Boys.

People from the North East seem to be happy that I’ve come back and I’ve done a lot of interviews about it. It’s been a great confidence boost, usually it’s only my mam and dad who are bothered that I’m home.

Michael Pickering

The show, based on the true story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is taking Sunderland by storm on a fortnight’s run.

It’s given former Thornhill School pupil Michael the chance to perform on his home stage for the first time in a ten-year career which has seen him appear in some of theatre’s biggest shows, including Wicked, Grease, Mamma Mia and Jesus Christ Superstar.

“This is the one to my family,” he told the Echo. “It doesn’t matter what stage I play in the world, the Empire is bigger than the Palladium to them.

“It’s the difference between me having to fly my mam to London to see a show, to her coming down the road to see me on stage at home.”

He added: “People from the North East seem to be happy that I’ve come back and I’ve done a lot of press and radio interviews about it. It’s been a great confidence boost, usually it’s only my mam and dad who are bothered that I’m home.”

The falsetto-heavy role of Frankie and the demands it places on an actor’s voice means it requires an alternate actor to play the part at certain performances.

As such, Michael has played last week’s Wednesday matinee and will do next Wednesday’s evening performances, as well as the two Saturday matinees. I’ve always been able to do that falsetto voice, but it’s not something I’ve needed to do, apart from Jesus Christ Superstar,” he explained.

“So when this show came up I knew I wanted to be in it. But even if I wasn’t in it, I think I’d be telling everyone how brilliant it is. There are other actors who can do falsetto, but are too tall to play Frankie. This is ‘the’ role in theatre for a shorter guy.”

It’s the second time the tour has visited Sunderland in under 12 months, after it made its North East debut here last November.

Michael, whose family lives in Teal Farm, Washington, said: “I think it’s testament to the quality of the show that it can return for another two-week run in under a year. I don’t know another show in theatre that can do that.

“Despite it being American-driven, it clearly speaks to people and has an impact.

“I think it’s because there’s so much to it, it’s a true story, and it’s an amazing story, to see how they did what they did.

“It’s about chasing your dream, that you can be what you want to be if you put your mind to it, and I think that’s a story that everyone can relate to.”

During his time back in the city Michael is hoping to return to the Sunderland school which sparked his love of theatre.

It was during his teenage years at Thornhill School that teachers Jacqui Bennett (who has since retired) and Mark Leadbeater and their passion for music and drama spurred Michael on to head to London and study musical theatre.

They seem to have the Midas Touch with drama, as fellow pupils Gary Watson, currently in West End Jersey Boys, and ITV Superstar winner Ben Forster have also forged a successful career on the stage.

“It’s a brilliant school and I really enjoyed my time there,” said Michael. “Their influence changed the path I took in life.”

l Jersey Boys is at the Empire until September 19. For tickets, call 0844 871 3022.