IT may not be a panto, but the stars of this year’s Sunderland Empire Christmas show have promised just as much family fun.
Former Atomic Kitten star Liz McClarnon and actor and presenter Matthew Kelly, who play the main characters in Legally Blonde, were in Sunderland to see where they will be spending the festive season.
The award-winning show hit the headlines when it was announced it would run at the theatre from December 6 to 31, instead of a more traditional pantomime.
But Liz, who plays Paulette in the show, says audiences are still in for a treat.
“Even pantomimes aren’t Christmas-themed, they are often just fairy stories that are put on at Christmas,” she said.
“The thing with this show is that we often come away and say it is like a pantomime.
“There is a lot of audience participation and it’s a real family show. There are the easy jokes for kids and the older jokes for the adults.
“It’s a classier show than a panto, but it still has that vibe.”
Based on the Hollywood blockbuster film starring Reece Witherspoon, the stage show was this year awarded an Olivier Award for Best New Musical 2011.
Liz will be joined on stage by former Stars in Their Eyes host Matthew Kelly, who plays Professor Callahan, while rising stars Faye Brooke and Iwan Lewis play Elle and Emmett, respectively.
Singer and songwriter Liz, who enjoyed hits such as Whole Again and Right Now with band Atomic Kitten, joined the show in the summer as part of its first UK tour.
The 30-year-old says she can’t wait to hit Sunderland and paint the town red.
“I’m really looking forward to being at the Empire,” she said. “We will be here for a month, so it will be nice to settle somewhere.
“I have lots of friends and family who live in Gateshead, so we will be going there for Christmas.
“No doubt we will be out on the town in Sunderland though, tearing it up once the curtain goes down on the Christmas Eve matinee.”
She added: “I always say that audiences in the north are much better than in the south.
“The audiences in London get to see a lot more stuff so they take it for granted, whereas here, they appreciate the show.”
Since Atomic Kitten split, Liz has turned her hand to a host of roles including winning BBC1’s Celebrity Masterchef in 2008 and playing the lead female role in the War of the Worlds arena tour.
She said: “I love being on the stage. I love every single night.
“Some days I’m just waiting to get on the stage that night. I do miss the band, it’s the best job in the world.
“I still speak to the girls every other day. I don’t have sisters, but they are like that to me.”
•For tickets call 0844 871 3022 or go to www.SunderlandEmpire.org.uk