A WEARSIDE actor will be walking like a man in a hit West End show.
Gary Watson, from Plains Farm, this week joins the cast of Jersey Boys at its home in London, the Piccadilly Theatre.
It’s the latest coup for the 30-year-old former Thornhill School pupil who has forged a glittering career in theatre with starring roles in Cats, Matilda, Les Misérables, Finding Neverland and A Chorus Line.
He will play the role of Nick Massi in the award-winning show which tells the true life story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the rocky road to fame behind their toe-tapping hits Walk Like a Man, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Bye Bye Baby.
Gary said: “I was up in the region, performing at the panto in Newcastle last Christmas and within a week of arriving I had to go back to London to audition. It all happened very quickly, which is unusual, usually these things take weeks and weeks.
“I did some preparation work with the creative team and found out I had the role, it’s a dream show and a dream role for me. Nick is the bass player and he’s a complicated character with a very dry sense of humour. It’s Nick who teaches Frankie to sing, so he’s intrinsic in the group’s development.”
With its gritty subject matter which touches upon the mob, debt, prison and death, Jersey Boys is a far cry from the more sugary musicals on the circuit and Gary says it makes for a refreshing change. “I’ve done those jazz hand musicals and I’ve absolutely loved them,” he said. “But it’s great to take on a role like this which I can really get my teeth stuck into.
“It deals with hard-hitting issues, but that’s because it’s a true story. The band was surrounded by people in the mafia, like most musicians of that time. It deals with all the trappings of fame, in a warts and all way.
“Frankie and Bob from the band were involved in the musical when it started and they wanted to make sure it was real and told the story in that way.”
The Tony, Olivier and Grammy Award-winning show opened in the West End seven years ago and went on to spawn a touring production which came to the Sunderland Empire last year, proving to be one of the most successful two-week shows ever staged at the venue.
Speaking about his first week in the West End show, Gary said: “It’s absolutely terrifying, it never gets any easier. I’ve just been home to Sunderland as I had three days off from rehearsals before I started in the show.
“I thought ‘I can’t stay in London’ so I went home to see me family, it helps keep me grounded, otherwise I’d be a nervous wreck.”
Will Gary’s family be making the trip from Sunderland to London to see him in the show? “You try and stop them,” he joked. “My mam is head groupie.” Gary honed his skills as a child at Kathleen Davis Stage School in High Street West and he still returns when he can to mentor budding performers.
“I continually try to help young performers,” he said. “It’s something I feel really strongly about: promoting the link between the North East and the profession, because it does centre around London. But I’m starting to hear more and more of young people going for it, getting on the train to London. That’s what I did. I had no idea 14 years ago that this is where I’d end up, but I took the gamble.”