Tuesday, September 26

Noel Sullivan talks about new musical In Dreams that has its world première at Leeds Playhouse

Noel Sullivan shot to fame as part of Hear’say who won the first reality TV music show, Popstars, but after the band imploded he carved out a very successful musical theatre career in West End shows like Rock of Ages and We Will Rock You.

Now he’s part of an ensemble cast who are working on a brand new musical, In Dreams,that uses the back catalogue of legendary rocker Roy Orbison to help tell the story of a rocker at a personal crossroads, and has its world première at Leeds Playhouse.   

The book has been written by David West Read who wrote hit musical & Juliet and Schitt’s Creek, and is directed by Luke Sheppard who also worked on & Juliet which won nine Tony nominations.

Our Features Editor Paul Clarke caught up with Noel during rehearsals to talk about the challenges of getting a brand new musical on its feet, and the enduring power of the Big O’s songs.

As it’s a brand new show tell us about In Dreams?

In Dreams is an amazing new jukebox musical, can we call it that, I think so, with an incredible new book by writer David West Read, who has written & Juliet and Schitt’s Creek.  It’s the story of a rocker called Kenna, who is a solo artist touring round the states, and she has a diagnosis at the beginning of the show.

So how does Kenna deal with that bombshell?

She decides to throw herself the party of a lifetime and invites her old band who she used to play with 20 years ago to a Mexican restaurant in New Mexico. They all get together, their old lives unfold and they reconnect. It’s a story of loss, grief, happiness, love and joy, and even though the subject matter seems quite depressing, it is actually an uplifting, joyous show.

And the story is all woven together with the music of the late, great Roy Orbison.

Noël Sullivan (Donovan) Sian Reese Williams (Jane) In Dreams rehearsals. Photo – Pamela Raith

I was sceptical when I heard that, but I listened to the songs that they picked, and there are a load of old songs you will know so well that you don’t even realise they are Roy Orbison songs, The theatricality of the songwriting is so beautiful and Roy’s voice was very specific, but we have such different singers in the show – rock singers, soul singers, musical theatre performers, and you add theatre. Nothing for me feels shoehorned in for the sake of doing a Roy Orbison number, he’s got another fan in me as I don’t grow up on Roy Orbison music at all, but, oh my god, they are so beautiful.

Tell me about your character?

I play Donovan, who was the lead guitarist of the band Heartbreak Radio, who Keena was the lead singer of, and I’m married to Jane who was the bass guitarist.  I’m now a banker, we’ve got five kids, and life is very different to the life on the road that we had 20 years ago. My story within this story is to kind of reconnect and find a fresh love for my wife as we’ve been bogged down by the day to day drudgery of raising a huge family.

There’s some big hitters in this cast.

Lena Hall plays our singer Jenna, and she won a Tony for Hedwig and the Angry Inch and has done all the Broadway shows. Oli Tompsett who I’ve been a huge fan of for years, and in fact at one point we job swapped as he went into We Will Rock You in the West End and I went into Rock of ages. We’re quite similar casting so we’ve never worked together before.

And one of your co-stars is bringing a bit of home into the rehearsal room.

Sian Reese-Williams is a wonderful Welsh actress, people might know her from Emmerdale. I’m Welsh too, and she’s playing my wife, so it’s been nice to have the Welsh connection.

You’ve starred in some very established West End shows, so how are you finding the challenge of creating a show from scratch?

I love it and it’s the reason why I took the job in the first place, it’s very rare in this day and age you get to be part of a brand new show, and the beauty of it is using your creativity. Whatever you come up with in the scene when they get up on their feet you’re essentially creating the track for anybody who will come after you, which is amazing.

Why does that matter?

I’ve gone into shows that exist so many times you go over there and do it like this and stand over there, but that track is created initially by someone, so to be part of that process of a new show is amazing.

I hear David West Read is very hands-on as the show comes to life in the rehearsal space.

We’ve got the writer in the room, so he is really changing things to suit us as actors and the characters that we’re building. So he’ll go home at the end of the day and come back the next day and say I think the way you’re doing it will sound better like this. It’s just a gift as you never get to work like this.

Were you a fan of the wonderfully inclusive world the Rose family lived in?

I love Schitt’s Creek but I never get starstruck by those things, I find it fascinating and feel really lucky to be working with him. Definitely his comedy flavour is in this piece completely, but they are also handling some much weightier things that I think Schitt’s Creek ever had to deal with. As opposed to being all comedy guns blazing it’s a funny night out, but it also has a lot of heart as well.

In Dreams is in the Courtyard Theatre from 3rd July – 5th August. To book 0113 213 7700 or online www.leedsplayhouse.org.uk