Toe-tapping musical 42nd Street tells the fairy story about a pretty young hoofer from the chorus who is plucked from obscurity and made the shiniest star on Broadway.
It’s a tale that reflects performer Dave Willetts real-life story. He went from am-dram to being cast as ‘third flunky from the left’ in Annie and after getting seriously bitten by the acting bug, he had to have a serious talk with his wife, Lyn, about doing the unimaginable – chucking in a well-paid, high-powered, white collar job to follow his dream.
It’s now almost impossible to name a show that he hasn’t starred in, from Les Mis, Phantom, Sweeney Todd and Jesus Christ Superstar to Seven Brides, South Pacific and Sunset Boulevard.
The 60 year old only gets out of bed to take a part he really loves. He can now afford to pick and choose and spend the rest of the time with his grandkids.
So it has to be something special to wrench him away from his family and a revival of 42nd Street, which comes to Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre on November 20, is it.
Dave plays Broadway director Julian Marsh who is struggling to put on a show amid America’s Great Depression. In the musical he growls like a bear but in reality is a big pussy cat and full of charm.
He can’t believe how life has treated him.
He said: “I just love this show. It’s the grand-daddy of musicals. If no-one has ever been to a musical, but has some idea of what it would be like, then this is it.
“Last time around I was lying on a sunbed in Egypt when I had a call from the producer who said: ‘What are you doing next week? Can you learn a script in a week?’ And I did.
“It’s a dancing show with a peripheral storyline. It’s a Broadway fable about a chorus girl who makes good.
“In 1933, when the film version came out, it got America through the Depression. As it happens – what are we in now? – another recession.
“This is something that gets people smiling. People love to be cheered up so they come and see 42nd Street.
“I hadn’t thought about it but yes, it’s my story, too. I was the manager for an engineering company. I used to travel the world sorting the company’s problems out and my hobby, in my spare time, was singing in folk clubs and I got into this world through amateur theatre.
“When I moved back to the Midlands with my job I was spotted, and this sounds like 42nd Street, and given the chance to audition for a professional production of Annie – and lo and behold I got a part in the chorus.
“I wasn’t selfish enough to say to my wife that I was doing it. It had to be a joint venture. I was in my mid-30s and we had two young children but it proved to be a big adventure.
“I gave up my company car, my private health care, foreign travel etc to go for it. My wife and I no longer had a car so we bought two bikes. She took on a second job as a waitress and I took on a second job as a waiter at the NEC in Birmingham.
“I’d go and do a bit of waitering then cycle to the theatre, do the show, and then cycle back. Amazingly, within 12 months I was playing Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Then Phantom opened and, when Michael Crawford left, I followed him into the lead.
“We gave ourselves three years but within 12 months I’d made it. I’ve been really lucky.
“I’m a great believer in fate. The time that I got my break was exactly the right time for me. I was the right age, the right look, the right voice that the producers were looking for, for two of the biggest shows ever written –Les Mis and Phantom – and if I’d done it earlier they may not have happened.
“There are so many thousands of people in this country involved in amateur theatre who are good enough to be in professional theatre. But you’ve got to have that little bit of luck, and you’ve got to realise that luck’s coming your way, and then you make the decision.”
Musical 42nd Street runs from November 20-24. Call the box office 0844 871 7607 or visit www.atgtickets.com/aylesbury