Interview with Tom Chambers starring in the current UK tour of musical Crazy For You.
You can’t beat some glorious Gershwin and the composer has no greater fan than Tom Chambers who is fulfilling a teenage dream by starring in the musical Crazy For You.
By the time the curtain came down on a production of Crazy For You in the early Nineties, a 15-year-old Tom Chambers knew his heart lay in performing. “It was the very first live musical I ever saw on stage and it just filled me with so much entertainment and wonder. It was amazing to see what they did with the theatre space and how the story was told. It was the only bit of theatre which truly inspired me,” he recalled.
And in a career which has featured a number of crazy twists of fate as well as some fantastic roles, Tom is relishing the chance to recapture that teenage dream and this time play the lead role in the production which is touring the UK and calling at the Theatre Royal Brighton Tuesday 29 May – Sat 2 June.
He plays Bobby, a banker sent to close down a failing theatre who falls for the daughter of the building’s proprietor. Determined to win her heart, he adopts the guise of a Hungarian impresario in order to save the theatre and win her heart.
And so, the stage is set for an all-singing, all-dancing story set to a Gershwin soundtrack which includes the likes of They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Bidin’ My Time and, of course, I’ve Got Rhythm.
Tom admits he had always had a bit of a performing instinct from rattling his feet on the kitchen floor at home from a very young age, and then enjoying watching black-and-white films starring the likes of Gene Kelly, but it was a school play that saw him tread the boards for the first time. He laughed: “I was playing football during a school break and the English teacher, who was directing the play, said no one had auditioned for it so there was a compulsory three o’clock audition. I ended up getting the title role in Dracula Spectacular. I loved that relationship recognition between the audience and I. It was fantastic making them respond.”
Drama school followed which included a stint understudying Keith Chegwin in the pantomime Cinderella at Basingstoke (“It is one of my claims to fame”), and his first job after leaving was a Spanish TV ad for Kit Kat. Tom said: “I thought this is great. I am going to get non-stop work,” but things did not quite work out like that. He had to turn down a role in The Bill because they needed an HGV driver although Tom has now got his Class 1 lorry-driving licence in common with Chris Eubank.
And when he turned down a role in the arena tour of Bob The Builder, his agent fired him leaving him in a quandary about what to do next. He enjoyed some success with the movie Fakers which was privately financed and enjoyed a limited cinema release but the work was drying up.
So, he took one final shot at success by aiming to get onto the Royal Variety Performance in the days before Britain’s Got Talent and YouTube. He said: “I wrote a Dear John letter suggesting I do a Fred Astaire routine on a drum kit and I thought that might appeal with me tap dancing and kicking drums at the same time. They said get it ready and I spent 9 and a half months doing just that. A few weeks beforehand, they then got in touch and said we now have everyone we need. We don’t want you. which was a blow.
“So I got in touch with my old school and asked if I could perform it on their stage in the holidays and I got it filmed in black and white. I had 1000 DVD’s made of it sending 400 to America and sent 600 out in this country to theatre owners, directors and TV producers asking if they were doing anything connected to Fred Astaire and, if so, could I have a chat?”
Only two people came back. One was a theatre producer organising a one-night Fred and Ginger tribute, while Tom said the other was an audition for BBC medical drama Holby City. “The producers just thought it was so unusual. They were looking for someone to play an American doctor for two episodes. As Fred Astaire was American, they thought I was too and wanted to get me in. I went to the audition and they said ‘where have you been all these years?”
From there he won the part of Sam Strachan in the hit sister show to Casualty staying in the role for three years as the fiercely driven doctor who also had a bit of a roving eye.
And it was his role on there that led him into Strictly Come Dancing where he partnered Camilla Dallerup winning the coveted glitterball. Looking back on his time on the Saturday night TV hit, he admits a lot of it is a blur. Tom explained: “People ask if I can do a quick step or a samba. I have to explain that I had a 5-day intense work out on each of those routines. It is such a quick short-term memory injection and that is it.
“It was a bit like doing a marathon. You do step by step doing a couple of miles at a time and you look back and you don’t know how you did it. It is the same with Strictly. Your body naturally gets used to physical exertion and a daily work out but it is the brain that suffers most because of trepidation, fear and anxiety. You are just learning so much. You just go in front of the cameras and the audience and give it your all. I look back now. If I watch anything online of one of our dances, I am looking at it as if I am watching someone else. At the time, you are performing, your brain is just in flight mode.”
From there, after a run in White Christmas opposite Aled Jones, he won the part of Jerry Travers in West End and touring hit Top Hat which helped make him a must-see stage performer. He says the show was a steep learning curve for him particularly in the early days. During those first weeks, he became ill and realised his diet needed a complete overhaul in order to cope with the demands of a rigorous role in such an energetic production with so many dance routines and songs to learn and then perform.
But the hard work was worth it and the show became a huge success, with Tom paying tribute to the producers who took a risk on it. He said: “They are very brave people because they put their houses and mortgages on the line. There is no guaranteed formula that an audience will want to see something and what it’s ‘enjoy by’ date is.
“We hoped that Irving Berlin, Fred Astaire and the content would work and there was little competition out there because it provided an era of the classic Hollywood era of entertainment that wasn’t being filled at that time.”
Since then, Tom has become a sought-after theatre performer although he has reprised the role of Sam Strachan for Casualty prior to this Crazy For You tour. He said: “I loved coming back to the show. When I played the part originally, I knew if I wasn’t careful, I would want to stay forever as it was a great part with great people. I needed to branch out and fulfil other ambitions and do a lead role in a musical. Sam is a bit of a rogue as a character and he is fun to play. It has been brilliant. It is like stepping back into your favourite pair of shoes.”
And now it is Crazy For You which is set to take up the rest of his year. It is also a bit of a character reprise for him as he played the part for the Watermill Theatre, which is co-producing this tour, and he cannot wait to share it with UK audiences. He said: “Taking on Crazy For You was a no brainer for me. It is absolutely my favourite all time musical. I always loved the song and dance happy entertainer shows like Singin in The Rain, Me and My Girl, and Crazy For You.
“I think Crazy For You has the absolutely perfect balance of humour, story and singing. There are so many musicals that are heavy on just one element but this show has the perfect combination of everything. It is a bit like the show dance on Strictly with everything slotting into place in the right order.”
Tom does not want to give too much away about what is in store but it will see him share the stage with actor-musicians so it will be very different to previous productions. “I don’t want to spoil it for people who may or may not have caught it at Newbury but the audience really took to it. All the traits are there that the other productions had but you also have the cast playing the instruments live on stage as well as singing and dancing.”
Tom also cannot wait to share the show with audiences across the UK. “The best thing about touring is being able to bring something to you rather than you having to make the epic journey to London. Producers eventually want their material there because it is the theatrical capital of the world and is so loved and respected, but as a provider and giver to the public, it is really important to be able to make sure people can see these shows in their own areas.”
“And touring is great. You get to see places that you would not normally go. I always love being anywhere near water or being near the sea. I will enjoy the more coastal theatres or those that are close to those areas.”
And as a big fan of the music of Gershwin, Tom is in heaven, getting to perform such hits as I’ve Got Rhythm, They Can’t Take That Away From Me and Embraceable You . “After seeing Crazy For You as a teenager, I went and bought the original score. I used to have a singing lesson one a week at school and it would be my favourite lesson of the week. When I was at drama school, they used to say ‘will you stop singing Gershwin?’ I love Cole Porter as well but Gershwin has that sex appeal and more style, more jazz and a bit more pizazz.” So this is very definitely a dream role for him. In the words of his musical idol and another hit song from the show, Nice Work If You Can Get It!
Photo Credit: Richard Davenport
Crazy for you is being performed at the Theatre Royal Brighton from the 29 May – 2 June 2018