Viv Hardwick finds that Tom Chambers has turned himself into a quadruple theatre performer as he takes the latest version of Crazy For You on the road to Newcastle and Sunderland

HE may be the star of Crazy For You, but actor-turned-musical-performer Tom Chambers is just a tad frantic as he seeks a quiet corner for a chat about the revived Gershwin brothers’ show.

“We are busy rehearsing at the Dominion Theatre, in the West End, and normally we in the backstreets of a place that’s no one has ever heard of or a dirty, cringey, little place. To get the top floor here is wonderful,” says Chambers.

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He’s heading to Newcastle Theatre Royal next month on tour, with Strictly dancer Caroline Flack making her debut in the role of Irene – her character expects Chamber’s Bobby to marry her, even though he fallen in love with the woman trying to save a debt-ridden Nevada theatre. Chambers will also be bringing Crazy For You to Sunderland Empire, in April next year, the venue which gave him his own musical debut, in White Christmas, just after he also won Strictly in 2008.

Recalling his nerves at becoming a song and dance man, Chambers says: “I’ve put a few hours in since then. It’s like getting a pilot’s licence. I’d never done one before White Christmas although I’d done a musical theatre course but never got a job there because I started on telly in Holby City

“I was so impressed with Sunderland in 2009 because we had about six inches of snow and people still managed to get to theatre and I saw people being pushed through the snow in wheelchairs. There was such commitment by the Wearsiders. Top Hat turned out to be a two-year thing and took me to the West End, which was fulfilling my lifelong ambition to do a Fred Astaire.

“What I didn’t realise was how much athleticism was required to do eight shows a week. Up in Sunderland I played the Bing Crosby role, and didn’t have to do a lot of dancing, but then I moved to the tap role played by Danny Kaye. And that involved a seven-minute dance routine. That was absolutely exhausting.”

Chambers, who has also appeared in TV’s Waterloo Road and Father Brown, did find himself talking to Flack about moving from Strictly into musicals.

“It’s funny how the generations of live experience find you once upon a time becoming the new boy and having the L plate on your back. All of a sudden, I know exactly how she feels and all the anxieties and pressures you have. She’s asking, ‘And then what happens next... do we do all the singing next or the dancing... or the acting. How many weeks do we have?’ So, it’s really cute and I did actually work with her on the live tour after she’d won Strictly and ended up having to judge her with Camilla Dallerup and Craig Revel Horwood. Fortunately, she was absolutely faultless that year.

“I also knew that you can’t create chemistry. It’s like people you meet, you are either on the same wavelength or you’re not. She’s so sparky and funny, entertaining and witty that she’s like a box of fireworks. I don’t know quite which colour you’ll get next, but I love work with her and I will be there to hold her hand if she’s a little bit nervous. She’s also likely to bring the house down with her song Naughty Baby,” he says.

Chambers feels that the longest to learn “like planting from seed” part of the show is the musicality and harmony before putting the moves to the music. “So I think it becomes singing first, then dancing and then the acting the script. The final two are just as vital because you don’t want anything wishy-washy in interpretation. This is why I also love the character of Bobby because he goes to such lengths to win a girl’s heart and dresses up in disguise because he feels that if Polly (Charlotte Wakefield) dates this other guy then she’ll think he’s amazing. Then the real guy turns up who has never met Polly and she thinks she’s in love with him. It’s so funny.”

Chambers recalls watching Crazy For You, starring Ruthie Henshall, and saying to himself, ‘If it’s the one thing I get to do in all my life, I want to play Bobby in this show. This production was created in the 1990s (based on the Gershwin’s 1930s show Girl Crazy) and has an up-to-date script but maintains the Gershwin classic hits of the golden Hollywood era. So, it ticks every box with tap dancing and the extra oomph of songs like They Can’t Take That Away From Me, I’ve Got Rhythm and Slap That Bass.”

Musicals have been in Chamber’s life since he stamped on the kitchen floor as a five-year-old to recreate the sound of dance. “Then I took up one tap lesson a week after school and practised during morning break and got told off by the cleaners for making scratch marks in the toilets because they had the best acoustics. I found that the simple shuffle step took ages to master,” he says.

The key difference between this latest version of Crazy For You is that instead of the production requiring the “triple threat” of singing, dancing and acting, there are also musicians in the cast instead of in the pit. “We’re now in the world of the quadruple threat and I love live music. I did once play the trumpet and I’ve got that out again and play a little bit, which is really good fun. To learn a Gershwin score off by heart is no mean feat for anyone,” Chambers says.

  • Crazy For You, Newcastle Theatre Royal. Tuesday, September 12 to Saturday, September 16. Box Office: 08448-112121 or theatreroyal.co.uk
  • Then, Sunderland Empire, April 24 to 28. Box Office: 0844-871-3022 or ATGtickets.com/Sunderland