Once known as the Brookside actor who wed Linda Lusardi, Sam Kane is now a major musical star. He talks to Viv Hardwick.

DESPITE becoming the must-see man of musical theatre, Sam Kane is seriously talking about taking a break after completing the tour of Carousel next year.

Theatre-goers in Sunderland will see Kane in the starring role of Billy Bigelow next week and, after a break for panto, he'll appear at Darlington's Civic Theatre, the venue he rates as a second home.

After that, Kane feels able to consider TV work, straight acting and/or directing.

He says: "I've definitely got to take a break from musical theatre because it's absolutely exhausting. With acting, I can do it all day, every day, but the pressure on the singing voice is just too much. And when you're the face on the poster and people are coming to see you specially, you've got that added pressure."

Initially, Kane was famous for being the Brookside star who met and married Page 3 girl Linda Lusardi after the two appeared together in panto at Darlington's Civic in 1994. Now the actor is in demand and returned with Lusardi as a co-director to Darlington last Christmas to stage Snow White, setting a box office record. He's found time for a controversial Coronation Street cameo as a website stalker between starring in a series of musicals including Carousel (playing alongside Darren Day's Billy Bigelow) and headlining in Seven Brides and Boogie Nights.

Of TV work offers, he jokes about following Darren Day's example and joining the next list of I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here volunteers: "It would be quite nice to go off to the jungle. It's done wonders for some people's careers. It wouldn't be so bad eating a few maggots for a few days and living in a rainy tent... I've had worse.

"I keep in touch with Darren quite regularly, but I haven't asked him about his last TV venture. Up to now, I've just been sleeping and working. My diary's full until next May. I won't be thinking about doing anything for TV until around February or March."

For now, he's taking centre stage as Billy Bigelow, the troubled carousel barker, and says of the role: "It's been directed slightly differently this time. It was very dark and Billy was an angry man right from the word go. Now you realise why the women would fall in love with him and the kind of fella they all think they can change, while Jigger (the role Kane played last time) was bad through and through. There was not an ounce of goodness and that made the women laugh as well.

"It's a beautiful musical, I did it for nine months with Darren and not once did I get sick of it."

Kane recognises he's under much more pressure now because the show is being sold on his name. He adds: "I think it's the strength of the show that will sell. I've done a few musicals now and I think the people will trust me and know that they're going to get a good performance. They always know I'll give 100 per cent."

Even the singer-actor is surprised by his TV fame at times. A recent Edinburgh photo-shoot for Carousel was interrupted by fans asking for photos with him and autographs.

"The press girl said 'I've been here two years and I've never seen anybody get that kind of press' and I said 'You've got to be kidding.' I don't think I'm famous but obviously there must be something."

Kane's taking a break from Carousel to co-direct the 2003 version of Snow White with wife Lusardi for the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, in Kent.

He looks back on last year's record-breaking run at Darlington with obvious pride and says: "We have got a lot of support in the town because of the story of how Linda and I met. I think we're close to a lot of people's hearts in Darlington. If we can emulate anything near what we did last year then I'll be more than happy.

"I'm my own worst enemy for pressure because I take my job very seriously, but I don't take myself very seriously. I don't like accepting second best. People can see through the 'just doing enough' approach and there's always the danger of 'I got away with it last time so why try harder next time?'"

The high level of interest in Kane's career means that touring has seen him miss the recent birthdays of his wife and daughter Lucy, six - the couple also have a three-year-old son called Jack.

"I couldn't be there, but I've spent a fortune on them so I think they'll be happy," he jokes.

So how does he cope with being the centre of female attention while he's on the road, particularly with the character of womanising Billy?

He says: "It's all a little too much like hard work as far as I'm concerned. Jesus, I'd be a fool to lose what I've got. I admit I'm surrounded by young girls who are just out of school, but you get used to it.

"It depends what vibes you're putting out. If you give the 'I'm available' vibe then it will always come, but I get on really well with everybody and I constantly talk about my wife and kids, which gives me enough space.

"You get the odd one who's completely thick and will try it on, but you just tell her in which direction to go. If anything is going on, then I'm hiding it really well."

* Carousel runs at Sunderland's Empire for the week of September 30-October 4, box office 0191-514 2517 and is due to play Darlington's Civic Theatre in March next year.