At the tender age of 19, Noel Sullivan found he was a household name, thanks to his inclusion in reality pop group ‘Hear’Say’. Now after 13 years; a slight adjustment in trajectory and a lot of hard work, he’s establishing himself as a stage show staple. Now Sullivan is helping bring a slice of pure escapism to almost every city in the land, as he takes a lead role in hit musical ‘Rock of Ages’.
This huge touring production is a tongue-in-cheek romp through 80s Los Angeles. Gathering some of the best soft rock from that decade, the show feature songs like: ‘We Built This City’, ‘The Final Countdown’, ‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’ and ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’. Sullivan plays Drew Boley, a bar-tender who falls for a small town girl chasing her dreams. “It’s just brilliant! It doesn’t take itself too seriously,” the Cardiff-born Sullivan tells me. “The music takes me back to my childhood days.”
I’ve caught him just after some physio, attempting to counteract the effects of running and dancing across angled stages. You can tell, by the passionate way he talks about it, theatre work is exceedingly rewarding for him. The connection with the audience is instant, he’s developing new skills as an actor and there’s more overall depth to his work now. These are all things he regards as important. Now, in the middle of another gruelling tour, he’s getting reactions some pop stars never will. “The audiences are going mental for it. People come along, have a bit of a singsong and are all up on their feet by the end of it.”
He says he’d like to be fitter though. That’s probably something concerning anyone that’s spending most of their life between the start of May to the end of November performing in a physically demanding show. “Vocally I have to make sure I get ten hours of voice rest each day, which is difficult because I like a chat!”
It’s not a wonder why the allure of the reunion circuit hasn’t won Sullivan over. There’s little point in chasing faded dreams, when you’re already playing in front of appreciative audiences every night. He’s worked hard to finally get ‘his surname’ back, so getting back with the other Hear’Say members would almost certainly be a step backward. Not that he’s critical of other acts reuniting. “If you’re a roofer or a builder and you want to relieve those glory days, then crack on.”
It’s hard to say if there would be demand for a Hear’Say revival. Although they knocked out a handsome 1.8 million albums before their implosion, it’d be challenging to compile a greatest hits list.
The band’s five members were unsuspecting guinea pigs, almost a generation ago, in what has become a finely polished show format. Back then, Sullivan and co knew little of the music industry’s cutthroat nature and the show’s producers had no idea how the end product would work. Nowadays every sob story has been heard, media manipulation of every variety been tried and every angle has been covered in the well-oiled machines of the modern talent show. It’s even an accepted fact a successful career from a music reality show is unlikely.
Having come from a pop band which underwent a dramatic rise and fall may have been a good education. There’s no arguing that Sullivan comes across as being remarkably well-grounded. Yet this unexpected early career choice hasn’t provided the easiest route to become the crown prince of feel-good musical theatre. “Because I come from there, some people think I can’t change… weirdly.” All the perseverance is paying off though. Rather than being cast as an ex-pop star, he now gets cast upon his reputation as a seasoned performer.
If there are two things Sullivan’s learnt from those years, it’s to get your head down and keep going. ”Positivity is key… and don’t read your reviews!” Although the uncertain days of pop stardom are half a lifetime ago for him, he still takes time to get into the recording studio. There’s a CD coming out now, containing a mix of new tunes and unique takes on tunes from his past shows.
He’s certainly had some solid musical experience, with roles in Grease, We Will Rock You, Flashdance and Fame already under his belt. He’s also toured with the recent production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. That latter role saw incredible staging, outrageous costumes and rather extravagant wigs. Rock of Ages also looks set to feature some exceptional 80s throwback hair-pieces, so are we moving into Sullivan’s ‘wig period’ now? “I did a lot of work with no wigs,” he giggles. “But now I’ve discovered the joy of them, I never want to let them go.”
Rock of Ages comes to Theatre Royal, Brighton in Mon 11 – Sat 16 Aug, 2014.