From a rocky start in 2002, We Will Rock You has defied critical backlash to become one of the UK’s best-loved musicals. Seen by over 6.5 million people it ran for 4600 performances at the Dominion Theatre in the West End, where the famous gold statue of Freddie Mercury guarded the patrons from his perch high above the entrance. This revived, re-designed and re-energised new touring production is even better than the original and boasts a cast of such quality, it is impossible not to be completely won over.
Set in a dystopian future, it’s 2310, and music has been outlawed. All thought is controlled by Globalsoft Corporation, and life is lived entirely on the internet. There’s no place for originality or free spirit. A rag-tag band of free-thinking ‘Bohemians’ set out to find the last surviving musical instrument on the planet and bring back the mythical ‘Rock and Roll’. That the subject matter is treated with complete knowingness, with its tongue placed firmly in its cheek, is one of its greatest strengths. The laughs in Ben Elton’s script come thick and fast.
However, it’s the music and in particular, the spectacular cast’s delivery of it that makes this production unmissable. As our hero Galileo Figaro, Olivier-nominated Ian McIntosh is an absolute standout, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe his outstanding voice and stunning range. As Scaramouche, Elena Skye is a wise-cracking wonder with fabulous vocals. TV regular Michael McKell provides the lion’s share of the comedy, bringing genuine belly laughs and impressive vocals as Buddy Holly, Amy Di Bartolomeo is also a memorable Oz. One small crimp in the evening is Jenny O’Leary as Killer Queen whose vocals are quite frankly messy, only exacerbated by the fact that these songs are world famous and her co-stars are at the top of their game. That said, the positives overwhelm any negatives.
If it’s an uplifting, feel-good night, with the music of Queen, a crazy, fun story, delivered by a world-class cast you want, then I’d beg, borrow or steal a ticket to this warm-hearted wonder of a show.
Runs until 28 December 2019 | Image: Johan Persson
Can I start by asking a bit about your road from Scotland to the West End, tell us about your background and what inspired you to become an actor?
I feel like my journey to the West End was a series of very fortunate events. I started acting at an amateur level when I was about 17 but didn’t consider it seriously as a career. I studied Mechanical Engineering at Aberdeen University for a year before deciding a life behind a desk wasn’t for me. I spent about a year gigging and doing bits and pieces before I auditioned for London Studio Centre (I’m still amazed that I got in as my talent was raw to say the least!). After a few years of training I was lucky enough to get a job as swing in We Will Rock You.
Who are your theatrical heroes?
I think my theatrical heroes would be Stephen Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown. I’m a huge fan of the complexity and intelligence in their compositions.
You have a very varied CV what have been the highlights up to now?
I’ve been very lucky so far in my career, I had a lot of great opportunities whilst performing in We Will Rock You. I sang at the Olympic handover ceremony in front of Buckingham Palace and performed with Queen on their world stadium tour. I also think performing “School’s out” with Alice Cooper at Rock of Ages was pretty cool!
I see you’ve done a bit of work in Germany, did that help you when preparing to play Franz!
I lived and worked in Cologne for 18 months and loved every second of it! I’ve got a real soft spot for Germany and if the right role came up I wouldn’t hesitate to return. I think it did help with my preparations for Franz, I’ve spent lots of time surrounded by Germans speaking English so I’m pretty good at impersonating the accent.
The cast of Rock of Ages
Tell us about Franz in Rock of Ages – he’s certainly an unforgettable character – is he as much fun to play as he is to watch?
He is great fun to play! The problem is that he has so much energy, it gets tough to keep up sometimes. I’m very lucky that he’s such a funny character and the audience warms to him every night. I have some great lines and the show certainly never gets boring for me.
Sandy (far left) in one of his eye-catching costumes as Franz
You are starring in eight shows a week, in a long running show how do you keep your performance fresh every night?
It’s the toughest part of my job. I think it’s important to re-invent the character from time to time and make sure that you always try new things, sometimes they won’t work but that’s how I find new things. I’m very lucky that I work with such great actors who are constantly throwing new things at me which makes it easy for me to keep what I do fresh. If it’s fresh for me then hopefully it’s fresh for the audience.
How do you unwind during your time away from the show?
I ride my motorcycle as much as possible! I love riding the bike into the country with my tent on the back and spending a few days living outside, I like to get away from London and relax. I also play the guitar and I enjoy watching films and on a Sunday I can be found sitting in the pub with a roast dinner.
A lot of actors are talented musicians, you say on your Twitter profile that you’re a rock star wannabe – are you making any plans to pursue that?
I’m 30 so I think I’ve missed the rock star boat, but I do really enjoy playing the guitar and I’d like to get out and do more singing and playing.
What music particularly inspires you?
I love Rock music which is why Rock of Ages is kind of my perfect job. When I got the audition I remember digging out all the songs I’ve always wanted to sing for auditions but were never suitable for musical theatre, I ended up singing Bon Jovi’s “In these Arms”.
What career aspirations do you have?
It sounds like a cliche but my main aim is to be happy in my work and I don’t really mind what I’m doing, as long as I can make a living of course! I’d like to try TV and film acting but for now I’m very happy doing musicals.
What can we expect next from Sandy Moffat?
Who knows?! My current contract at Rock Of Ages ends in September and it’s too soon to be making plans. The life of an actor is an unpredictable one so your guess is as good as mine.
Finally, how would you describe yourself in three words?
Since her first appearance as an 18 year old on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search for Dorothy in Over The Rainbow, Jenny Douglas has made a huge impact on the musical theatre scene. Personally headhunted by Queen’s Brian May to star in the tour of We Will Rock You, she has gone from strength to strength as a performer, with her powerhouse voice winning her a legion of fans the length and breadth of the UK. I had the chance to catch up with Jenny to ask her about her phenomenal achievements in the few short years since leaving Over the Rainbow.
You’ve just finished your first pantomime as Cinderella back home in Scotland; how does the panto experience compare to something like We Will Rock You?
Cinderella was my first Panto and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as it’s so different to anything I’ve done before! I had such a blast at the Kings! There is so much audience participation to keep you on your feet! And with an audience like Glasgow there’s never a dull moment! Panto gives people a chance to let go and get involved.
Did you learn any panto tricks or tips from your co-stars?
I fell ill towards the end of the run and the term “Hot Toddy” got thrown around a few times! Basically – have a wee whisky to coat yer throat lol!
You’ve achieved so much at such a young age, can we go back to where it all started? When did you discover that you had a talent for performing; was it at a very young age or did anyone or anything in particular inspire you to pursue a career in theatre?
I have always loved musical theatre; it’s a big family thing. I’ve always loved changing my voice to different characters and styles it’s just so much more fun than straight up acting or singing!
We can’t go without mentioning Over the Rainbow; what are your best and worst memories from your time on the show?
My best and worst memory from Over the Rainbow was when we were at the Dorothy Farm with the final 50 girls. We were split into groups and asked to perform our final song and then the judges would whittle it down to the top 20 for the live show. Once we had performed we were asked in true reality TV style to line up and sing “Over The Rainbow” repeatedly. Charlotte Church was given the awful task of then walking around the lines of girls and tapping the unsuccessful girls on the shoulder and that would be the end of their journey. Charlotte did so well to remember all the girl’s faces from the photos she was given but had accidentally tapped my shoulder. I knew this was it for me and joined the other girls who were going home… It was safe to say I was gutted. The final 20 where left and it was then that a producer came towards me and said: “You’re meant to be over there Jenny” You can imagine my absolute disbelief and pure joy as I joined the final 20! I’ll never forgot how that felt, all in a matter of 3 minutes I had experienced both sides! A total roller-coaster!
You interrupted your training to appear on Over the Rainbow, is there anything you regret about giving up your studies?
I did at first, I had so much more to learn and had always thought I’d spend at least four years training up in Scotland. Everyone has different paths to take in life and mine just happened to lead me to learning on the job. I learned so much playing Meatloaf in We Will Rock You and to be honest no matter how long you train for you never stop learning ! 🙂
Have you changed as a performer since we saw you in Over the Rainbow?
Absolutely! I was 18 when I auditioned for Dorothy and I had no training or experience behind me which wasn’t great for my self-confidence, especially being surrounded by so many talented girls: some who had trained for years at top London schools and others who had even done West End shows! It was safe to say I felt out of my league! It’s the same as any job there’s always going to be people who excel in things you don’t, the important thing is to believe in your own abilities and give it everything you have!
In a short time you went straight from appearing on TV to a starring role in We Will Rock You. It must have been a complete whirlwind, how did your life change after these amazing things started happening?
By this point I had just turned 19 and I was about spend 18 months away from home which was really hard to comprehend. I’m really independent but without sounding cheesy “There’s no place like home” ha ha! I actually met my boyfriend on the tour and we have lived together for just over two years now and that was something I never expected to happen! I also got my courage up and climbed Kilimanjaro in the summer – it was a truly awesome year!
Meatloaf is such an iconic stage role. How did you make your own mark on the character?
I saw “Meatloaf” as this real comical character. She is one of the Bohemians searching for the lost music, a scavenger who has just happened to rummage across a studded corset, ripped denim shorts paired with some fishnets, suspenders and zip-up biker boots! She stomps around on stage, never crosses her legs and barks orders at all the other Bohemians…. Including her other half Britney Spears. In short; she’s the Boss, she wears the trousers… well hot-pants!
Two of the actresses who have played Meat (Kerry Ellis and Rachel Tucker) have gone on to play Elphaba in Wicked; would that be a role you’d like to play?
I’d love to, a girl can only hope.
Are there any other stage roles that you’d love to play or shows you’d like to be in?
Oh jeez there are so many…I don’t know how much space you have! I’d love to do Mamma Mia and My Fair Lady… If Calamity Jane ever comes back I’d be on it like a car bonnet!
In a long tour like We Will Rock You, you’re away from home for long periods of time, what home comforts do you take with you?
My hot water bottle.
What interests do you have away from the stage?
I play my guitar in any spare time I have and I occasionally paint, but I am truly awful at it.. I think I just like to get messy.
What ambitions would you still like to fulfil?
Honestly, as far as theater goes it’s just such an unstable job to have I’d be happy just to work consistently. I’m easily pleased. I would like to be able to get to a higher standard on my guitar as at the moment I’m just starting to comfortably accompany myself.
What advice would you give any aspiring performer?
“It’s never a NO… It’s just not right now.” Auditions can be tough and you can face a lot of rejection, The important thing to remember is to believe in your abilities!
What have you got planned for 2013 and beyond?
Auditions. Auditions. Auditions… and unpacking as I’ve just moved flat … not got round to it yet he he!
Do you have any message for your fans?
Oh jeez…Thank-you! To everyone who voted for me on Over the Rainbow right at the start of my career… I have you to thank for everything that’s come my way. Honestly I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you guys ! 🙂
This is in its 10th year in the West End and despite always staying at a hotel which is literally 10 steps from the front door of the theatre where this plays, I have so far never felt any attraction to go. However it’s playing on tour here, and always willing to go with an open mind, I thought I’d check it out. The premise is this;
Anyway I’m going to take the advice of the British Theatre Guide;
“If we regard it, not as a piece of traditional musical theatre, but as a celebration – indeed, an almost tribal celebration – of some of the greatest rock music ever, then we have to go along with the audience who were delirious with pleasure and excitement.” I’m expecting neither delirious pleasure or excitement but it might be a nice few hours out!!! I’ll let you know when I get back.
Well I’m back and it was brilliant! The biggest revelation was just how fantastic a voice ex-Hear’say singer Noel Sullivan has. The rest of the cast included Jonathan Wilkes free from his usual role as ‘Robbie Williams best friend’ and ‘Over The Rainbow’ finalist Jenny Douglas.
The audience were, to a man, on their feet at the end of this and there was a fantastic moment when the audience sang the beginning of the encore Bohemian Rhapsody so tunefully it would have brought a tear to your eye. Put all your prejudices aside and just go and enjoy this if it’s touring near you.