With Pretty Woman: The Musical opening earlier this year at the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End, Neil McDermott was playing the role of Philip Stuckey up until theatres closed due to the current pandemic, with the show set to reopen when possible. Last year, Neil was touring as Robert in Club Tropicana and his previous roles have included Evil Lord Hector in Eugenius!, Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music, Lord Farquaad in Shrek the Musical and Chief Weasel in The Wind in the Willows at the London Palladium, which has recently been streamed online. Amongst his screen roles, Neil has played Ryan Malloy in EastEnders and Dr. Ralph Ellis in The Royal. Over lockdown, Neil has been involved with The Rhythmics Musical and, alongside Gina Beck, he has written and created a new musical, The Elf Who Was Scared Of Christmas, which he will also be performing in when it opens at the Charing Cross Theatre from the 8th to 23rd December, with tickets now on sale. Answering our questions, Neil talks about playing Philip Stuckey in Pretty Woman: The Musical, touring last year with Club Tropicana and his upcoming show The Elf Who Was Scared Of Christmas.
You were most recently playing Philip Stuckey in Pretty Woman: The Musical, how was it opening with the show?
It’s always fantastic to be in an original cast of a show, and even more so with a big new London version that has come across the pond from America. The show was going really well, playing to full houses and standing ovations. It was a very exciting time for us and the show and we cannot wait to get back.
Was there anything that drew you to the role of Philip and how was it rehearsing for the character?
Well, I’ve made a bit of a niche for myself playing villains these days so, when a new big show is coming into London, I’m always interested to audition for that type of role. The great thing about the show is, although it is faithful to the film, it also allows the actors to put their own musical spin on the characters. Stuckey, in particular, is allowed to be very different from the film so as ever it is always great to be able to create the character for a new audience. Most people know the story but for those who don’t I would think the ending comes as quite a surprise.
You toured the UK as Robert in Club Tropicana, how was this and what was the show like to be part of?
Club Trop, as we affectionately call it, was a whole lot of fun. It was unapologetically a bit like a summer pantomime. Audiences adored the show and came back again and again. It made the job very easy to enjoy. And working with old friends and making new ones is always one of the big joys of any job, but particularly on tour.
What did you enjoy most about playing the character and having the show set in the 1980s?
I’m actually on my third show in a row set in the 80s now. So, I’m getting used to it. But for that show it was really the music and the costumes and the hair that made it special. The 80s was a decade with brilliant music and a unique fashion sense, so it’s always fun to revisit.
What was Evil Lord Hector like to play in Eugenius! at The Other Palace and how did the run go?
We, again, had a great run at The Other Palace with a fan base who kept coming back and knew all the words of all the songs and the script. Lord Hector in himself was probably the wackiest character I’ve played, and I’ve played a few. I was given the opportunity once again to do my thing on it. And it’s safe to say I went to town a bit on that particular creation.
Can you tell us about playing Captain von Trapp in the UK Tour of The Sound of Music?
Well, I played Rolf at the London Palladium early on in my career, so to revisit the musical in the lead male role felt like I was completing a cycle with the show. It’s a beautiful story and a lovely role, and having watched Alex Hanson play the role so many times at the Palladium, I felt like I had a strong understanding of the character.
Do you have any standout moments from your time in the musical?
The Sound of Music tour is one of those where you play all the large venues. Playing the Edinburgh Playhouse is certainly a standout theatre to perform in, just due to the sheer size of the venue. It’s quite daunting and exhilarating all in one.
How was it playing Chief Weasel in The Wind in the Willows at the London Palladium?
Again, another role I was able to create from scratch myself. And I was very proud to be a part of transferring the show from a small regional tour to the London Palladium. It is probably my favourite role to date just because I felt like I was allowed to make it exactly as I wanted and it was a success. Big thanks to Rachel Kavanaugh and the team for that.
What was the role of Lord Farquaad like to play in Shrek the Musical?
Exhausting! It’s the only job I’ve ever done where physio twice a week is part of the contract due to the nature of the role. Having said that, it was a lot of fun. It’s the role where I had the biggest audience reaction for sure. Audiences really take to that character in that particular show.
You played Ryan Malloy in EastEnders for a number of years, can you tell us about your time in the show?
EastEnders is a great job and it was a genuine thrill to be involved in the show. I was very lucky to be in Christmas episodes and Live episodes. It really was an exciting time to be in the show and I got to work with lots of iconic characters and create iconic moments and storylines.
How was it seeing the response to the character?
Nothing can really prepare you for the instant fame that comes along with being in a soap. People seemed to really, really like the character. Perhaps one day the stars will align to do it again. We’ll see.
What do you remember most from your time playing Dr. Ralph Ellis in The Royal?
I just remember it being the most lovely team of people both on screen and off. I have very fond memories of working on The Royal and I learnt a lot about acting for television from some of the stalwarts that were on that show. It seemed every week we had a new guest star who was a genuine legend of screen. Very happy times.
Had you always wanted to be an actor and how did you get into the industry?
I guess I got into acting in my late teens. Before that, sport was always my thing. I had a fantastic teacher at school who inspired me in drama class and pushed me to take on bigger roles and take up opportunities outside of school. When I got to the age of eighteen, it was either drama school or a Sports Science degree of some sort. It was my teacher who convinced me (and my parents) that I had a chance to make it. I should name check. Frank Whateley. Absolute Legend.
What can you tell us about The Rhythmics Musical you’ve been involved with over the time theatres have closed?
So, I did a workshop for a new musical with Metta Theatre called The Rhythmics just before I joined Pretty Woman. In lockdown, the team got together to create a new concept album so they could get the show on at a theatre as soon as allowed. It’s a brilliant show about a bunch of guys who join a Rhythmic Gymnastic group and, through the sport, manage to become better people. Think The Full Monty meets Calendar Girls and you’re on the right track. I hope it gets a great run somewhere soon.
I should also say, as the lockdown of the West End as we know it continues, I have written and created my own show for Christmas that is possible with a socially distanced audience with Gina Beck. It is a sweet show about two elves, one of whom has a fear of Christmas, and the other is sent by Santa to help her. It is a forty-minute story followed by a twenty-minute Christmas concert aimed at families with young children. We are both very proud that we have managed to create something during these times and you can catch The Elf Who Was Scared Of Christmas at the Charing Cross Theatre from 8th-23rd December. Please do buy some tickets and come and have some festive cheer for your young ones. All info is now available on the Charing Cross Theatre website.
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