Currently, Joel Montague is preparing to open in the new outdoor revival of Annie Get Your Gun at Betley Court Farm from 20th to 24th July, where he will be playing Frank Butler along with directing and choreographing the musical. With Chicago starting touring in September, Joel is set to play Amos Hart, and when theatres closed in March last year due to the pandemic, he had been in the cast of Waitress the Musical as Ogie in the West End at the Adelphi Theatre. Amongst Joel’s other work, he was in the cast of Guys and Dolls in Paris as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, was first cover Dewey Finn in School of Rock and was nominated for a WhatsOnStage Award for his portrayal of Eddie in Funny Girl. Alongside acting, Joel runs Curtain Call Productions for young performers which he set up over a decade ago and he can be heard on his radio show That’s Entertainment on Sundays 7-9pm on Cat Radio. Speaking to Joel recently, we found out about preparing to open in Annie Get Your Gun, his upcoming role of Amos Hart in Chicago and playing Ogie in Waitress the Musical.
You will be directing and playing Frank Butler in Annie Get Your Gun at Betley Court Farm, can you tell us about the new outdoor revival and why would you recommend going to see the musical?
Yes, I’m very excited to be doing this as well as stressed. It started as me to aid producing but turned into me doing everything – directing, choreographing and being in it. I guess it’s like being the Lin-Manuel of Cheshire. It’s at Betley Court Farm with an aim to make it a new Kilworth House but a self-made theatre rather than a regular static space. This means we are able to move to different locations in the space as it’s not just one field. There are woods and a lake so the future is pretty exciting as long as people support the productions. I would also recommend seeing it as there will not be a lot of theatre in the area until the end of the year so it will be one of the only productions happening around Cheshire and Staffordshire. So, if you’re around, come and see!
How do you think it will feel returning to a full musical production and directing the show?
Stressful but also exciting to be creative with some brilliant people. I love creating work and that’s why I have run a company alongside my career for the last twelve years. It gives my brain something to think about as when you’re in long-running shows, you do tend to get a bit brain dead at times. I’ve been brain dead for the last eighteen months so I can’t wait.
You’ve been announced to play Amos Hart in the upcoming UK Tour of Chicago, was there anything that drew you to the role and have you seen the show previously?
Not necessarily. I love playing vulnerable characters and being a bigger guy. There’s something sweet and different about seeing a person of size be vulnerable. Amos is a great role and I feel the only character a lot of the public can relate to. To be part of the Chicago franchise will be an honour. Also, the fact that Joel Grey, who I was named after, played the role as well.
The tour is due to start in September, what are you most looking forward to for starting in the musical?
Being on stage in general. Having an amazing cast, having an audience… getting paid!!! Just everything realistically. I am a bit sceptical over touring with everything that has happened but I’m hoping by September things will be moving towards normality. Whatever normality is.
Before the pandemic, you had been playing Ogie in Waitress the Musical, what was the character like to play and how was it joining the West End cast?
Nothing short of amazing. The show, the cast, the company and the fans. It was the best to work opposite Hannah (Tointon) and Evie (Hoskins). Then to get to work with my mate David Hunter again, Lucie (Jones), Marisha (Wallace), Sandra (Marvin), and then, of course, Gavin (Creel) and Sara (Bareilles) herself. It was unbelievable. Special shout-out to Graham Hookham and Mark McGowan who were on stage management. Also to my good pals David Massey and Phil Sykes who were company managers on the show. It was just the best but it also made it the worst to be the show that I never truly got to finish. I also got to meet and work with Diane Paulus, the director. She was so lovely and incredible at the same time. To get to be on stage and work with Sara Bareilles, what more do you need. So I didn’t enjoy it at all!!!!
What are some of your highlights from being part of Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre?
The cast. Working with Sara. Just being in that show. I can’t explain how special it was.
What was Mendel like to play in Falsettos and how was it being part of the UK premiere?
It was an honour to be part of such an incredible cast of actors. Working with my pal Tara Overfield Wilkinson (Director). I also did get called off a plane to do that job. Then to work with Laura Pitt-Pulford. We just clicked.
You performed in Paris as Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls, how was this?
Stephen Mear and Paris, what more could I ask for? Working alongside my pal Matt Whennell-Clark as well. I just loved it. Living in Paris for three months was the best. I basically went to Disneyland every day and then performed Nicely in the evening. We were just so well looked after.
How was it performing at Sheffield Crucible in Kiss Me, Kate and what was Gangster like to play?
It was wonderful to work with an incredible creative team (Paul Foster, Matt Flint and James McKeown). Then working alongside Delroy Atkinson. Not only the best guy ever but just so relaxed and, again, we just clicked and it became a bromance. I adore him. The whole cast were phenomenal. Also, having the opportunity at The Crucible. Something I will treasure and hopefully be back again.
How did you find your time as Alternate Dewey Finn in School of Rock and what do you remember most from your first performance?
Well, firstly, I was actually first cover not alternate. Unfortunately I didn’t have the greatest time at School of Rock for many reasons but playing Dewey is by far the best thing I’ve ever got to do. I would love to revisit him one day. My first performance I genuinely don’t remember. It was such a blur as I was thrown on without any rehearsal. I genuinely mean NO REHEARSAL!!!! I do remember the audience standing up and the company being so supportive especially David Fynn and Gary Trainor (Dewey and Alternate) we really became a team and supported each other. Also some interesting conversations after.
You played Eddie in Funny Girl at Menier Chocolate Factory and the West End transfer at the Savoy Theatre, how was it being in the production and seeing your performance be nominated at the WhatsOnStage Awards?
It was a whirlwind. Sheridan (Smith) is an idol of mine and to work opposite her was incredible. It was also tough becoming friends with her and seeing her have to tackle such a difficult time while playing such a huge role. The woman is insane. She’s a machine and stupidly talented. I miss her a lot, as we got really close playing Eddie and Fanny. Michael Mayer, Lynne Page and Alan Williams – three of the most supportive and hilarious creative team I’ve ever worked with. Being nominated was a huge honour. I didn’t expect to win it but it was a huge honour nonetheless especially to be alongside two great friends in Tyrone Huntley and Trevor Dion Nicholas.
Had you always wanted a theatre career and how did you get into it?
Not really. My mum has a dance school in my hometown of Crewe, Cheshire and that was it. I did it as a hobby and was quite good at it, so then I had some singing lessons, was in the choir and did a lot of drama at school. It was just a natural progression realistically. I did have a lot of experience as a child actor in TV but weirdly never on stage.
Do you have a favourite aspect of performing in theatre and what are some of your favourite theatre shows to watch?
I love going to the theatre. I’m a typical theatre geek. I also hate when people who work in the industry hate theatre. I don’t get it. My response is leave!!!! I can’t name one as there are so many shows for so many different reasons. I enjoy mostly singing and acting now. In my younger days I used to love to dance but the body is not what it used to be. However, I can still whack out a good dance break when the mood takes me or for the right price.
You are part of Curtain Call Productions and host That’s Entertainment on the radio, what are these like to do?
Curtain Call was a company I set up twelve years ago primarily for younger people having a better version of am-dram. I run it alongside my mum Gail (producer) and my pal Malcolm Forbes-Peckham (Assistant MD of Phantom). It’s hard work but we love it and have created some brilliant shows together. Something that myself and Malc would love to do in the future. That’s Entertainment was a project that started in lockdown as I asked my local radio company if they wanted a musicals show. So, now on a Sunday evening between 7-9pm you can catch me on The Cat Radio 107.9FM (North West) giving you a poor man’s version of Elaine Paige on Sunday.
Can you say about some of the theatre/performing projects you were involved with during the pandemic, which included Musicals: The Greatest Show and Finding Wonderland?
Both were wonderful to do. My housemate Daniel Stockton (actor/producer) now runs events at Crystal Palace Library. I’m really proud of what he’s achieved as he really pushes himself and others to do things on a smaller scale and things that are more community-based. He has been running concerts in that area for a while now. So, due to COVID, we couldn’t perform it live so we did it online. The Greatest Show was such a breath of fresh air. None of us had performed in such a long time. It was really emotional and regardless of the people that sung solo, the ensemble were incredible West End veterans. It was wonderfully organised by Jon Ranger.
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