Currently, Ross Clifton is performing as Link Larkin at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham as part of Hairspray’s UK Tour before continuing in his role for the remainder of the run, with the last venue being announced as King’s Theatre, Glasgow. The cast performed last year on Blue Peter and Ross has covered the role of Link and played Brad on a previous UK Tour of the musical. Other theatre credits for Ross has seen him play Joey internationally with Saturday Night Fever, appear in pantomimes, as well as working with the National Youth Music Theatre. As a dancer, Ross appeared on Celebrity X Factor for The Pussycat Dolls reunion performance. Speaking with Ross, he tells us about touring as Link Larkin on the Hairspray UK Tour, performing on Blue Peter and his time as Joey in Saturday Night Fever.
You are currently touring in Hairspray as Link Larkin, what is the character like to play?
Link is such a fun role to play, he is charismatic and driven to reach his goals and I feel like I can connect to his drive and passion on a personal level. The role includes dancing, singing and acting equally, and has been a dream of mine since the start of my career.
How did it feel being cast as Link after covering the role and playing Brad on a previous UK tour?
I was over the moon when I booked the role of Link Larkin. I’d felt in myself I had progressed as a performer and I was ready to take on the role full time. I was proud of myself for the hard work I’d put in and this felt like the ultimate pay off.
What was it like preparing for the show and how was it returning to stage for the first time since the pandemic started for opening night?
It was such an uncertain time as there was a gap of so many months between being offered the role and commencing rehearsals. I also had no idea that the show would go ahead. I remained hopeful and turned lockdown into an opportunity to develop my vocal, acting and dance skills with professional, industry coaches via Zoom and when possible ‘face to face’. In addition, I focused on my health and well-being through a plant-based diet and a fitness/gym regime in support of the physicality required of the role. My vocal coaching helped develop a new sound in my voice for ‘Link’ that would resonate with him looking to emulate the likes of Elvis and Sinatra. On opening night, I felt well-prepared and buzzing to get on the stage. It had been a long time away from the theatre and I felt so grateful to be a part of one of the first shows to be back on tour in the UK despite the pandemic that was still going on around us.
What do you enjoy about performing in Hairspray and being part of the cast?
Hairspray is an award-winning amazing show with brilliant music and choreography to perform. At the musical’s heart, it has powerful messages about equality, regardless of race, gender or appearance. As actors, we portray what life was like in the 60s. This is a big responsibility because of the importance of the messages which are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s. You get to perform a wide range of styles unlike many other shows. Every night we get a phenomenal response from the audience and I always leave work feeling grateful and happy.
How is the tour going and what are you looking forward to most for the remainder of the run?
The tour is having a very successful run considering the constraints of the pandemic. It has also incorporated a successful Christmas and New Year season at the Opera House, Winter Gardens, Blackpool which established the show as the highest-grossing Christmas production in the venue’s history. I’m looking forward to performing at new venues around the UK and sharing the show with regional audiences that don’t necessarily get access to see West End musical theatre. I enjoy being a tourist, taking in sights and attractions around the UK.
Why would you recommend booking tickets to one of the tour dates?
I’d recommend coming to see Hairspray as it’s such a feel-good, uplifting show that delivers an incredible immersive experience for the whole audience. The show is informative by telling the story of America’s recent history concerning racial inequality. Audiences leave the theatre feeling informed about recent history and its similarities with modern day life. We hope this awareness can encourage a change for good. The feedback from reviews and social media have highlighted the phenomenal talent of all cast members producing a high energy performance put together by a greatly respected production team.
The cast performed on Blue Peter, what was this like to do?
Performing on Blue Peter was a great experience. Growing up watching performances on TV was something I always loved and aspired to do. So, being given the opportunity to perform and be interviewed was a bit of a ‘pinch me moment’. I’ll forever look back on this memory fondly and will treasure my Blue Peter badge!
Can you tell us about playing Joey in Saturday Night Fever and how did you find the experience touring internationally for the first time?
Joey was a fun role to play and developed my professional experience in supporting a lead role. I felt I had some creative freedom and could really enjoy playing with the character on tour. Travelling the UK and then to Japan was a great and fulfilling experience. Getting to experience the city of Tokyo and learn some aspects of Japanese culture was a bonus. Japan has a great respect for the arts and we were treated amazingly.
What are some of your highlights from your time in the show?
Definitely travelling to Japan was a highlight as I never thought it would be somewhere I’d go to.
You’ve previously performed in pantomimes, what do you enjoy about working on them?
Pantomimes always get you into the festive mood! I can say, from my own experience, that a pantomime show provides a lot of young children with their first introduction to live theatre. This is a privilege knowing that some of them will leave feeling inspired enough to want to be on the stage someday. I have always enjoyed working with a team of great cast members and crew, it is a great environment to develop professionally and to learn from a variety of highly respected performers.
Can you tell us about the shows you performed in with the National Youth Music Theatre?
I feel honoured to have been selected twice to perform for the National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT). I was selected to perform in Prodigy and Brass. These productions were a huge part of my professional training. The environment, people and overall experience is top quality and so many friends and the NYMT alumni have gone on to achieve so much in many aspects of the entertainment industry. Prodigy was a new musical launched by the NYMT in London. This was the first time I’d experienced being part of this type of production process which was a great learning experience. As a Dance Captain in Brass at the Hackney Empire, I cannot express more highly my admiration for such a wonderful show and it remains a firm favourite both as a performer and in my appreciation of the show itself.
Had you always wanted to be an actor and how did you start?
From a very early age, I always loved to perform and entertain. Outside of normal schooling, I loved to play many sports but I also loved performing. I loved watching films like Star Wars and Harry Potter which fuelled my creativity. I did Stagecoach for a couple of years but stopped to concentrate more on sport which I really enjoyed playing. I still kept up a bit of singing at school when I joined the choir which encouraged me to sing more. Then as I hit my teens I started to get back into performing and did school concerts, local amateur dramatic musicals and decided to head to Stagecoach again. At the age of 14, I joined Wilkes Academy, Under 16s and this was the launch pad for my dream to have a career in the performing arts. I really enjoyed the weekend training which developed my love of dance alongside singing and acting, and was delighted to be awarded a place at the full-time college at 16. I worked hard at college and embraced the opportunity that was offered fully. It was inspiring to be taught by leaders in the business and that gave me the foundation I needed to start my career.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
My favourite theatre shows are Miss Saigon and In the Heights. There are a lot of shows I’ve yet to see, but Hamilton, Harry Potter and Dear Evan Hansen are at the top of the list.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
When I’m not working I like to keep active by doing some form of sport. I love heading to the south west of the UK, whether that’s going on camping trips or having accommodation near the sea and going on long walks.
You performed as a dancer on Celebrity X Factor for The Pussycat Dolls reunion, how was this?
Performing as a dancer with The Pussycat Dolls was a very new experience for me. I was grateful to perform alongside some of the best commercial dancers in the business. I used the opportunity to take in the experience of a prime time TV show as a whole as it’s a very different process to live theatre. The choreography by Dean Lee was incredible and to learn from him was brilliant.
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