Tom Scanlon has been announced to be in the cast of the upcoming UK premiere of Mrs. Doubtfire at the Manchester Opera House as Ensemble and first cover Stuart, with the musical opening for a limited run on 2nd September until 1st October. Recently, Tom finished his role of Ram Sweeney in Heathers the Musical at The Other Palace, and amongst his previous projects, he has toured the UK and internationally with Cabaret, played Referee Angel in Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre and performed as Robbie Gould in the Dirty Dancing UK Tour, also covering the role of Johnny Castle. During his time as a performer so far, Tom has worked alongside Julian Clary and choreographed his comedy tours, and he was part of the Brit Crew on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. Last year, Tom started his TikTok account, and has seen it gain over 78k followers, having uploaded videos regularly since January. We spoke to Tom about playing Ram Sweeney in Heathers the Musical, playing Robbie Gould and cover Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing and his time on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK as part of the Brit Crew.
You recently played Ram Sweeney in Heathers the Musical at The Other Palace, what was the character like to play and what will you miss most about the role?
Ram was a funny one. I’m used to playing the bad guy, but not with the added element of comedy, so for me, playing Ram was a really great opportunity for me. I’ll certainly miss being in the show, but you never truly leave Heathers, I just KNOW I’ll be back at some point.
How did you find experience in the show and what was it like seeing the audience response to the musical?
I remember in rehearsals, our director, Andy Fickman, telling us, ‘You aren’t ready for this’, and me thinking, ‘Yeah. Alright. Whatever’… When I tell you on our opening night my ear drums nearly burst when the Heathers came on stage! The crowds are wild. The ‘Corn Nuts’, as they’re known, are the hardcore Heathers fans who dress up as characters from the show. And these aren’t some tacky costume shop pieces, they’re full-on expensive hand-crafted cosplay couture outfits. They’re such good quality that if they got up on stage, you’d not be able to tell which were fan-made and which were costumes from the show. The audiences made this experience for me. I’ve worked on shows in the past where the audiences have been fully engaged in what they’re watching, but never on this level.
Do you have any stand-out highlights from your time in the cast and playing Ram?
I have truly made some wonderful friends on the show. Every contract that comes to an end, you always say ‘I’ve made friends for life here’ and it always seems a little cliché, but I can honestly say with my hand on my heart, that the things we had to overcome on this show (COVID, small dressing rooms, intimate spaces) really pushed us together as a company, and I truly have come away with friends for life.
You’ve toured with Cabaret around the UK and internationally, what was this like?
I absolutely loved being in Bill Kenwright’s Cabaret. I think that version of the show was the right kind of dark that it needed to be. I’d seen the show in London when I was about 18 and fell in love with it. I’d always loved the film from when I was a kid. I didn’t quite understand the storyline and at the time didn’t really get the nuances of the war, I just saw flashy lights and sparkly costumes and I was sucked in. However, when I saw the show live on stage at 18, suddenly it all made sense and I was captured in this wonderfully dark and artistic telling of the tribulations of war. I remember coming out of the theatre in silence. I always thought musicals always had happy endings, until I saw Cabaret. So when I had the opportunity to audition for the show I was desperate to get a part in it. It was incredible to be a part of. Recreating the final scene and the audience being so quiet you could hear a pin drop, it reminded me of the time I saw the show all those years ago, and how it still to this day gets the same audience reaction. I truly hope that version of the show gets another life.
How was your time performing at the Vaults for Bare: A Pop Opera, in which you played Zack and covered the role of Jason?
The Vaults was a tricky place to work. I remember getting the call to say I’d got the job and I was so excited because the Vaults is such a prestigious venue. And well… It was certainly a learning curve and will definitely make me appreciate the newer theatres I work in.
What was it like getting into drag for your role of Referee Angel in Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre and how did your makeup process change over time?
At first, the drag part was just that – a drag. When my cast first opened I used to get to the theatre about two hours before I was supposed to start work to get into drag. I’d start my makeup two whole hours early and still looked like a pig on stage. After a while, I realised ‘hang on, I’m not getting paid any extra to be in work early doing this makeup’ so I started coming up with quick cheat ways of doing things. By the time it came to the end of the contract 18 months later, I’d get into the dressing room 20 minutes before warm up and manage to get pretty much all of my makeup done before warm up was even called. Somehow I looked better than when I was spending two hours getting it all on.
How was it taking on the role of Robbie Gould on the Dirty Dancing UK Tour and covering the lead role of Johnny Castle (played by Patrick Swayze in the 1987 film)?
Fun fact: when I started Dirty Dancing, I’d never actually seen the film. I was in rehearsals doing my cover role of Johnny and the dance captain said to me ‘Tom, have you seen the film?’, and I replied along the lines of ‘No because I don’t want to copy the film’ (I wanted to bring my own flair to the character). I remember he looked at me and said, ‘Tom, you should watch the film’. I hadn’t realised that 99% of our audiences were coming because they love the film and wanted to see the exact film on stage. Needless to say I have now seen the film and I definitely gave it my best Patrick Swayze on stage. It was a lot of pressure – thousands of screaming (mostly women) people in the audience and they’ve all seen the film, they’re expecting you to do it a certain way, and if you didn’t deliver you’d certainly hear about it. It’s called Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage, and that’s what they expect. The classic story. On stage.
Do you have any stand-out memories from performing in Dance ‘Til Dawn and Barnum?
Dance ‘Til Dawn was a learning curve for me. Not only was it my first proper go at doing partner work, it was my first time being a Swing. I feel like I learnt a lot about the business on that show and there’s things from it that I’ve taken throughout my career. It was a great show and definitely deserved a longer life than it had. For me, getting to work with Vincent (Simone) and Flavia (Cacace) of Strictly fame was a stand-out. Not only that but having the opportunity to work with the wonderful Karen Bruce, who is a fantastic choreographer and is so well-known.
Barnum was my first job out of stage school and my only regret is that I didn’t take it as seriously as I could’ve. We had an incredible array of aerial equipment at our disposal and we were in a literal circus tent and I think I let the bright lights and the excitement get the better of me. I would love to go back, as an adult and somebody who is much wiser to the industry now, and do the whole thing again. I know I’d take it more seriously and would come away with so many more skills than I had at the time. I’d give a proper professional bash and I feel like my performance in it would be so much better now than it was back then.
Can you tell us about joining the Brit Crew on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK and working with RuPaul?
On the first day of the shoot, Ashraf and I were in the dressing room opposite the studio ready to film our first entrance on set as the Queens’ guards. I heard this voice that I recognised coming down the hallway and the way we were positioned in the dressing room meant I could see into the hallway through the open door but Ashraf couldn’t. As this tall figure floated past the dressing room my jaw dropped to the floor and Ashraf was like ‘What? What is it?’. RuPaul herself had walked past our room to get to the studio. I heard him ask one of the producers ‘Are the boys here?’ And the producer replied ‘yes, they’re just in there’ and before you know it, Ru had walked straight into the dressing room with this warming glow that radiated from her. She was incredibly kind to us and so interesting to talk to. On the other episodes we filmed, she was so friendly and welcoming to the family, almost like a mother figure. It will definitely go down as one of my core memories.
How different do you find the experience working in the drag industry opposed to musical theatre?
If you had asked me this several years ago, I’d have said the two don’t go hand in hand. Casting directors in the past had been quite cold on the thought of hiring boys who do drag as their ensemble or leads, but I feel like now, with people like Vinegar Strokes and Ella Vaday paving the way, those things have changed. Casting directors and creative teams are much more open to hiring people from backgrounds that they wouldn’t have given the time of day to years ago. It’s much more open, which is fantastic. In the past I’d kind of kept my drag life a secret on my socials so that casting directors would take me more seriously. Now it’s not so much a problem. You can go do a gig in Soho on the Sunday and be Eddie in MAMMA MIA! on the Monday. It’s great.
How has it been performing alongside Julian Clary and choreographing his comedy tours and what was the experience like being part of the creative side of a production?
I absolutely love Julian. I was lucky enough to get to perform in professional pantos when I was at stage school, and my first professionally paid job was Cinderella in Plymouth, starring Julian and the late Keith Harris (who, might I add, was so lovely and kind, he will be missed). I really took a shine to Julian. The other dancers in the show were all from the same school as me and Julian liked our professionalism so cast us to dance on one of his tours. The number was choreographed by a man whose name I don’t remember, but it was really fun to be a part of and I remember thinking ‘wow, I’m actually working with THE Julian Clary’. He’s an icon and I used to watch him on TV as a kid thinking ‘woah, who is this person?’. Fast forward a few years and I get a call from Julian asking if I’d be interested in choreographing and appearing in his comedy show at the London Palladium. It’s not every day you get an opportunity like that. So, of course, I said yes. I called my friend Louis and asked if he’d join me on stage and he said ‘yes’ so we went away and I came up with a little number that Julian absolutely loved. I think all those years of watching him on TV gave me an insight into really knowing the sort of style he was looking for. Anyway, he must have really loved it because he asked me to reprise my role in his latest tour which was doing a whole week of shows at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London. I wasn’t available to perform in it as I was still in Heathers at the time, but I still offered my services as choreographer and got two of my lovely friends to dance for him for the week. It was great to be able to stand back in the auditorium and see my work on stage live as opposed to watching a recording of it after. I really enjoy working with Julian and I think I’ve built a good relationship with him that he can trust me to produce something he wants. My boy dancers were fab to work with as well because, if Julian asked for something to be slightly different, I’d immediately come up with another idea and they were so easy to change what they were doing. A really fun experience and I hope we work together again in the future.
Where does your love of performing come from and how did you get into it?
Oh gosh, now we’re going back. When I was seven years old my family went to see the local panto. It was Dick Whittington at The Little Theatre (now Middlesbrough Theatre). I got home afterwards and I looked at my mum and said ‘I want to do that’ not really knowing what ‘that’ was. She said ‘you want to be an actor?’ and I remember thinking to myself ‘no, being an actor is something really serious and is only on TV’ as if what they were doing in the panto was something completely different. Low and behold after all those years, it’s not as serious as I thought it sounded.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I spend a lot of my down time working on my social media and creating content. It’s not actually down time for me, it’s still my work, but I really enjoy doing it. If I’m not creating TikToks, then you’ll probably find me at a theme park or the London Dungeon.
Can you tell us about your popular TikTok account?
Absolutely! I am obsessed with the app. I first downloaded it mid last year, but only really started using it in January. Since then I’ve gained over 78k followers and a lovely niche market. You can see my silly theatre antics by following me on TikTok @thetomscanlon.
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