West End and UK theatre actor BEN STOCK presents his new show And There Was Music, a celebration of the songs and music that have influenced his career and life to date, this week at London’s Crazy Coqs (26 to 28 May). His debut solo album with SimG Records, also entitled And There Was None, is released on 1 June.
From panto to Pinter, from Wolverhampton to the West End, the evening includes music and tales of life in the theatre, as well as material written by composers including Jerry Herman, Noel Coward, Tom Lehrer, Meredith Willson, Cole Porter and Amanda McBroom.
Ben’s own career has included roles in major productions such as Beauty and the Beast, Grease, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Joseph, and recent leading regional roles in Hello, Dolly! and The Glenn Miller Story, as well as an annual jaunt in major pantomimes.
He is also a regular music hall performer and has appeared with the Players’ Theatre, The Hiss & Boo Company and the Paper Moon Theatre Company in London and around the country.
An acclaimed musical director/arranger and an accomplished pianist, Ben regularly plays for concerts and cabarets accompanying both himself and other artists at such venues as Crazy Coqs, Jermyn Street Theatre, the Canal Cafe and on board the QE2.
Musical Theatre Review editor Lisa Martland asked Ben a few questions…
Tell us about your one-man show And There Was Music and how it came about.
It’s really a collection of songs and stories about my life and the life of someone working in the theatre – digs, getting stuck on trains when heading to auditions – that sort of thing, but I’ve played the show to non-theatrical audiences as it were and they seem to enjoy it too. It’s not too ‘in’! And I am also conscious that many people coming to see the show wouldn’t know me as a person or performer, and so I want it to be a piece that they can enjoy too. But like all cabaret (in my opinion) you will hopefully leave knowing a little more about me than when you came in!
You suggest some of the show is anecdotal, some more personal. Can you give some examples? Do you tell the audience about your musical influences?
I think I have always been influenced by people rather than music. Most of the songs I have chosen come from the theatre and are inspired by those I’ve worked with, or seen, or indeed friends and family. For instance it was my Dad who introduced me to London – my favourite city in the world – so I talk about that and have songs to reflect that.
Can you give us some idea of the material you have chosen and how difficult it was to pick?
As I say, a lot of it from the theatre, but by no means is it ‘the greatest hits of Ben Stock’ show! There are songs by (amongst others) Noel Coward, Jerry Herman, Craig Carnelia, Tom Lehrer, Paddy Roberts and Amanda McBroom who was the first person I ever saw in cabaret.
Have you done much solo performing alongside all your show credits? What do you like about stepping outside of a character and being yourself?
I really love stepping outside of the character. I have done bits of presenting and that immediacy you get with an audience when you can chat with them and share stories, it’s totally different to playing a role. I grew up doing ‘Old Time Music Hall’ and have always done pantomime – where even though you have a character, you also have that connection between performer and audience. This is my first solo show, but hopefully there will be more to come. It feels like an evening chatting and singing with friends and performing in the fabulous Crazy Coqs helps that, as it is designed to feel exactly that way.
What’s next for the show, are you planning a tour?
I have some dates for the autumn which is exciting, it is wonderful to have something that is your own that you can adapt and develop as you go along. I will still be doing plays, musicals and pantomime, but I’m loving working on this too. I play the piano and although I have the incredible Tom Carradine playing for me at Crazy Coqs, it is also a show I can do completely solo if needed.
Is your new CD linked to your one-man show?
It is. I worked with Simon Greiff (SimG Records) on both Caroline Sheen’s and Stephen De Martin’s albums and when he knew I was doing a cabaret, he persuaded me to record an album to go alongside it. I loved the experience and it was so exciting to see the finished product, but inwardly it makes me smile to think that I’ve actually recorded my own album!! However, life is short and so why not?
Is it nice to vary what you do, performing, musical directing-ing etc?
I love variety. I always wanted to work as a performer. That was my criteria, not to be a star, or be famous, or to hit the heights in the West End, but to work in as many different roles and places as I could. It’s why I have always loved regional theatre. Concentrated rehearsal and performance time in a town that is new to you – nothing like it! I have done long tours and West End runs, and though they are wonderful, variety is the spice of life. And being able to pop onto the other side of the process as an MD from time to time is great too…
There’s something of a theme of nostalgia running through a number of your credits, does that reflect some of your passions/interests?
Yes, I think I was born 30 years later than planned! I wanted to be in Dad’s Army and the Carry On movies and Hi-de-Hi! There is such exciting work happening in the theatre at the moment and more and more young people are coming to see theatre which is how it should be, but I’m quite an old-fashioned guy at heart. Give me Mame over Rent any day!
What are your career highs and lows so far?
The low was being involved in a show that collapsed last year and on top of that – and let’s face it we all know that some shows just don’t work, it’s part of being in the theatre – was being treated badly too. However, that is the only time in 20 years – so not bad going. The highs have to be the people I have met along the way and worked with and become friends with. Goodness that sounds schmaltzy, but it’s true. It’s a real privilege to work in this industry or business or profession, whatever you like to call it. So yes, the people, and getting to dance for eight counts in a spotlight with Cyd Charisse at the London Palladium!
What’s next for you?
I have more dates for the cabaret in the autumn, but before that I’m off to Florida with my family for a holiday. I’m also working on a revue for the autumn, and it looks as though I have my first overseas booking for the cabaret. So I’m back to variety again. That and spending time with my 99-year-old Grandma!
Have you got a particular dream musical you would love to appear in?
Funny you should ask that as I do a little section on this very question in my show. I’ve been lucky to tick two of the boxes by playing Cornelius in Hello, Dolly! and Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast, but one day I’d like to tackle Harold Hill in The Music Man. I don’t think I’m particularly right for it, but what a part!
* Ben Stock presents his new show And There Was Music at the Crazy Coqs, London from 26 to 28 May at 8pm.
* Ben Stock’s CD is available to pre-order in physical format from www.SimGProductions.com now (and available digitally later in the year).