X Factor winner, multi-platinum selling recording artist and songwriter MATT CARDLE has joined Beverley Knight in the cast of David Bryan and Joe DiPietro’s Memphis the Musical. He took over the role of radio DJ Huey Calhoun from Killian Donnelly (opposite Knight as Felicia Farrell) on 6 July and will continue in the show until the end of its run in October.
Tal Fox went along to the Shaftesbury Theatre to meet him.
How has it been making your West End debut?
Absolutely amazing, the reception has been incredible and I really didn’t expect it to be – I don’t know what I expected to be fair. I had never been involved in musical theatre, I’ve never been in a show before, never acted before; this is all new from top to bottom, side to side.
I’ve also never worked in such a big company before, it’s always been just my band, my management and my label, which is quite small and tight-knit. Now suddenly there’s loads of people buzzing around – it reminds me a little of the X Factor tour with the dancers, all the other contestants and the size of the production. That’s making it so much fun, having everyone there, and everyone is so lovely.
What made you decide to try acting?
The offer really, I was in the studio recording my new album and I heard through my manager that Beverley Knight had been in touch because they were looking for a new Huey in Memphis. They wanted me to come along and see the show initially so I said okay and added: “you do know I haven’t acted before?” It was just one of those things; I came down and fell in love with the show, the story and Killian’s [Donnelly] character. I just thought, if I could do that, it would be incredible, but I don’t know if I can. The next thing, I did a read-through with associate director Tara Wilkinson and Beverley was there singing with me. One thing just led to another.
So the role found you rather than the other way around?
There wasn’t a sense of me going: right, I really want to do some musical theatre. I’m just honoured that Beverley thought of me, but when I saw the show, I thought f**k, that’s amazing! Then I read through the script and here we are. I totally loved the show and I am in complete awe of Beverley, even now when she’s next to me onstage.
When did you first see the show?
About three months ago. I saw it before I was offered the role and then I saw it lots of times after that.
Was there a difference between the first time you saw it and watching it after you knew you would be in it?
When I first saw it, I was concentrating more on Beverley and Killian and the whole thing washed over me. It wasn’t until I was offered the role that I thought, right, let’s look at what Killian is doing, and he was doing a hell of a lot! I was a fan, no was going to have to convince me to get involved. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to be a part of that show.
How is it working with Beverley Knight?
It’s incredible. She’s an absolutely wonderful person.
What can you tell us about your character and your role in the show?
There’s a lot of me in Huey Calhoun, the fact that he’s pretty damn goofy and doesn’t think too much, he just rushes ahead and doesn’t think about the consequences. I think he’s funny and the energy that he has during the show really carries some of the scenes through nicely. Killian is so incredible, I watched it and thought, why couldn’t there have been someone who wasn’t as good?! But had I seen the show and there had been someone in the role I hadn’t really liked, I probably wouldn’t have gone for the part, because I wouldn’t have seen how brilliant it could be. Seeing Killian doing it was so inspiring, if I could play it anything like that, that would be awesome.
Was it the character or the music that drew you toward the show?
It was the whole thing. It was Beverley, Killian, it was the entire storyline.
You probably get asked about X Factor a lot, but do you find that the fans are coming to see the show?
The fans that come on tour with me have come and seen the show and they love it. They have said: “it’s so funny seeing you being stupid”. I’ve told them that they really only see ten per cent of me when I’m on tour or on stage, where I’m sensible and talking about serious stuff that happened to me, and then the rest of my life is spent being a bit more like Huey.
Do you think X Factor opened the doors to these great opportunities?
Absolutely, I never would have given up trying to get signed, get a record deal and make albums. I was already making albums – but no one was really buying them. X Factor lifted my career way beyond my expectations and I am still enjoying the difference it has made.
What do you like most about doing live theatre?
The audience’s reaction is great, it’s seeing an instantaneous reaction to something that you’re portraying on stage. A song gets a reaction at the end, you can even see a few things happening part of the way through. People start moving about and jumping around, it’s great. It’s like a two-hour song. The dialogue is funny too and getting a laugh for a joke is an experience I’ve never had before!
Would you want to do musicals again?
I never planned doing this one and I never planned doing X Factor, it all happened. I would say ‘never say never’. If it was the right role. I’ve been given a golden egg here – it’s an amazing role in an amazing show with an amazing company, plus I get to work with Beverley. From Harry on the door at the Shaftsbury, right through to the guys in stage management, everybody is wonderful. We’ll see what happens next.
If there was another opportunity, is there a specific role you would like to play?
Not really, I haven’t seen too many shows; I haven’t really dug around and looked for any roles specifically. I never really looked for this role, it was just offered to me and I just feel so lucky that I got it and the reaction has been so good.
What else do you have planned at the moment?
I have a new album coming out in October. As soon as Memphis is finished, the new album should be nearly ready to go
How is Memphis different from touring as an individual artist?
It’s totally different, the feeling of being in the dressing room and being called out to stage. You’re doing it as a unit, everyone is doing it for everyone. It’s cool.
When you were performing at West End Live, as that was before you officially took on the role, did you get a feel of what the audience would be like?
Not really, if I’m honest, because that was a big crowd and a one-off day. I could tell that the musical theatre fans there knew their stuff. At the theatre, it feels like more of an intimate audience, it’s very different.
Is there anything else you would like to say about the show?
It’s just the most brilliant thing I have ever been involved in. Beverley Knight is taking the roof off every single night. There isn’t anybody who has seen it who doesn’t want to come see it again. We’re booking until the end of October so there isn’t that long left, get some tickets and come down and see it.
* Booking for Memphis the Musical at the Shaftesbury Theatre continues through to the end of its scheduled run in the West End on 31 October 2015. There are early plans in progress for a major tour of the UK and Ireland from autumn 2016.
* Matt Cardle is a singer with a four-octave vocal range, songwriter, guitarist, pianist and drummer. Almost five years have passed since he was crowned the winner of the seventh series of The X Factor. To date Cardle has sold more than 2.2 million records in the UK across three co-written Top 10 albums. Southampton born and Essex raised, Cardle is currently putting the finishing touches to his fourth studio album.