Sunny Afternoon’s John Dagleish on Bringing the Kinks Party to the West End

first_imgAmid a busy month for musical upgrades to the West End from smaller playhouses elsewhere, the Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon stands apart as a celebration of some of the most enduring songs in British rock and pop. Kinks frontman Ray Davies has been directly involved in director Edward Hall’s production and is played in a career-making performance by John Dagleish, making his West End debut. The amiable star spoke to one recent afternoon about playing a living legend, blacking out a gap in his teeth, and his determination not to miss a single performance of the show, opening October 28 at the Harold Pinter Theatre. But you didn’t train in musical theater? Not at all. I went to the Drama Centre in north London which was known in the industry as the “trauma center.” [Laughs.] It was a very classical school, we didn’t do musical theater at all. But the truth is I have sung all my life, so that when this came around, it was such a gift. I got the phone call and went, “Yes, yes, yes!” Were you concerned in advance about how the songs would slot into the show? I was hoping they weren’t going to be crowbarred in, the way they are in some jukebox musicals, but as soon as I read Joe Penhall’s script, I thought, “This is definitely going to work.” The songs are so observational about what was happening around Ray at the time rather than just being the “let’s hold hands” or “be my baby” kind of stuff that was big in the ’60s. These take a much more introspective view of things. Were you at all concerned about capturing him physically? Well, I did take it upon myself to get some stuff to black out a gap in my teeth [a signature trait of Davies] because we couldn’t have someone saying in the show “that’s quite a gap” when there wasn’t one. I’m also very aware that he was rakishly thin, so I’m trying to get in shape. In fact, I have gone down a couple of belt buckles. I don’t know of another workout as good as this. Do you think Sunny Afternoon could translate to an audience who knows nothing about the Kinks? Absolutely. The wonderful thing about the music is that it’s universal, and I think even if you had no idea that these songs were written by the Kinks, there would still be a song there that someone recognizes. Everywhere I go, I seem to hear the music of the Kinks haunting me—wonderfully haunting me. It’s a demanding assignment, so how are you pacing yourself? I don’t know that I can pace myself, since it’s a difficult show to do half-assed. It’s like a roller coaster ride that you can’t get off, and it’s very difficult to come offstage without feeling as if you’ve left everything out there. You end up just trusting that your body is going to hold up. Were you surprised to be offered the role? I was, though I started out in amateur dramatics doing musicals when I was really young, so I kind of feel with this show as if I have completed a circle. It’s a credit to the creatives who put this together that they wanted actors who could sing rather than musical theater people who could act—not to put those guys down at all, by the way, because they are incredible. And then there are the inevitable standards, of course, that the audience is waiting for. Yes, there are a lot of people who say that “Waterloo Sunset” is their favorite song of all time, and we kind of build towards it in the show to the extent that you can feel the audience bristling with anticipation. That’s always a hair-on-the-back-of-my-neck kind of moment.center_img Has it been daunting to have had Kinks frontman, Ray Davies, directly involved with the show from its inception? It was at first for sure. I remember the first few days of the workshops staring at him and thinking, “All these songs have come out of this man’s head!?” [Laughs.] But I think it gives the show a lot of integrity to have Ray involved and I feel like it stops what I’m doing from being an impersonation or a copycat performance. What Ray wanted was someone to do the role that is written in the script rather than an impersonation of him. Do you see a life for this show in the States? Oh God, yes, we have such fun with the American side of things in the show that I think it would go down really well over there. I think we would storm Broadway to be honest. That would be one helluva journey! Given that you’re a musical theater newbie, do you ever go to musicals, or is this world entirely new to you? I do—maybe not as much as I see straight plays, but I’ve always enjoyed a musical and it’s the thing that got me into acting in the first place: the classic musicals that I grew up with and loved, like West Side Story and that kind of thing. Sunny Afternoon, first staged at the Hampstead Theatre Off West End, is hitting the big-time! How has the transition been? From our first night [at the Pinter Theatre] everything has been ten times bigger. A bigger audience, a bigger reaction, a bigger party. It’s odd to think that at the end of this week, with us still in previews, I will have done more than a third of the shows that we did at Hampstead during the entire run. Are you too young to have been a Kinks devotee yourself? My parents steeped me in ‘60s and ‘70s music so I knew most of the big songs, but what’s been great has been getting to know some of the lesser-known songs, like “I Go To Sleep,” which is such a haunting and beautiful love song, and Lillie [Flynn], who sings it, has such a beautiful voice. View Commentslast_img