CORONATION Street legend and musician Kevin Kennedy returns to the Grand Opera House, York, from tomorrow, to reprise his role as bar owner Dennis Dupree in Rock Of Ages.
He previously appeared there in April 2019 in a musical giddy with Eighties’ rock classics, arranged and orchestrated by Ethan Popp, and now he will be joined by Cameron Sharp as demigod Stacee Jaxx in Nick Winston’s latest touring production.
“It’s incredible to be able to put your two passions together – one being of course acting and the spoken word and the other being music, which is something I’ve loved throughout my life,” says Kevin, 61, who found TV fame as Curly Watts in Corrie and has played in bands too, such as Bunch Of Thieves and The Paris Valentinos with Johnny Marr, no less.
“To put those [passions] together is a perfect marriage, and in a vehicle such as Rock Of Ages, it’s a whole lot of fun as well.”
Outlining the show’s story, set in Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1980s with a book by Chris D’Arienzo, Kevin says: “It’s about a rock club called The Bourbon Room, which is absolutely legendary; every single band you could think of has played there.
“It’s an icon of rock’n’roll and absolutely the place to be, but the local council are attempting to close it down, so we’re fighting them. Alongside all of that, there’s a beautiful love story, lots and lots of jokes and, of course, some of the most incredible music from the Eighties like Here I Go Again, The Final Countdown and I Want To Know What Love Is.”
Those songs are played loud and proud by a live band in a show that invites audiences to “leave it all behind and lose yourself in a city and a time where the dreams are as big as the hair, and yes, they can come true”.
Within that world, Kevin’s character, The Bourbon Room owner Dennis Dupree, is “an absolute rock guru”. “He’s given all these now legendary bands their stars and he’s been in bands himself,” he says. “He’s also embraced the drug culture and intense sexuality of the 1980s with much enthusiasm and regularity!
“He’s a very interesting man to play: he’s got a good heart at his core, but he’s a child of his culture and loves his sex, drugs and rock’n’roll! He’s a lot of fun to play.”
Assessing the biggest differences between working in TV and the theatre world, Kevin says: “TV is a totally different skill and technique to theatre. Not least because you may put something in the can after filming and not get the payback of that for months or even years. You can almost film it and then forget about it.
“With theatre, however, it’s obviously live and live theatre is one of the last true shared experiences you can have – along with football! In the theatre, you’re all together and sharing one experience, which is happening live, right in front of you, and there’s not a lot of that left.
“That generates its own energy and excitement as no two shows are the same. The show that you come and see will never be exactly the same as that ever again, which is quite an exciting thought.”
Kevin happened to love Eighties’ rock already before doing the show. “I was a youngish man in the 1980s and not a huge fan of some dance music, so the last refuge of guitar music, to a certain extent, was that brilliant American glam rock that we showcase in Rock Of Ages. They played their own instruments and performed live on stage, so I had a huge respect for that.”
Does Kevin draw on his own experiences as a musician when faced by the challenges of performing this full-on style of music on stage? “It requires a lot of energy,” he says. “However, once the show gets going, it’s so much fun and no longer feels like work.
“Once you’ve done the hard work of learning the lines and where to stand, we’ve been allowed to just have so much fun with it. Audiences are absolutely loving it because it’s just bonkers.”
Ask him to pick a favourite moment or number in the show, and Kevin proffers: “Numerous moments! Although what I really enjoy is watching the other members of the cast doing their big solo numbers because they’re all so incredibly talented and it’s great to watch and learn from them. It’s been so lovely to see them grow into their characters from the first rehearsal through to our performances on tour now, where it all comes to fruition.”
Pressing him to name a favourite song, he decides: “Oh, the entire finale is my favourite as it’s just one big fat rock’n’roll number.”
As he heads to York, Kevin as always will be carrying a cafetière, some coffee (“obviously,” he says), his Manchester City mug and, most important of all to him, a PlayStation.
This week’s Grand Opera House audiences are in for a great time, he promises. “Whether you’re a seasoned theatregoer or you’ve never been to a show before, you’ll have a lot of fun. If you want to come dressed in your leather trousers and embrace your inner Eighties’ rock star, then do that! Even bring along an inflatable guitar if you want,” he says. “Everything is just a whole lot of fun.”
Rock Of Ages rocks out at Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.
Kevin Kennedy profile:
Born: Wythenshawe, Manchester, September 4 1961. Member of Manchester Youth Theatre; studied drama at Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre. Made professional debut in 1982 at Greenwich Theatre, London.
Best known for soap-opera role as Norman “Curly” Watts, paperboy, dustman and supermarket assistant manager, in 1,563 episodes of Coronation Street, 1983 to 2003. Filmed scenes for 50th anniversary DVD in 2010.
West End theatre credits include: Amos in Chicago, Adelphi Theatre; ageing hippie Pop in Queen & Ben Elton musical We Will Rock You, Dominion Theatre.
Played both Caractacus Potts and The Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang musical, becoming first actor to have done so.
Played Dennis Dupree in 2018-2019 UK tour of Rock Of Ages, including at Grand Opera House, York, in April 2019. Appeared in national tours of The Rocky Horror Show, The Commitments and Kay Mellor’s Fat Friends.
Popped up as an Angel in guest role in Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special on BBC One in 2019.
Played Detective Banks in Billy Zane film Rupture in 2020.
Played bass in the band The Paris Valentinos with Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke, of The Smiths fame.
Signed by pop impresario Simon Cowell to BMG Records, released Present Kennedy album in 2002.