Brian Gilligan on Unleashing His Inner James Brown in The Commitments

first_img The idea of this white Dublin community coming together to honor the best of black American soul is such a great one. It’s very me, as well. My mum was a huge, huge Motown and soul fan and the first record I ever bought was a double CD of James Brown’s greatest hits. He’s the one I like to embody every time I go out on stage, but when I was a teenager I also listened to a lot of classic rock music from all sorts of people—Led Zeppelin, Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy, groups like that. View Comments Presumably your upgrade within the cast has included a change in dressing room? It has. I was originally sharing with three guys who are brilliant—absolutely fantastic—and to find myself now sitting in my own dressing room is like, I don’t know what hit me! I have all this space, all this room, and it kind of feels like I’m in the middle of a ballpark. I’m still trying to get used to it! You were in the musical when it first opened—how did you work your way up to a leading role? It’s a pretty good story: I went from being third cover to leading man while playing Billy, the drummer, along the way. Deco came about when [assistant director] CJ Ranger heard me in backstage in the theater stairwell one day wailing away. As a result, I was called in to cover Deco and was then asked if I would play [the part] for the next year. I gather this production gets some very, um, revved-up audiences? Well, there hasn’t been any underwear or contraband thrown on to the stage if that’s what you mean [laughs]. But I guess the fun thing about our audience is that some of them have never been to the theater before so they don’t necessarily know that there is a kind of etiquette and decorum that come with going to the theater—things like not shouting out mid-scene. And what’s great is that there is room for the audience to get up and treat it like a live concert. They’re not afraid of shouting or whooping. Your part as the Commitments’ lead singer Deco is one of the most vocally demanding on the West End. How are you pacing yourself? It is demanding, and as with everyone who takes on a role like this it’s about being aware at certain points of where you can take a step back while still delivering [the part] up for the audience. As singers we have to be quite protective of our instrument, but at the same time the part is so rewarding that you want to give it your all. Irish actor Brian Gilligan has been playing the defining role of Deco in the rock musical The Commitments at the Palace Theatre since September—meanwhile, the role’s originator, Killian Donnelly, has moved on to headline the U.K. premiere of Memphis a few streets away. Just a kid when the Alan Parker film was released in 1991, Gilligan has nonetheless had a lifelong affection for this story of a community of Dubliners who form a soul band with Deco as their take-no-prisoners lead singer. A charming musical theatre newcomer, Gilligan chatted with about rocking out six times a week and getting used to the novelty of having his own dressing room.center_img So each performance lets you unleash your inner diva? You could say that, yes [laughs]. He’s quite a formidable character: raucous and rude and gifted with an extraordinary voice. Yes. I would describe Deco as someone who knows exactly what he’s after in that he wants to be a superstar-singer and he sees [the group] as a massive chance for him to get out there. Deco almost considers himself to be the white James Brown; he’s a diva but he’s also very serious about what he does. Did you know the material itself well already—Roddy Doyle’s book or the Alan Parker film? I was born in 1987 so would have been only four when the film came out [in 1991] but when I was growing up the movie was part of the standard DVD/video diet for every young north Dubliner. It’s a story that everybody from my generation would have grown up with and would have quoted quite extensively. What’s it like for you and your Commitments castmates to have another Irish musical, Once, playing up the street? [Laughs] It’s been little Dublin for several years now ever since Once moved in and then The Commitments. It really has been great fun and we should take an awful lot of happiness in the fact that these stories from Glen Hansard and Roddy Doyle have made their way to the West End stage. You got to shadow the amazing Killian Donnelly in the role—did he give you any pointers when it was time for you to take over? Killian was great with his time from the very beginning. He told me to enjoy it, to go about it with a lot of pace and caution, not to burn myself out too quickly and just to have as much fun as I can. Oh, and he did say one thing: learn to guzzle water as quickly as you possibly can because it is one of those shows where either on or off stage, you are constantly sweating.last_img