At the age of 13, Wayne Fitzsimmons discovered his love for musical theatre after playing the role of Fredrick in the Sound Of Music at Baverstock GM Secondary School in Birmingham. Mirroring Billy Elliot’s dream to be on stage, as a young lad Wayne then went on to attend The Simone School of Dance in West Heath for a year before going to Arts Ed drama school in London.
Wayne worked in the West End alongside the late Patrick Swayze in Guys and Dolls and even Ruthie Henshall in Chicago, but he is excited to be returning to him hometown to perform in the ensemble in the first ever UK tour of Billy Elliot.
You grew up in Birmingham, what is it like being back?
It is great being back in Birmingham. I am living at home with my mum and it is great to be seeing all my family. Birmingham has changed so much in fifteen years and it is nice to show the city off to the other cast members. It’s great and I’ve been here a few times touring over the years anyway, but I love coming back to the Hippodrome because it is the best theatre here.
Have you have any of your old teachers, and your own version of Mrs Wilkinson come and watch?
I’ve had so many people in, such as old teachers, family and friends, people who I’ve taught over the past few years.
I’ve had old English teachers from GCSE and A-Level, my old French teacher, my old dance teacher and my old youth theatre acting teacher. I was a member of Stage 2 Youth Theatre Company which used to be based in the Midlands Arts Centre, but now it is at Millennium Point. It has just been brilliant and they’ve all loved Billy Elliot.
You’ve returned back to Birmingham a lot, one time even understudying Joan Collins here at the Hippodrome!
I came here and did pantomime which definitely was an interesting one. I was assistant choreographer and dance captain on the production and of course here at the Birmingham Hippodrome it is the flagship QDOS pantomime, and that year it starred Julian Clary, Nigel Havers and Joan Collins.
So opening night came and I knew it was my responsibility to teach the understudies, so I’d spoken to our director and he got back to me after opening night and said that I was understudying Nigel Havers as King Rat and Joan Collins as Queen Rat at which point I said: “Oh sorry I don’t understand.” I mean there was a room full of ensemble girls that could understudy her and they said: “No no, they don’t have the experience that you have.”
At the time my priority was being a dance captain and dealing with any ensemble members being off. So second show in, Joan was kind of showing signs that she was not feeling very well. We’d done two days, and I had a call from Ian Sandy to say that I was on for Joan, and it was just horrendous because basically I hadn’t had time to learn the part so I ended up in my own hometown, completely out of my comfort zone, having to dress up as a woman with all these kind of references within the script to Joan Collins, with the script in my hand which is an actors nightmare.
I ended up doing fifteen shows in a row as her and thankfully after that first day I crammed the lines in my head and continued to play the role and it was great fun in the end!
So you won’t be understudying grandma?
No I am not understudying grandma, I know it’s on my CV that I understudy women but thankfully not!
What is it like being in Billy Elliot?
It is amazing, it is a piece of theatrical genius. It’s the strong political message of the 1984 minor strikes crossed with this very sensitive story about a little boy wanting to become a ballet dancer in a time and area where that was really unheard of. It is really lovely to work in a cast where there are no celebrity castings, everyone truly deserves to be here and the audition process was really rigorous to find this cast.
Working with the kids has just been the best thing about this show. They are inspirational on a daily basis, the four Billy Elliots, they rotate the role nightly and are giving us something different and something new to work with every night – they really inspire me. There isn’t another role in musical theatre that demands such talent from a child like that. I’ve done lots of glitzy glamorous musicals in the past but I love that now I’ve got an opportunity to very sincerely tell a story and I think that is the brilliant nature of this show.
What challenges do you face in this production?
The accent is hard, but we have a fantastic dialect coach. It’s a tricky accent that I’ve never done before, and actually part of the audition was to say a joke in a Geordie accent. I also think Solidarity is challenging but possibly one of the best choreographed numbers in musical theatre, because of how it integrates the struggle and fight between the policeman and minors with the juxtaposition of the ballet class going on. One of the struggles of the show is recreating that on a nightly basis because it is a show you can’t do half-heartedly. The bar was set very high in rehearsals, and to create that every night you have to dig deep in order to find those emotions to go there.
Returning to Birmingham, what do you think of the thriving theatre scene?
I think it is very exciting at the moment in Birmingham, I have various friends working at the Rep and out in Stratford. Even the different community stuff that is going on in Mosely and Edgebaston, and you know Birmingham Arts Fest and all that kind of stuff. It is so exciting, it has changed so much and there is so much support and love for theatre. It should be happening as well as there is a lot of Birmingham bred talent here as well and I think we should really celebrate that.