Actor and singer-songwriter Ben Forster, 31, had been performing in the West End and internationally for more than 10 years before being voted the winner of Superstar, the TV talent contest to find the lead for the 2012 arena revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s fair to say life hasn’t been the same since.
He, along with a cast including Mel C, Chris Moyles and Tim Minchin return to the production – which is really quite awesome, by the way – again this spring. But first, he’s trying something completely different, and enjoying a bit of a romp in the Rocky Horror Show, which has just started its 40th anniversary tour.
Forster is Brad, the straight-laced all-American boy who gets a lot more than he bargains for when he and fiancée Janet (in this case, soap star Roxanne Pallett) knock on the door of one Dr Frank N Furter (Oliver Thornton).
The show comes to the Empire next month, and the publicity shots show Forster looking a world away from the intense, demanding performance that made his name. And he’s not the only cast member trying something new, with the somewhat surprise casting of clean cut X Factor star Rhydian Roberts baring (nearly) all as Rocky Horror himself.
Forster is bubbly and enthusiastic, with an irrepressible Sunderland twang that might surprise someone who has only seen him on stage. Brad, he says, is a great role to play, and he chose it deliberately for a bit of fun, a distinct contrast to getting strung up on a giant cross every night after failing to save the world, one would suppose.
“It’s such a funny, great show, the audiences are crazy and it’s a great company,” he says. “The audience participation can be quite scary, but in a way it keeps you on your feet and it’s nice to be back in theatres. Sometimes you really do have to stop yourself from laughing.”
Brad is a character it’s sometimes quite easy to overlook while others steal the show, so it will be interesting to see what it is about him that Forster likes so much.
“Because it’s got such a cult following, I think I’ve got to make my Brad live up to what people want,” he says. “I don’t know if anyone’s ever chosen to play him so nerdy, though. He’s a real geek that just never expected to be in the situation he finds himself in. For me, it’s an opportunity to pull faces and make people laugh. When everyone erupts in hysterics, I just think how brilliant my job is, to make people laugh and howl. I hope it carries on.”
Coming from a role that is regarded as one of the most difficult to sing in musical theatre, full of huge songs like Gethsemene (see clip below), so the silliness of Rocky Horror is welcome light relief for Forster. After performances of Jesus Christ Superstar, the cast couldn’t even meet fans at the stage door because of the need to rest their voices immediately.
“As Brad isn’t as difficult to sing I can relax a bit more, have a glass of wine after the show, that sort of thing. With those high notes in Jesus Christ Superstar, I’m literally screaming, so it’s nice to chill out. I leave Rocky in March, but it’s so much fun if there was an opportunity to come back, I’d do it.”
The tour will hit Forster’s home town of Sunderland, but his family, including his Liverpool-born mum, have already been to see the show – and seen him in some compromising positions. For those unfamiliar with Rocky Horror, Brad gets up to some extremely saucy shenanigans (much like everybody else).
“Ohmigod!” Forster blurts. “My family came to opening night, and of course I have to do some really embarrassing stuff, I was mortified. Oh my God, I was dying. But I’m playing a part, and it’s theatre, and in the end everyone was in hysterics.”
And it’s all thanks to a TV talent show. Of course, it wasn’t going to be an I-only-ever-sang-in-the-shower-before X Factor sob story that would come out on top during Superstar, and when it came to the crunch the winner had to have been someone who had already cut their teeth on stage. Forster had toured the world in the show Thriller Live, but has never performed on the Liverpool Empire stage before (in fact, the last time that show came to town, it featured Nathan James, who was booted off Superstar amid tales of getting up Andrew Lloyd Webber’s nose with his rock star ego).
Forster was initially weary that was the sort of thing that could happen. “When I got into the boot camp stage, I wasn’t too sure I wanted to go – because you don’t know how you’re going to come across and what you’ll be asked to do,” he says. “But I knew that if I was just myself and I wasn’t going to go on and do silly things just to be on camera, that was the best way to do it, really.”
It all paid off, and the show’s director Laurence Connor ordered Forster to put his own character into Jesus – after all, the public had voted for what they had seen and liked of him. Andrew Lloyd Webber took to Twitter on the opening performance of the tour to say it was the happiest night of his life – and Forster agrees.
“It was amazing that we’d created something brand new from something so established,” he says. “I think the show’s success has been down to our absolute belief in it – I had listened to it all through my teenage years and I know Tim and Mel felt the same about it. Everyone was fully committed to the vision.”
Keeping himself busy Forster has released an album, Acoustic Covers, and hopes to work on another this year. “Superstar completely changed my life and my position in the business, and I have already benefited so much,” he says.
The Rocky Horror Show comes to theLiverpool Empire for one week from February 11 to 16. Jesus Christ Superstar returns to the Echo Arena on March 15.