AFTER five years in New York and Las Vegas and three on London's West End stage, the Broadway rock comedy Rock Of Ages will place its tongue in its cheek in York from Tuesday.
Ben Richards and Noel Sullivan will lead the cast at the Grand Opera House in an Eighties jukebox musical that sets a Los Angeles love story against "epic rock songs that you don’t get to hear live anymore”. Songs such as Don't Stop Believin', We Built This City, The Final Countdown, Here I Go Again and I Want To Know What Love Is.
On tour from May to November, the show casts Richards as rock god Stacee Jax in a tale of dreams, romance and rock where small-town girl Sherrie Christian (Cordelia Farnworth) and big-city rocker Stacee fall in love to the "ultimate rock mix tape".
Ben has revelled in the the opportunity to indulge in his "inner rock god" in Chris D'Arienzo's musical.
"I'm very late to this show, as it was in London for three years and I wasn't in it there," says the former Footballers Wives star. "But when the script came through for the tour, I loved it straightaway. It's witty, it's camp, it's full of great American Eighties rock music, and to be playing a rock god in my advanced years – I'm 42 – is fantastic.
"Growing up, I listened to AC/DC and Whitesnake and saw them in concert in Brighton, so I grew up on this kind of music, and this show seemed a great chance to do it on stage – and it's probably my last chance to do a role like this."
Playing Stacee Jax adds to the variety that Ben likes to maintain in a career that has embraced theatre, television and film.
Take these two contrasting stage roles, for example: "I did Tick in town [London] in Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, dressing in drag at the Palace Theatre, and had to cut my hair very short and grew a big beard to play Bill Sikes (CORRECT) – I'm a massive fan of Oliver Reed – in Oliver! at the Sheffield Crucible, which was great fun," he says. "I'd always wanted to play that theatre," he says.
Ben could have made his York debut earlier in the Dolly Parton Broadway show: 9 To 5: The Musical in February last year, but America called instead, leading him to leave the tour before the Grand Opera House run.
"It's nothing personal," he says. "I was just heading to LA to do a pilot season when 9 To 5 came to York, where my mate Mark Moraghan took over."
What did he learn from his Los Angeles experience?
"You go out there, selling yourself massively; it's full-on," he says. "But is it something I'll go back and do again? I don't know. I guess, for me, it was something I wanted to try out; but would I go and live there? I don't know. The standard of living is great; the weather is lovely, but it's soulless; it's very much an industry city."
Home, instead, is in Hertfordshire and Ben's focus is on playing Stacee Jax. "I see him as a rock god at the top of his game: sort of Axl Rose meets Jon Bon Jovi, but lost in himself, unaware of anything but the world of Stacee Jax," he says.
Lead singer Stacee is on his last tour with his band Arsenal before going solo, when he is compromised into playing a farewell gig at the grimy Los Angeles club where they began after the owner reminds him he was there when Stacee "teabagged" a llama in a feat of rock excess.
Keen that it should never become public knowledge, Stacee is happy to play the club one last time to save it from closure, but matters quickly take a turn for the worse.
"In the mayhem, things don't work out for him as he would want," says Ben. "And it's fun to watch his decline in what's essentially an Eighties' rock fest of fun and frolics."
Rock Of Ages runs at the Grand Opera House, York, from Tuesday, September 2 to September 6. The September 1 performance has been cancelled since the autumn brochure was published. Shows start at 7.30pm, Tuesday to Thursday; 5pm and 8.30pm, Friday; 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york