IF Les Dennis usually abides by that age-old showbiz rule about not working with children and animals he’s not letting on.
“My little girl loves the theatre and the fact there are two dogs in the show means she will be coming into the theatre with me,” says the Liverpudlian actor, sounding glad to be in something suitable.
“With it being half term they’ve put in extra shows – and we’re renting a cottage in the Peaks, so I’m praying there’s no snow so we can get in and out.”
The multiple award-winning Legally Blonde is currently on a two-week stop in Sheffield, following a sell-out run in the West End.
Les, pictured, last in Tudor Square as Mr Fulton in High School Musical 2, joined just two weeks ago, swiftly getting in sync with the story of Chihuahua-loving Elle Woods’ mission to win back her ex beau by following him to Harvard Law School.
“The company has been doing the show for six months,” says Les, having opened in Sheffield on Tuesday with Blood Brothers/X Factor star Niki Evans taking over Claire Sweeney’s Paulette role.
“It’s like jumping on a speeding train when you join this show because everybody else is up to speed. But it’s such a fantastic show to do and I’m loving it.”
It also sees Les playing another American. “High School Musical was very much aimed at a younger audience. Legally Blonde is totally different, as is the American I’m playing; whereas the other was quite a nice cuddly guy, Professor Callahan is not that at all.
“But it’s lovely to get to play a hard-edged, calculating, cold-hearted lawyer and it’s a real kind of fun, morality tale but with some great songs as well and that kind of show taps into people at the moment – with all the austerity measures, we need cheering up.”
The show reunites Les with X Factor finalist and Dancing On Ice star Ray Quinn, with whom he previously appeared on Channel 4 soap opera Brookside.
“Ray was about 10 when I did Brookside. He was part of the family that Bernie Nolan was the mum of and I was a dodgy car dealer trying to hit on Bernie.”
If the thought of them ending up in the same musical all these years on seems unlikely, then how about the idea of such a film, now 11 years old, being turned into a musical in 2009. Then again, award-winning director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell has form with another film-to-stage hit, Hairspray.
“You would think the same about Hairspray because the John Waters movie was really off the wall and quirky. When it became a musical...I couldn’t see that, but it worked so well.
“Musicals today based on films using bubblegum music, each song progresses the story – it isn’t just like a love song or a ballad for the sake of it. It’s very clever and Jerry is the master of that. He proved it with Hairspray and has done it again with this.”
“In fact, I watched the movie while I was rehearsing and thought ‘It’s crying out to be a musical’, having seen what they’ve done with it. You think ‘that’s where that song goes and it needs that song’.
“It’s not evident at first but it becomes evident.
“Then today I passed a poster today for Titanic The Musical and I thought ‘What?’ Well, we certainly know how it ends.”
Legally Blonde has a happier ending, of course, but only in part thanks to Les’ character, a typical mean legal eagle who gives Elle and other would-be lawyers something of a reality check.
“My big song is literally telling these guys, if they want to get there they’ve got to concentrate.Blood in the water...you’ve got to be a shark.
“It’s really Emmett Richmond who teaches her that law is more than that. I don’t think Prof Callahan has taken a pro bono case in his life, I don’t think he proves to be the best role model, whereas Emmett is more likely to do things for the community.”
Legally Blonde is here until February 25. Tickets: £22-£42 from 0114 249 6000 or sheffieldtheatres.co.uk
From joker to choker - former funnyman seeks heavier roles
BE it his time alongside telly joker Russ Abbott or painful scenes on Ricky Gervais’ Extras with 15 years of Family Fortunes in between, the career of Les Dennis has been anything but predictable.
Then the amiable Scouser says we maybe shouldn’t be surprised if we re-examine some of those earliest TV moments – prime time variety was his bread and butter 20 years ago.
“Being part of the Russ Abbott Show was almost like being in weekly Rep because in each sketch you had to be a new character,” he recalls over a coffee. “And we did songs as well.
“I always wanted to consciously do more drama, having done it when I was at school with Clive Barker, the horror writer and movie director who now lives in Hollywood.
“I was part of that group of actors that came out of the school John Lennon had gone to. But I went down the comedy variety route and then made the effort to do more plays and theatre.
“I think people are always surprised when they see my CV and that I’ve done so much straight and musical work, Me & My Girl, Hairspray, Chicago, Kiss Me Kate.
“On my passport I used to say entertainer but now I actually feel I can put actor.”
After Legally Blonde he’s taking a one-man play about a comic to the Edinburgh Festival and is craving more serious roles.
“I always put my money where my mouth is in that sense; I go and work for Equity minimum to learn the craft and, as I get older, hopefully I will be eligible for those weightier parts.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I feel I’m paying my dues, but it’s a bit like turning the Titanic round; people say ‘Les Dennis is a gameshow host’ because that’s what they know me for.
“The thing about our business is you have to keep re-inventing because it’s such a changing business. If you don’t and stay where you are you will get stuck. The game shows are not hiring guys my age any more apart from Bruce.
“It’s an ever more youthful remit as far as presenters are concerned, and I’m not bitter about that because I want to do things that fire me.
“For my one man play I got reviews that said ‘ a revelation’. It’s what I always get. The one I was most proud of said ‘in years to come we may see him do Pinter and Miller and Beckett’ and I thought ‘Well, OK, they’re the roles I would relish’.”