By Jay Darcy
Jake Quickenden has had quite the career. He received recognition for appearing on the ninth (2012) and eleventh (2014) series of The X Factor, before being runner-up in series 14 of I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! (2014) and winning the tenth series of Dancing on Ice (2018). He has also appeared as a contestant on Ninja Warrior UK (2019) and Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins (2021) and a guest on Dish Up: An Easier Way to Cook (2015). As an actor, he is best-known for his stage roles, though he did have the semi-regular role of Woody on Hollyoaks in 2019.
Quickenden’s first foray into theatre was Dreamboys in 2018. Dreamboys is a male revue brand with touring theatre shows and nightclub residencies, known for its striptease performances and its dancers’ distinctive toned physiques. Also in 2018, he starred as the title character in the pantomime Peter Pan – a Musical, and in 2019, he played Prince Charming in Cinderella.
Quickenden’s first ‘proper’ theatre role, however, was Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, in which he played Berger. He’s currently starring as Willard in Footloose, which arrives in Manchester at the end of this month.
In anticipation of the musical’s arrival, Quickenden sat down with me to chat about his crazy career.
Quickenden told me that he never anticipated a career in musical theatre until Hair. The pantomimes gave him a taste of the stage, but lots of celebrities star in pantos. Musicals, meanwhile, require more commitment and talent (my words, not his). Quickenden candidly admitted that he never thought he’d get the part in Hair, but since doing the tour, he’s fallen in love with musicals.
Quickenden’s career is very interesting: he stars in musicals and plays football. As somebody incredibly interested in gender and intersectionality, I had to ask him about his experiences in these two very different industries.
“Some people are too scared to do what they wanna do,” he put it passionately. However, he believes the tides are changing, what with sportsmen – even footballers – coming out as gay. He also finds it ridiculous that certain careers are considered “masculine” and “feminine” – including his former career as a bricklayer. He said he doesn’t even think about masculinity, femininity and sexuality in the theatre; he’s just amazed by the sheer talent of everybody – especially in Footloose, where the whole cast play an instrument.
This led me to ask him if he ever feels out of place as a TV-personality-turned-musical-theatre-star surrounded by people who are trained in the craft. He told me that he did at first, but this made him want to work harder. He knew he had to prove himself and show that he deserved his place. He added that, whilst name recognition is an asset, he also has to go through the audition process; he is not just offered these roles because of who he is.
Whilst Quickenden knows that there was some scepticism when he crossed over into musical theatre, he believes that he proved himself with Hair and hopes critics and audiences alike enjoy his performance in Footloose. He wants us to remember, though, that they are not going to a Jake Quickenden show; it’s Footloose – and he just happens to be a part of it.
I also asked him about the pressure of playing an iconic character (Willard) in an iconic musical (Footloose) based on an iconic film, in which he was played by an iconic actor (Chris Penn). Quickenden never worried too much about this because everyone plays Willard differently- he was never expected to imitate Penn. The bigger pressure is just starring in Footloose, period!
Although he had seen the original Footloose film, he was never a huge fan. Starring in the musical, though, has made him realise just how fantastic it is. “There’s something for everyone”, he told me. “There are so many layers to it”. In essence, if you like musical theatre, you’ll love Footloose.
“The crowd don’t get a second to breathe – and neither do we!”
Whilst Quickenden has only just begun starring in his second musical theatre role, he dreams of playing the male leads in Wicked and Ghost: Fiyero and Sam, respectively. With Hair and Footloose, Quickenden has proved that he can take on iconic characters (and honour them whilst making them his own), so Fiyero and Sam sure are possibilities.
Footloose plays at Manchester Opera House from 28th February until 5th March, before continuing its UK tour throughout 2022. Darren Day stars alongside Jake Quickenden as Reverend Moore. Are you ready to cut loose?
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