BWW Interviews: Johnny Partridge Talks New Album, 'Tumble' And CATS!
"Gymnastics does not come very naturally to me. I keep worrying I'm going to knock out some teeth, or break my collarbone, or something," says Johnny Partridge.
Theatre fans might know him most recently as Zach in A Chorus Line; soap watchers will recognise him as Christian from EastEnders; reality TV viewers will remember him as a judge on 'Over The Rainbow' as Andrew Lloyd Webber searched for a girl to lead the cast of The Wizard Of Oz.
Now, however, he's putting himself through the judging process on prime-time television as one of the contestants on 'Tumble'.
"When I look in the mirror, I see me warts and all, and I never hide away from that," he says. "I turned 43 this year. You could think, 'What's the point of challenging myself? I've got a nice life, why want any more?' But I think it's even more important the older I get to find challenges for myself and put myself in a situation where I have to see what I can do under pressure. And there's going to be nothing more pressurised than going out there on Saturday nights!
"Dancing always came easy for me - it was natural for me. I was always the sort of kid that if I didn't find it easy the first time, I wouldn't do it. This is a monumental physical challenge for me, but it's as much a mental challenge. When you're young, you don't care - you'll throw yourself into it without thinking of the things that could go wrong. Now I think about all of them! I've got an opportunity to really test myself."
Fortunately, he's also got a new project with which he's rather more comfortable - his album, 'Dames Dudes and Cowboys Too', stemming from his well-received shows last year.
"It's a celebration of the fact that I'm still here!" he laughs. "It was really great to see so many people who know me for something else coming to one of my shows and finding out what I do! This is me being able to finally show people - who do maybe know me for something different - what I do, and in the record see me for who I actually am, not the people I play."
He reflects a little on his mother's illness due to dementia. "She's doing a lot better, and as a family we're doing a lot better," he says. "And my mum has always loved to hear me sing - even now, when I sing, it takes her back to that place where I'm a little boy dancing round the living room with a tea-towel on my head, singing 'Wuthering Heights'.
"Through this album I was able to find some inspiration again - and some self-inspiration again. The older you get, in some ways the natural reaction is to take your foot slightly off the pedal. Maybe you can't work as hard as you did when you were 20. I've been making some peace with the whole situation, and it gave me the kick I needed to go, 'No, John, the album is something you do want to do.'
"I've been asked lots of times to do lots of different records, and it's never really appealed to me. It's always been about the live shows - I've never wanted to be a pop star or a recording artist."
He's clearly still really enthused about live performance, talking about his panto engagement in Swansea this year ("I love doing panto. They're such hard work. They're full-on multi-million-pound shows - my costumes are ridiculous - I'll be smothered in Swarovski, but that's quite nice") as well as the return of CATS to the West End this winter ("I am thrilled that's coming back! It's an icon of musicals. It changed so much in musical theatre - it was innovative and ground-breaking but it also changed the audience's perceptions of what could be achieved in a musical. I have really fond memories of it").
So it's unsurprising that the album also comes with new gig engagements across the UK, beginning with a launch at the Borderline in September.
And you'll be able to hear covers as well as original material: "But you don't feel like you're jumping from genre to genre," he explains. "They're all storytelling songs, and they have a strong narrative. I've found the whole process liberating and exciting.
"Actually," he adds, "I'm so grateful that even now - old show-hag that I am - I'm still able to have these new experiences and feel inspired."
Johnny Partridge debut album 'Dames Dudes + Cowboys Too' is out on September 15th on Big Hand Records.
Live show: Borderline, London - September 17th , 2014