Maureen Nolan: ‘It’s really good, pure fun’

Luke Baker as Ren and Maureen Nolan as Vi Moore in rehearsal for Footloose. Picture by Matt Martin

Luke Baker as Ren and Maureen Nolan as Vi Moore in rehearsal for Footloose. Picture by Matt Martin

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The Nolan sisters have made something of a monopoly of the part of Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers in recent years – four of them have played the part in Willy Russell’s hit musical.

And while Maureen has had the chance to put her own stamp on the role – she played it at the Kings Theatre in Southsea in 2014 – it is not the only musical she’s starred in.

I would certainly like to play Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers one more time, but I’m having so much fun with this at the moment

Maureen Nolan

This is her second stint in Footloose playing Vi Moore in the show based on the 1984 screen sensation starring Kevin Bacon.

Footloose: The Musical tells the story of city boy Ren, who has to move to a rural backwater in America where dancing is banned. All hell breaks out as Ren breaks loose and soon has the whole town up on its feet. Featuring classic ’80s hits including Holding Out For A Hero, Almost Paradise, Let’s Hear It For The Boy and the unforgettable title track,

The film was nominated for a Golden Globe, and both the title song and Let’s Hear It For The Boy received Academy Award nominations.

Footloose: The Musical first opened on Broadway in 1998 where it ran for 709 performances, with a London production following in 2006, opening at the Novello Theatre following a UK tour.

The current tour also features former Pop Idol runner-up Gareth Gates, who has gone on to sell 5m records worldwide, in the role of Willard.

‘It’s really good, pure fun, actually,’ says Maureen. ‘It’s such a good musical and the music is great – I’d forgotten how good it is.

‘I did it about eight years ago and I do remember having great fun, but hearing Let’s Hear It For The Boy, Holding Out For A Hero, all these great songs again, is wonderful.

‘And this production is an actor/musician production, which makes it even more amazing, to see so much talent – the cast is so young and so talented.’

‘I haven’t seen the film for a long time but they keep to the same story because that’s based on truth.

‘A lot of’ 70s and ’80s musicals can be airy-fairy, but this has a substance to it. There’s a song I sing that wasn’t in the film called Can You Find It In Your Heart, which was written for the musical and is a beautiful song.’

And she even gets a chance to crack out some dance moves of her own – but not until the very end of the show.

‘They put me in the megamix at the end, I was praying they would.

‘I remember enjoying that bit so much because it gives you a chance – I’m not ballet dancing or anything, but it’s great to be in there with the youngsters and dancing.

‘And that’s when the audience, they really let themselves go as well and get up and have a dance too. They can jump up anytime anyway, it’s the kind of musical where you almost have to.’

As a member of the Nolan family, performing was always in Maureen’s blood – she’s been singing on stage since she was just nine.

‘My parents were professional singers. When we came over from Ireland they had an act called Tommy and Maureen’s Sweethearts of Song, and my mum was called Maureen too.

‘I think Denise was the first to say: “Can I come with you?” Then me, and one by one we all joined their act and became The Singing Nolans for a good 10 years really.

‘We did the working men’s clubs – we would never get away with it now with the schooling and stuff because we missed loads.

‘In those days you could finish your schooling at 15, which I did, so I didn’t take any exams, but my dad always encouraged us to read loads, so we’re all very good at English.

‘He used to hold quizzes and stuff on the road, and I suppose that was more our education than anything else.

‘It’s amazing that none of us – I don’t think so anyway – are numbskulls.

‘It was quite a mad time, but nowadays there aren’t those clubs to work in and we did a lot of the cabaret as well.’

Maureen was the only sister to be part of every line-up of The Nolans, which lasted for 31 years in the end. With I’m In The Mood For Dancing a huge hit in the UK in 1979, it was actually even bigger in Japan, where the sisters were among the first international acts to top the Japanese music chart.

‘Japan was our biggest market, we sold about 10m records and that was so funny because in England we had done loads of TV before we had any hits so our fans were aged six to 60, well nine to 90 actually.

‘But in Japan, it was eight to 18, a really young fanbase, which was new for us, and it was such an experience.

‘We’ve never worked as hard in our lives – they work like Trojans, 12 TV shows a day and just absolutely in a whirlwind. But they were very nice people and very family orientated. I’m In The Mood For Dancing was not only number one in the international charts, I think it was one of the first non-Japanese songs to be number one in the national charts, so that was great.

‘It was number 1 before we even got there. We were with Epic/Sony and they’d done this massive marketing campaign, so when we got there we didn’t know what hit us.

‘We were chased down the streets and everything – that never happened in England.’

While the group split in 2005, there was a reunion tour in 2009. Another was planned but younger sister Bernie died after her breast cancer spread before it could happen.

Does Maureen think they’ll perform together again?

‘I always say never say never. Linda’s out touring again in Menopause: The Musical at the moment, and obviously we all get together and we all still sing.

‘We were planning a tour as a tribute to Bernie after she passed away, but I think it was too soon. I don’t know, it would have to be the Zimmer frame tour, wouldn’t it?

‘We’ll have to have stairlifts and stuff on the stage.’

And as mentioned, the sisters have also become closely identified with the role of Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers, as four of them – Bernie, Denise, Linda, and Maureen – have played the role.

Looking ahead, after the Footloose tour finishes, Maureen says she’s been offered a few things already, but admits: ‘I would certainly like to play Mrs Johnstone one more time, but I’m having so much fun with this at the moment.

‘It’s really weird how that’s happened that four of us have done, it’s amazing really, and to be in the Guinness Book of Records for it as well. Before I took the role, I had only seen my sisters in it, I saw it 18 times, and the 19th time I saw someone else, and it’s always great. The whole secret is in the story, Willy Russell is a genius.

‘I think whoever you are, you can identify with the musical, and even today it’s quite relevant, given the financial situation of the world.’

Aside from her work in musicals, Maureen has appeared in several comedies, but has she ever felt a hankering to do more ‘straight’ acting?

‘I love doing comedy, it’s a great way to be someone else, and to get a laugh is such a drug, but I’d love to do a bit of straight acting. I’d like to do what I call proper acting.

‘It’s great to strike a chord in people’s lives and for them to think you’ve done a great job, that’s a wonderful feeling.’

n Footloose is at the Kings in Southsea from Monday, March 28 to Saturday April 2.

Tickets £25, Go to kingsportsmouth.co.uk or call the box office (023) 9282 8282.

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