HE is the one and only! Yes, former pop star Chesney Hawkes is the swashbuckling prince who gets to choose who is the fairest of them all as he stars in the pantomime Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in Worthing.
“I’m playing the swashbuckling prince,” he says. “He’s Prince Benedict, the romantic lead, and I’m hoping to have some fun with it and get to do some slapstick comedy on stage.
“I can’t wait because I absolutely love panto – the audiences are the most vocal audience. In fact, they’re the last cast member.”
On stage at the Pavilion Theatre in Worthing from Friday December 1, Chesney’s prince will be up against the super Wicked Queen, played by West End star Niki Evans, the runner-up of The X Factor in 2007.
“I’ll have Chesney on his knees!” promises Niki, with a wicked grin on her face. “I’ve told him I’m the one and only in this pantomime because I’m a feisty strong independent woman. And I’ve told Snow White I’m going to take her down…”
Snow White is payed by West End actress Cassie Compton, a finalist in the first series of The X Factor who has been touring in The Wedding Singer and has appeared in TV’s Mr Selfridge and Call The Midwife. The show also stars CBeebies Swashbuckle Pirate Duo Richard David-Caine, who plays Herman The Henchman, and Joseph Elliott as Muddles, Louise Cannon as the Woodland Fairy, Simon Howe as the Dame – and there’s a special video appearance from comedian Jo Brand. It promises live music with Niki singing pop songs, glittering costumes and dazzling choreography.
One of the essential parts of panto is audience participation – and it doesn’t seem to faze either Chesney or Niki. “You are playing to the kids and you have to shout ‘Oh no, he’s not!’ when they shout to warn you because otherwise the follow-up isn’t there,” says Chesney, who last year starred as Prince Charming in Cinderella at The Harlequin Theatre in Redhill. “I have had moments when people have shouted to me from the audience and it can be off-putting. You can either ignore it or say something back.
“There is one particular memory I have when my four-year-old daughter was in the audience and I was performing. Suddenly she shouted, ‘Daddy!’ and she looked at me and said, “I’ve got an ice cream!”
Niki says, “I’ve had a tangerine thrown at me before. I do prefer it when the children shout – they can shout as much as they like because it doesn’t faze me at all.
“When you play the baddie, the little ones can get so angry, so involved. They boo and sometimes they scream. It’s all part of the fun.”
Chesney, 46, shot to fame in 1991 at the age of 19 when he played the lead in the film Buddy’s Song, playing a character juggling the challenges of school and dating with the ambition to become a world famous pop star. The One And Only was released from the soundtrack and was an instant hit, going straight in at No1. It spent five weeks there, and still tops Best Pop Song of the Nineties polls.
After that, he toured extensively and played the festival circuit with seven more singles charting. And then a series of television appearances almost ended in disaster. He needed surgery on a hip injury after appearing on Channel 4’s The Games, and after signing up for ITV’s Sing If You Can, he was nearly burnt to death as he sang with a fire burning around him. Finally, he joined the cast of ITV’s Dancing On Ice but just before filming began, he went on the ice alone and broke an ankle.
He summed up his accident-prone history in John Bishop’s Panto, the ITV comedy drama where Chesney played the role of a member of the cast forever damaging himself.
He and his American wife Kristina and their three children Casey, Jesse and Indi moved from the UK five years ago to Los Angeles, where he runs his production company Hawkes Productions, in Ventura Boulevard, mentoring young artists, writing songs and producing records for artists including Curt Smith from Tears For Fears. “Kristina did 17 years with me in England and then she missed America. It was my turn to move country and I don’t really get a chance to miss the UK because I’m always back here. The only thing I miss is the pubs.
“I used to work in LA, and it’s an adventure. Life is too short never to try new things and moving to America has opened up a lot of doors,” he says.
For 46-year-old Niki, she says entering The X Factor back in 2007 launched her current career. With a singing voice that spans a seven octave vocal range, she starred in the leading role in the award-winning Blood Brothers in London’s West End followed by a national tour and she played Paulette in the West End run of Legally Blonde. She has performed all over the world with stars including Kim Wilde and Heather Small, and more recently performed with John Barrowman at Symphony Hall.
“Before The X Factor, I never thought I could do this kind of thing in a million years,” Niki says. “I’ve never had a singing lesson and my voice is better now than ever. But for women of my age, there is a lack of parts.
“So this is a panto I’m really looking forward to. And there are no egos involved – the audience will be able to see that right from the start.”
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is at the Pavilion Theatre, Marine Parade, Worthing, from Friday December 1-Monday January 1, with performances at 10.15am, 2pm, 6pm and 7pm. Tickets £12.50-£24.50. There are also special performances: OAP Special at 2pm on Wednesday December 6, Signed Performance at 2pm on Sunday December 17, and a Relaxed Performance at 2pm on Thursday December 21. Phone 01903 206206 or visit worthingtheatres.co.uk.
Above: Niki Evans as the Wicked Queen
Main picture, top: Chesney Hawkes as the Prince
Below: Chesney with Cassie Compton as Snow White
Above: Simon Howe as the Dame with Muddles, played by Joseph Elliot
Below: Chesney and Niki with Richard David-Cairne as Herman the Henchman
Above: Louise Cannon is the Woodland Fairy
Below: Jo Brand makes a special video appearance