Jeff Anderson Rocks The Music Box
The TV talent show graduate on life after Jesus Christ Superstar and performing at the Waterfront Hall this Christmas
There is a moment in the YouTube clip of Jeff Anderson belting out 'A Whole Lolla Love' on ITV's Superstar – sans Led Zeppelin's naughtier lyrics, of course – when the camera cuts to judge Dawn French showing a whole lotta appreciation.
When I mention this to the 23-year-old Newtownards man, he laughs. 'Yes, I did meet Dawn and she was a very nice lady. You see her on television and she's hilarious, but when you meet her, she's very caring.'
He may not have gone on to win the talent show, but Anderson has managed to forge a career for himself in the business that is show nevertheless. His voice obviously has something to do with that – but his looks are important, too.
Anderson is, after all, a young, fashionably bearded, former rugby player who is, as they say, very easy on the eye. 'Thank you very much,' he replies, modestly. 'I suppose [looks do matter] a bit, but it depends on the role. It's always to do with the character.'
As the character that Anderson was competing for in the show that made his name was none other the son of God – for a new production of Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar – a certain hirsute, slightly rugged look was also important. This Christmas, however, Anderson can look forward to playing himself as the special West End guest in Peter Corry's entertaining annual The Music Box extravaganza at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.
Anderson is already acquainted with Corry – singer, actor, director and all round show biz nice guy – having performed under his direction in amateur productions, including in a youthful production of Les Misérables.
Produced by and starring Corry, The Music Box is a journey through an array of Christmas gems past and present, from traditional seasonal classics right through to contemporary hits, featuring the finest local school choirs and individual performers like Anderson who have made their names in the West End.
Although his CV includes key roles at an early age, Anderson's entry into the glitzy world of West End musicals and hobnobbing with stars happened more or less by chance. Rugby football was his first career choice. He explains the change of plan.
'I did A levels in PE and IT at school, and although I also took theatre studies, my focus at the time was on being a rugby player. I usually played in the back row for Ulster juniors, but when I was playing in the second row during the Schools Cup Final, I dislocated my right shoulder, which was very painful.'
After keyhole surgery, it became obvious that rugby's loss was music theatre's gain. In hindsight, this wasn't exactly surprising for Anderson – after all, his very talented family could probably take on the von Trapps in terms of musicality.
'Performance is definitely in the family,' he explains. 'My older sister Kelly has got a fantastic singing voice and is doing a master's in singing. My brother Kyle was in Irish Popstars in 2001, and their single was the fastest selling single at the time. He understudied for Shane Filan of Westlife, then took over the role on tour. Ambition is something we all have.'
Anderson remembers clearly the sequence of events that took him to the Jesus Christ Superstar final round. 'I'd played Jesus in the Ulster Operatic version in 2011, so when I saw the ad in the paper, I went for it. It was nervewracking walking into the first audition at the Culloden Hotel, but I made it through to the afternoon session. Andrew Lloyd Webber was there with David Grindrod, which wasn't easy, but they tried to put me at ease.'
Anderson managed to master any nerves and perform well, even with the world famous English composer turned TV talent show guru present. 'Although I love my rock music,' he admits, 'I've always respected the musical form, and of course, Lloyd Webber is a genius.'
Many significant careers have begun following television talent shows for those not lucky enough to win – most notably, perhaps, for people like Susan Boyle and Olly Murs. So it's proving for Anderson, who has duetted with Louise Emmanuel and performed with Mel C since the show. On the ex-Spice Girl, he simply says that she's lovely: 'Quite shy and very peaceful to work with. But her voice is out of this world.'
Although Anderson has done a lot of work at home in Northern Ireland, but he's also played some of the biggest stages in the UK. On his personal highlights thus far, he says: 'On tour, there's definitely some glamour and it's great to have fun days off. I've played Wembley, which was amazing, and the O2 in London, plus the Odyssey in Belfast.'
Nowadays, he has an agent and divides his time between his parents' home in Newtownards and various parts of London, a city he likes. And offstage, Anderson is just as likely to be found with guitar in hand as a DVD of his next musical.
He's a member of a band, Wanted Alive, and has been writing, and recording, his own material. The influences are more likely to be Steve Tyler than Lloyd Webber, though. 'I love classic Aerosmith and Steve Tyler's vocal range is amazing.' Jeff's isn't bad either – catch him while you can in the Waterfront this Christmas.
The Music Box is showing at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast on December 20 – 21.