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Judas betrays his sense of humour

Godspell opens in the North-East tonight. Barbara Hodgson finds one of the stars is a one-man show himself.

Godspell opens in the North-East tonight.

AN interview with Ryan Molloy proves a surreal experience. It takes in a mix of different voices and accents (on his part, not mine), a funny video hockey story and a Dutch girlfriend – plus it spans continents. And that’s all by telephone.

I was even expecting him to yodel. But more of that later.

The purpose of my call is actually to talk to Ryan about his role as Judas in the rock opera Godspell which opens at Sunderland Empire tonight.

But, scanning his very detailed biography, I’m not quite sure where to begin.

In true musical style, let’s start at the very beginning:

The 32-year-old grew up in North Shields – his parents still live in West Monkseaton – and he attended North Tyneside College. So far so sensible.

But he tells me he’s currently trying to buy a place in London which is better for work.

“It’s a crazy town man!” he says in an American accent. I’m trying to buy a flat but it’s about half a million pounds for a phone booth.

“It’s crazy!” but he is cheered up by “a great hairdresser called Bruno who styles my hair, so it’s worth it”.

He adopts a joke “luvvie” voice and frequently switches accents but he has, in fact, spent quite a lot of time in America.

As a 19-year-old, he joined his sister when she went to work as a nanny and ended up studying in Los Angeles at the University of California, graduating with an honours degree in drama. He also trained in theatre and arts in New York.

But it was back in England that he embarked on his acting career, and it ranges from Shakespeare – “an intense learning curve, hardcore,” he says – to Jerry Springer: The Opera, for which he won an Olivier Award in 2004 for best supporting actor.

His new role is as Judas in a new high-energy modern-day song-and-dance production of Godspell, the show which premiered in 1971 and became a Broadway hit. TV’s Grease Is The Word finalist Tom Bradley is now playing Jesus, replacing Boyzone star Stephen Gately who pulled out due to “contractual reasons”.

The show focuses on Jesus’ last days, which were, of course, somewhat hastened by the actions of Judas.

But Ryan is keen to stick up for the much-maligned disciple.

“He didn’t betray Jesus,” he insists. “He acknowledged him as being the son of God, he was the only one who did; the rest of the disciples didn’t.

“They were friends but then he was in a situation he couldn’t get out of.

“It’s about confusion and frustration and wanting things too fast. It feels terrible betraying a friend and the moment he does realise what he’s done, it’s a point of no return.”

But the first part of the show has moments of “high comedy”, he says.

“It becomes more serious and intense but they start off as a bunch of hippies hanging out and talking about the Good Samaritan and things.”

There’s hardly time to pause for breath when we move on to talk about Ryan’s parallel career as a soul artist. He’s only just arrived back from “doing a gig” in Monaco. He’s also been a support act for Jamiroquai and the Lighthouse Family and, in 2004, performed at The Prince’s Trust Gala at Wembley Arena.

When Holly Johnson was unable to take part, he was picked from 200 hopefuls to front the band Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and he played alongside such established artists as Seal, Grace Jones and Tattoo.

Yet Ryan could have had an entirely different career – in the world of stock car racing – were it not for a bad accident in America.

He becomes serious – briefly – only when he explains: “It was a pretty serious crash. The car split in half as it was hit from the front, rear and side. I had major concussion and bordered on a coma.”

He adds: “But I’m an adrenaline junkie – I’m always throwing myself out of planes. My producers are never happy when I say I’m going on holiday.

“I tell them I’m going to relax but I usually end up jumping off something.”

I also ask him about video hockey, a big pastime in America and played on huge screens.

His biography reveals he beat the reigning champion – a 12-year-old-girl – in Las Vegas.

He is highly amused at his success and especially the hullabaloo it caused, to the chagrin of the deposed champ. I think he’s since been beaten himself, but I can’t be sure.

And, finally, we come to the yodelling, in which he is said to be accomplished.

“I like to yodel,” he says. “It’s a good technique to warm-up, and a good way of attracting women.

“Or maybe a good way of repelling women... and of getting out of marriage.”

He explains: “I was nearly married to a Dutch lady and it was she who taught me to yodel. She was a champion yodeller.”

Is that true?

“Yes, but we went our separate ways. We took a clog each.”

Godspell is at Sunderland Empire from tonight until Saturday. For tickets, tel (0870) 602-1130 or visit www.SunderlandEmpire.org.uk

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