Dale is off to Chicago

Dale Meeks is returning to his roots for a two-week dose of razzle-dazzle.

Dale Meeks is returning to his roots for a two-week dose of razzle-dazzle. Sam Wonfor catches up with the North-East actor.

It was a sad day for Emmerdale fans when Geordie cast member Dale Meeks said his goodbyes in the summer.

And it was a sad day for Dale, 30, as he freely admits.

"I didn't want to go. I loved my time there," he says. "We laughed a lot and I made some life-long friends. It was a shame I had to leave, and I think lots of people felt disappointed."

Dale's character, Simon Meredith, a fishmonger who went on to become a binman, had apparently run his course, prompting a dual exit (bizarrely written by Dale's brother, Phillip) into the Costa Rican sunset for him and his fellow-refuse-disposing friend, Ivan.

"In the end it became the logical thing to do. The cast had to be cut and things were suddenly all about the family units.

"All of my screen family and characters who I was close to had left. Simon and Ivan were on their own. Excitingly though, the door has been left open, so you never know what might happen."

And it's not as if Dale, who used to live in South Shields, is desperate for the work.

No sooner had the news been announced than he was getting calls from the bigwigs at Chicago: The musical, HQ.

"I got the call during my last month on Emmerdale," he says, referring to the conversation, which resulted in him taking the transparent role of hapless husband, Amos in an all-singing, all-dancing touring production of Bob Fosse's murderous (and multi-award-winning) musical.

For the uninitiated, the plot finds "Mr Cellophane" Amos married to murderess (and Chicago chorus girl), Roxie Hart who, in turn, finds herself competing with jail-mate and fellow killer Velma Kelly for the attentions of publicity-seeking lawyer, Billy Flynn. The show brings a slice of razzle-dazzle to Sunderland Empire Theatre from next Tuesday.

Known on the musicals circuit for his founding role of Ginger in Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Beautiful Game, former Byker Grove member Dale had also been around the block once or twice when it came to Chicago.

"I did a couple of student productions of the show," he says. "I've played Billy and basically all the other male parts too - apart from Amos and Mary Sunshine.

"It's definitely my favourite musical and it's great to be doing it on this scale now. The audiences are packing in and are loving it, which is always nice. I had thought the film (the 2002 movie starring Renee Zellwegger and Catherine Zeta Jones) would have satisfied people's appetite for the show, but I'm pleased to see that it hasn't. They love it."

Dale stars alongside former Brookside actress Jennifer Ellison, who has returned to the role of Roxie after a show-stopping performance in the West End production of the show.

"I had seen her at various dos and that, but I'd never worked with her before," he says. "She's such a lovely, genuine person. It's great to be working with her now."

And they could be working together for a long time to come.

"The tour runs until next September (2007), so I might be with it until then. There will be some flexibility, so if a TV job comes up that I want to do or something else comes up that I fancy ... we'll just wait and see.

"It's important to be able to enjoy your current career situation without getting hung up on what will come next, but it's also important not to languish and make sure you keep a few irons in the fire, so to speak. Having said that, I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to be doing next."

For now, Dale, who doubles as lead singer and harmonica player for soul, rhythm and blues outfit Shake Ya Tailfeather, is very happy to have a full orchestra to get him in the show-time mood every night.

"Listening to the band every night is my favourite part of the show. They do this really fantastic version of Mr Cellophane. It doesn't matter how tired or down you might be feeling, when you hear them strike up, you feel better and ready for the show."

* Chicago: The Musical plays Sunderland Empire Theatre from November 7 to 18. For tickets, call (0870) 602-1130 or visit www.livenation.co.uk/sunderland


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