The first thing you notice when entering Dean Chisnall’s dressing room at Theatre Royal Drury Lane is how unbelievably cozy it is. “I spend so much time in here so I wanted my dressing room to be nice and comfortable.”
Dean has taken over the lead role of Shrek in Shrek the musical in February after understudying the part for just under a year. So how does a regular working day look like for Dean these days? “On a normal day I get up around 10am and then I either play golf with some friends and chill out that way or I just spend time at home, walk the dog and so on. My life has changed so much because of this job.” Dean tells me. “This show is really hard and demanding. It takes everything out of you. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
“I’m in make up at 5 o’clock for an hour and a half. Actually it’s non-stop from 5 o’clock although I don’t do very much. I just sit in a chair. But you have to be quite concentrated because if you’re not you can get irritated. That’s the difficult thing. You have to zone out and concentrate and then do the show. To most people it doesn’t sound like that much of an exciting day but to me it is.”
One thing that comes across straight away when you hear Dean talking about his work is how much he enjoys doing what he does.
“I love my job and I’m dedicated to it and I wouldn’t let anything get in the way of it. Some people might think that is wrong. But I’m lucky to be in this position, to have been given this opportunity. Someone’s put their faith in me to do this. And I will do everything I can.”
And this obviously applies to every job Dean has done since he started out as a performer. He tells me: “No sick day since June 2008 and even then I had to be thrown out of the theatre. I got a throat infection in Never Forget and went to see the doctor who told me I needed some time out. I never had a day off sick until then since I started the business in 2005. And I was gutted. Absolutely gutted!”
“This (Shrek the musical) is totally different because – even in the ensemble last year – it is such a huge show to do. It’s very tiring. You’re either dressed up as a pig (Dean’s ensemble part prior to taking over as Shrek) or you’re costume changing into something else. But to take on the part of Shrek and not have had a sick day so far – touch wood! But then I pride myself on my attendance and my attitude towards my work and my craft. It’s important. Some people in the business take things very easy so to speak but I’m not one of them and I never will be. Like I said, someone has given me this opportunity so I will do all I can. But to not have had a sick day on this show I’m really proud of because if you’re not feeling well and you get the make-up on it’s hard. You really don’t want to do this and you have to be sensible.”
After playing this part full-time for several months Dean still remembers the first time he ever went on as an understudy quite vividly. “It was five minutes into the show. I’ll never forget it because for your first show you want to be prepared. And I was prepared – as prepared as you can be having done my cover runs and all – but it was quite early after we’d done press night. We did five minutes of the show then the fire alarm went off. It was a strange evening. Nigel had no voice anyway to start with. So we all went outside and I remember standing at stage door hearing them call my name and then the company manager came and told me I was on. The make-up normally takes an hour and a half, that night it took 25 minutes. They plastered something on my face and they did a great job and made it look absolutely fine. But by the end of the show it was literally falling off my face.”
With Shrek coming to an end in February next year it’s time to start thinking about the future. So what’s next for Dean then?
“There’s so much I want to achieve but you never know what’s going to happen, do you? But one thing I’m very proud of: No one can ever take this away from me. If no one ever gives me work again I can always say I’ve sat in this dressing room and I’ve stood on that stage at Theatre Royal Drury Lane. I literally get to live my dream every day.” And he continues “I think this is my favourite job so far. It doesn’t get any bigger than this really. In the realms of musical theatre at present there aren’t many bigger shows and bigger parts in town.”
But then this is not Dean’s first experience at playing a leading role in a West End show. “I loved Never Forget. I was a leading man in it at quite a young age. And it’s funny because I grew up listening to two shows I always wanted to do and still want to do: Les Mis and especially Phantom. That’s where I see my vocal strength. So when I got a call saying ‘They’d like to see you for the Take That musical’ I genuinely thought it was a joke. And if I’m totally honest I went in expecting nothing. Of course, at every audition you try your best even if your heart is not totally in it. And mine probably wasn’t because I thought I had no chance. I went in and sang a Barry Manilow song – and I had a blast. The director and I had a really nice chemistry. But I thought that was it. So when I got told they were really interested in me for the Gary Barlow part I thought my agent was taking the mickey out of me. But six weeks later I got the part and I have to say I had a really good time. I miss it in a way. It was a fun show and I think it could have turned into another Mamma Mia. It just wasn’t the right time. It deserved to have a much longer life.”
With a chuckle he adds “Doing that show I thought I was going to die. The choreography was tough! I can move but I’m not a dancer and in this one I had to somehow get away with it. But then Gary Barlow isn’t a dancer either so I guess I might have been perfectly cast.”
Never Forget certainly attracted a special audience and the five leads got a lot of attention – female attention in particular. Is this something Dean misses these days? “No! I’m not interested in attention to be honest. I like to say I’m ambitious and I love my job and it’s very kind when people want to support me and I see that as a real privilege. But I’m not yearning for the attention. I have no desire to be famous. I like to continue to be a success in my job but the attention and the fame thing really isn’t important to me. I don’t think it’s wrong for people to want that but I’m just not that kind of person. And Never Forget was something I’d never seen in my life. It was mental sometimes. We literally got assaulted – in the nice sense of the word.”
“It’s been four years since Never Forget closed. I still think it’s a shame. But I made some good friends in the show especially the director and the producer – they both play cricket with me!”
Sport is a huge part of Dean’s life. Besides playing cricket he is also a keen golfer. “Obviously I love my cricket. I grew up playing it. But a few years ago I discovered my love for golf. It’s so addictive! Other people will go to the pub to relax or they go for a night out. My relaxation and my release of any stress that I’ve had throughout the week is to play golf. You get some fresh air, get to socialise with your friends and you get to play a very highly skilled sport. My dad always played golf and I didn’t really see the attraction back then but five or six years ago I started to take it quite seriously. It really is such a lovely way to relax.”
Dean is eligible for “Best Takeover in a role” in the upcoming 2013 Whatsonstage Awards. With nominations being open for voting right now one does wonder how important awards are to him.
“I’m so competitive! And everyone wants to win, of course they do. But I feel like the show deserves a bit more recognition than it’s had. And it would feel like such a triumph not just for me but for anyone who’s ever understudied. I’m sure there are other people in the category who will get shortlisted who won’t have done the route that I’ve done. I’ve been an understudy for so many years and then to get the part of Shrek – it would be a triumph for everyone who has ever covered anything. That’s my main reason for wanting to win. Obviously personal pride comes into it as well but I’d rather win it for everybody else to be honest.”
You can catch Dean as Shrek at Theatre Royal Drury Lane until the 24th of February 2013. For more info about the show and to book tickets visit http://www.shrekthemusical.co.uk.
And if you feel like nominating Dean for the 2013 Whatsonstage Awards you can do so here: http://awards.whatsonstage.com/awards/nominations/best-takeover-in-a-role.