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Why Bill never takes his eye off the ball

By Herald Express  |  Posted: January 03, 2013

  • pride: Bill Kenwright prepares to receive his Honorary Doctorate from Nottingham Trent University

  • extraordinary singers and dancers: Amanda Coutts as Pearl and Kristofer Harding as Rusty in Starlight Express Eric Richmond

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THEATRE supremo and chairman of Everton Football Club, Bill Kenwright took time out of his hectic schedule to talk about the hit musical Starlight Express, which comes to Torquay later this month

"I've got nine scripts on my desk to look at, a tour poster for Marti Pellow as I'm working with him, emails from the chief executive of Everton about re-negotiations of a player and lots more," he said.

Bill has been involved with producing and directing some of the top musicals and shows in the West End and Broadway including Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the Wizard of Oz, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and of course Starlight, which runs in the Bay from January 15 to 26.

With lyrics by Richard Stilgoe and choreography by Arlene Phillips, Starlight Express has been seen by almost 20million people and gross box office world-wide is estimated at more than £270million.

The show opened at the Apollo Victoria in London on March 27, 1984.

In April 1991 Starlight Express, with a score written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, became the second longest running musical in London theatre history at that time.

In 1993 the entire creative team re-grouped to revise the show for a new generation and it's been packing out theatres since.

"There are very few musicals which can be performed anywhere in the world and Starlight is one of them," he Bill.

"With the cast of Starlight on roller skates , it's something you don't see on stage in another show. The team are also extraordinary singers and dancers as well. To be in this show you have to go through a vigorous course of several months of skating.

"It's also done so well as it's got some great songs. For the first time ever Andrew Lloyd Webber has allowed his 19-year-old son Al to write an upbeat song for it. Andrew is always looking of ways to improve the score, so he's replaced one with a song written by Al, so the dynasty continues."

He says the Princess Theatre has been booking some great West End calibre shows in recent years and he's thrilled the venue is excelling.

"In the last 10 years it's had a real resurgence. It was always the place not to go unless it was summer," said Bill.

"There have been some really good managers and people who have really worked hard to make sure the venue isn't forgotten.

"It shows sustainable growth that we'll be bringing a massively expensive show to Torquay at the start of the year."

Every production Bill touches turns to gold and he puts the success down to a good team of staff around him and his passion for each show.

"It doesn't matter whether it's Starlight, Blood Brothers or Dreamboats and Petticoats, you have to treat each with a huge affection and respect," he said.

"There's no doubt I'm driven. I can't sit down and watch the television without having a script, spreadsheet, team sheet and negotiation tablets next to me."

Liverpudlian Bill, who is chairman and a major shareholder of his beloved Everton, says he goes to watch his team play 'in the little spare time' he has.

"It's a happy time but a trial when I see them play, but I haven't enjoyed a game since I bought the club," he joked.

"The football experience is certainly one which lifts me, especially when we win and we're having quite a good season."

His club are riding high in the top half of the premiership and he's enjoying the success.

Bill, who is also well known for his appearances in the TV soap opera Coronation Street, has received numerous accolades for work in theatre.

He was given an honorary doctorate from both Liverpool University and Nottingham Trent University, an honorary fellowship from Liverpoool's John Moore's University and an Honorary Professorship from Thames Valley University in London.

He's also been awarded a CBE and a lifetime achievement award from the Theatrical Management Association.

He feels privileged to be recognised. "It's never for a second made a difference to my life, but it's lovely to get these awards," he said.

"It's great for my mum, she keeps asking is it a knighthood.

"These awards won't take away my nerves on the opening night of a production or the pain if we lose at Everton."

Despite creating more than 400 shows, as well as films and TV shows, he said he's got a lot more to give. I don't think I've started yet in my life, I have to get it right one day so I will just keep working," he said.

"It's a dream of mine for Everton to win the Champion's League. I've also got a beautiful movie coming out called Broken in the Spring and I'm directing my latest show Save the Last Dance in January. My work just never stops."

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