Simply Splashing: in conversation with Kevin Clifton

Singin’ in the Rain – one of the most joyously uplifting, inventive musicals of our time – is touring the UK, bringing a star-spangled cast to The Bristol Hippodrome in May. Melissa Blease sits down with the show’s main man, Cosmo Brown, played by none other than former Strictly Come Dancing pro, Kevin Clifton…

Rain: we’ve all had enough of it. But spring is just around the corner, bringing showers that we can actually look forward to when Jonathan Church’s critically-acclaimed production of Singin’ in the Rain bursts into the Bristol Hippodrome. Based on Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s legendary 1952 musical of the same name, the production is starring none other than Kevin (Strictly Come Dancing; Burn The Floor; Rock of Ages) Clifton in the iconic role of super-smart, mega-energetic Cosmo Brown.

Singin’ in the Rain has always been one of my favourite movies, and my love of it goes way, way back to when I was little,” says Kevin. “It’s one of those amazing musicals that really, really influenced me – and it’s so uplifting! But the really special thing about doing the live production is that I was always a little bit obsessed with the character of Cosmo…”

But it wasn’t Kevin’s obsession with the role (played in the film by American dancing, singing and acting superstar Donald O’Connor) that led him to ‘being’ Cosmo; indeed, that backstory in itself is the stuff that musicals are made of.

I thought I might be too busy with other things to watch it, but I literally became an obsessed superfan within two weeks; I now know what watching Strictly is like

“When we were in full lockdown over Christmas 2020, my girlfriend Stacey and I were determined to make it feel Christmassy even though it was just the two of us,” Kevin recalls. “I noticed that Singin’ in the Rain was on TV and said, we’ll watch that – and when Stacey said she’d never even heard of it, I honestly thought she was joking! Anyway, we watched it, and she loved it too, and we had a laugh, with her videoing me singing and dancing along with Cosmo. After we’d watched it, Stacey said, ‘d’you know what, Kev? I think your perfect role would be Cosmo; I think it’s made for you’. I told her that would be my absolute dream come true! But I didn’t think too much about what I’d said at the time…”

Kevin may not have given too much thought to that Christmassy conversation – but the universe was definitely listening. “A couple of months later, my agent called me out of the blue and said, ‘here’s an interesting one: how do you feel about auditioning for Cosmo in Singin’ in the Rain?’ – just like that! But there was one major obstacle: I’d never tap danced in my life!”

Now it’s at this point that the Kevin/Cosmo story takes a really surreal turn. Kevin Clifton – a Strictly Come Dancing professional who appeared in multiple finals over seven years before finally bagging the winner’s gong with his celebrity partner and now-girlfriend Stacey Dooley in 2018 – couldn’t tap dance?

“I’ve danced all kinds of styles in my life, but never tap,” he says. “But I said to my agent, give me a couple of weeks and let’s see how I get on…” And if you’re looking for a role model in how ambition can turn your dreams into reality, look no further.

Above: Charlotte Gooch and the Singin’ in the Rain company

Kevin immediately went online and ordered a tap board and tap shoes, and started learning tap dancing on YouTube (“I was tapping away 24/7, driving Stacey nuts!”). Then – when he’d got the hang of the basics – he used his contacts to find a professional tap dancing teacher. “I found this brilliant guy called Ryan, but I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to say what I was auditioning for,” he says. “But Ryan said, ‘I’ve got a hunch of what you could be doing, so I’ll give you some information about me and you can decide if I’m the right person to teach you: I’m the Assistant Dance Captain on Singin’ in the Rain, and I think you want to audition for Cosmo’ – yet more synchronicity! So Ryan came round to my garden (we still couldn’t take people indoors, remember) and gave me lessons at all hours of the day; I must have driven the neighbours mad! I eventually mastered a bit of a routine, and they sent me to Pineapple Dance Studio to audition. The show’s Musical Director [and legendary dancer and choreographer] Adam Cooper was there, and I could hear the person before me Riverdancing away, and I thought, have I bitten off more than I can chew? But my agent said, ‘look, you’ll regret it forever if you don’t go in there now; at least give it a go’. And I got offered the part. I’ve never been so excited in all my life, but it definitely felt like fate – from what Stacey said on Christmas day, to all of this!”

The ‘all of this’ that Kevin refers to is one of the most joyously uplifting, inventive musicals touring the UK today, featuring a star-spangled cast including Sam Lips, Charlotte Gooch and Jenny Gayner… plus 6,000 gallons of water for a spectacular reinvention of the show’s seminal title number and a riotously splashy encore. Top tip: pack a mackintosh if you’re sitting in the front few rows.

But even when he’s out of the rain Kevin’s a very busy man, touring the hugely successful high-voltage theatrical dance experience Burn The Floor, preparing to star in Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of The Worlds and poised for a UK tour of Strictly Ballroom, directed by Strictly Judge Craig Revel Horwood.

“It’s a busy time indeed,” he says. “Because all the scheduled shows were delayed due to the pandemic, they’re now back-to-back for the next eighteen months. It’s tiring, but it’s so exciting to be back in the theatre again – once you’re there, live on stage, energy is not a problem.” But in amongst all the live dance action, does Kevin have the time to miss Strictly?

When I got offered the part [of Cosmo], I’ve never been so excited in all my life – it definitely felt like fate

“I loved every second of my Strictly years,” he says. “But in my last season, I could feel that there might be a time for moving on coming up, not because I was falling out of love with it – far from it! – but because I wanted to go back to doing more theatre. I’ve always had a huge passion for singing, dancing and live acting, and I was being offered opportunities that I was having to turn down because Strictly takes up so much time. But I really enjoy watching the show now; I know what they’re all going through and the work that they’re putting in, and the thought processes behind the choreography. I thought I might be too busy with other things to watch it, but I literally became an obsessed superfan within two weeks; I now know what watching Strictly is like!”

And as I come to realise, Kevin is a multi-tasking, multi-faceted character with multi-faceted tastes. For a start, there’s the slightly unexpected Meatloaf (yes, Meatloaf!) influence…

“Bat Out of Hell II was the first album that I ever bought as a kid, with my own money,” Kevin tells me when I ask about the moving tribute that he shared with the world when the news broke that the larger-than-life, uniquely theatrical American rock star had died unexpectedly in January of this year. “Meatloaf was truly amazing. He was so operatic and theatrical, and he was really into storytelling through his music. He influenced my musical tastes, and introduced me to rock’n’roll, which I’ve been into ever since I bought that album. And then he came to see Burn The Floor in 2009 on Broadway: it turned out that this huge rock’n’roll star who I’d always looked up to really loved our show! He was a lovely, lovely guy; he’ll be so missed, forever.”

From Meatloaf to football to… WWE (that’s World Wrestling Entertainment to those of us who aren’t familiar with the infamous spandex-clad titans of the wrestling ring). “I’m a massive pro-wrestling fan – it’s another form of live theatre, isn’t it? I’ve always loved it. And football! My happy place is sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea watching Match Of The Day or WWE.”

Be careful what you say, Kevin. As we’ve already established, somebody up there may be listening. Kevin Clifton: premiere league footballer, WWE wrestler… star of Meatloaf: The Musical? Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Right here, right now, Kevin is Singin’ in the Rain‘s Cosmo Brown – tip-top tapper and all-round strictly lovely guy.

Singin’ in the Rain, Bristol Hippodrome, 16-21 May. Book your tickets via The Bristol Hippodrome’s website:

Featured image: Kevin Clifton and the Singin’ in the Rain