West End Star Talks About Playing Iconic Welsh Singer Tom Jones
A West End star who was hand-picked to play Welsh icon Tom Jones says he feels “a great responsibility” to deliver an authentic performance in the singer’s hometown.
The world premiere of musical Tom: A Story of Tom Jones, which follows the crooner’s rise from small-time Valleys singer to international superstar, will be staged at the under-threat Muni Arts Centre in Pontypridd on St David’s Day.
And it is hoped Sir Tom, who was thrust back into the limelight as a judge on BBC show The Voice, will return to the market town for the opening night.
Newport-born Kit Orton, who has the unenviable task of portraying the legendary Welsh warbler, said landing the part was a “career-defining” moment.
The 31-year-old made his West End debut in 2012 as Sir Lancelot in Monty Python’s Spamalot.
“There’s a lot of pressure and responsibility involved,” said Kit.
“Everyone has their own idea about who Tom is, as was, and a lot of people have a fixed image of him depending on their generation.
“In the public eye, he’s seen as a calm, classy person – but I think some people will be shocked at how fiery he was in his youth.
“I studied his videos from the early ‘60s, and some of his dancing was crazy and really ahead of its time. Some people have forgotten what he was truly like.”
The show will transport audiences back to the ‘50s and early ‘60s when the young Thomas Woodward – later known as Tommy Scott before settling on the moniker Tom Jones – was starting out as a singer.
“It’s a love story about him and his wife,” said Kit, who read Sir Tom’s biography before landing the part.
“They got together, but Tom was determined to get to London and be discovered, so he had to leave her.”
Kit, who trained at the Royal Northern College Of Music and the Royal Academy Of Music, said he was able to hone his impressions of the Treforest-born icon by singing karaoke.
“The part was a gift for me,” he added.
“During my time on the West End, I would regularly go up and sing It’s Not Unusual.
“And when they auditioned me and asked me to sing that song, it was ideal – a career-defining moment.
“I know I will be opening myself up to judgement from Tom Jones fans, but I’m not worried about that.”
The premiere takes place 49 years to the day that Jones scored his first number one with It’s Not Unusual and it will focus on the hard graft he endured to launch his career, which has seen him become one of the world’s best-loved stars.
Tom: A Story of Tom Jones is produced by Theatr na nÓg, which is run by Styles, in association with RCT Theatres and Neath Port Talbot Theatres, and is written by Mike James.
“This is the most talented bunch of people I have ever worked with,” added Kit, who has begun rehearsals for the show in Neath.
“They are superb actors and singers, and when they pick up their guitars they always knock it out of the park.
“That’s the best feeling for me, getting behind the mic and joining them.”
As well as the Muni Arts Centre – which is earmarked for closure as part of Rhondda Cynon Taf council’s proposed budget cuts – Tom will tour a number of towns and cities including Rhyl, Neath, Carmarthen, Dundee, Windsor and Ipswich.
The first show on March 1 is a sell-out, but Kit thinks Sir Tom may make a surprise appearance.
“I don’t see why he wouldn’t come,” he said.
“If someone is writing a show about you, surely you’d want to see it.
“At the end of the day, he’s a businessman.
“He has his contract with The Voice so he isn’t allowed to do much else at the moment.
“But fingers crossed he’ll make it. He has a great team around him.”
Theatr na nÓg’s artistic director Geinor Styles said audiences will be given the opportunity to delve into the history of Tom.
“With a live band on stage, the production is infectious, emotional and gritty.
“It tells the story of the blossoming talent of Tom Jones who sings in pubs and clubs up and down the South Wales Valleys, his hard graft and tenacity to succeed until his big break in 1965.”
Tom is at Muni Arts Centre, Pontypridd, from March 1 to 8.