Dreamboats & Petticoats - London

A new musical featuring a score of timeless classics from music's golden era.

Sam Attwater on Playing a '60s Heartthrob in the West End's Dreamboats and Petticoats

Sam Attwater has done the British TV soap opera rounds, first in Hollyoaks and then EastEnders. In March, he hit it big on the reality competition Dancing on Ice, delivering a show-stopping “Bolero” to cop him the championship with Canadian figure skater Brianne Delcourt. From there, he jumped to the cheerful jukebox musical Dreamboats and Petticoats, which draws from the pop repertoire of the early 1960s, before the Beatles burst on the scene. Attwater is settling in with the show’s youthful, enthusiastic company at the Playhouse Theatre, where Broadway.com caught up with the winning 25-year-old before a Friday night performance.

What did you know about Dreamboats and Petticoats before you joined the show? The era it evokes was long before you were born!
I was familiar with the music, but I had no clue what the show was about. It was only when I turned up that they gave me the script; I saw that it has all these iconic songs, and I thought, “I can do this.” I’d finished Dancing on Ice and was open to whatever job came along next—as long as it was the right one [laughs].

Was it obvious that you would play the swaggering Norman, who gets to put over songs including “Great Pretender” and “Let’s Twist Again”?
Norman is the only character I would want to play. I really like the songs for Bobby [the acne-plagued, lovesick male lead], but that character is wrong for me. He’s supposed to be a small, innocent guy, and I’d be like the biggest person on stage playing a spotty teenager! [Attwater is six feet tall.] Norman gets the laughs, I like his songs, and he also gets the girl. I’m really enjoying it.

Do you have to be cool to play someone cool?
I’m a bit of a geek! Being cool is something I’m not very good at. The way I look at it, Norman wants and tries to be cool but he’s actually more slick than anything else. He’s very charming, but if you met someone like that in real life, you’d be, like, “This guy’s a joke!”

It must be heartening to know that you have a job in which, unlike reality TV, you don't risk being voted off stage!
Unless I was really bad! [Laughs.] You’re right: Can you imagine: [producer] Bill Kenwright saying, “I’m not going to ask you back” and standing at the stage door with my P-45 [Brit-speak for an American pink slip.] My childhood dream was to be in the West End, my other childhood dream was to be on EastEnders, and now I’ve done them both!

And by age 25, no less.
I know. Maybe my next childhood dream should be to be president or something and just keep enhancing whatever it is until I finally dominate the world [laughs].

Speaking of domination, you certainly did well in the TV ratings with Dancing on Ice.
That was amazing. We were told that we hit the highest-ever rating for the last six years, but the whole reality competition thing has gone huge. You’ve got things like Britain’s Got Talent and X Factor, where it’s extremely rewarding to watch people come through because it could be anyone—the guy who works at your local [supermarket store] Tesco, or whoever. That gives everyone a buzz, because people like to see other people succeed at something.

Do you ever think the whole reality TV industry has gone too far?
What’s changed, I think, is the way people watch these shows; they’ve become an addiction in some cases. Also, a lot of these programs have terrible acts who are there for people to laugh at. That’s what it has become—people like Wagner [a wacky Brazilian from X Factor], where you think, “What on earth is he doing in the top 12?” But people were keeping him on and voting for him, like a kind of freak show.

Do you have any show business in your background?
My uncle was an actor when he was much younger, but he’s given up and now lives in Tel Aviv. My dad is a sales director for a bathroom company, and my mum is a photographer.

She can take your head shots!
I have a thing about that because I would end up blaming my mum if I don’t get a job, when I’d rather blame someone else [laughs].

Any idea what’s next?
I’m contracted here through January 28, though I’m actually leaving on December 4 to do a pantomime in Wimbledon: Dick Whittington, with Dame Edna in her first panto. But I’m hopefully coming back for the last two weeks of this contract.

What are your hopes beyond that?
I would love to play Greaseball in Starlight Express or do Miss Saigon. Everyone dreams of different shows, and you are always looking; as soon as you hear of a show re-casting, you get on to your agent and say, “Do they want to see me?” I have to say, the last couple of years have been pretty good. Hopefully they will carry on!