Greg Fossard’s stage career started at the Liverpool Empire 21 years ago.
“In this very room,” confirms the Liverpool actor, looking around the foyer bar where we’ve convened for a chat about all things Dirty Dancing.
But more of that musical phenomenon anon. What’s all this about the Empire bar?
“When I was a kid, I did an audition workshop for Les Miserables here,” Fossard explains.
“I don’t know how many applied but by the time I got through there were about 20 to 30 of us just standing in a circle. We had to come in to the middle and sing one of Gavroche’s songs.”
It was 1998 and nine-year-old Fossard had been ‘tricked’ in to auditioning by his big sister who was at Sylvia Young theatre school in London, and who had spotted the opportunity to join the UK tour publicised in The Stage.
“They just narrowed it down and narrowed it down, and I was one of two who were picked,” the actor recalls. “I didn’t really know what was going on but the other lad who had been picked was a bit older than me and he ran through the bar punching the air. So I just copied him!”
The next thing he knew, his parents had signed a handful of paperwork and the Mossley Hill schoolboy was in one of the biggest musicals in the world, playing to nightly audiences of 2,000. And the acting bug bit.
Two decades on, he’s back where it all began, this time in the aforementioned Dirty Dancing, the stage sensation based on the cult 1987 film hit that made a superstar out of the late Patrick Swayze.
The 30-year-old is reprising his role as Neil Kellerman which he played in the last tour, and which got him a warm reception from at least one vocal member of the Liverpool Empire audience.
“I got a very good welcome last time I was here!” he laughs. “I got my told they also appreciate my character, as well as Johnny.”
Fans of the story will know Neil is the somewhat square grandson of the owner of the holiday resort where Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman first meets dance tutor hottie Johnny Castle.
While Johnny might ultimately get the girl, and the wolf whistles, Fossard has a soft spot for his own character.
Musicals to catch at the Liverpool Empire in 2019
He explains: “Quite often people say to me, he’s the creepy one or the horrible one. And I say well no, the horrible one is Robbie, Robbie is the creep.
“Neil is the try hard who grew up in and among all the staff kids, but by the time he got to a certain age he had to go into management. It distanced him by and he can’t get away from it.
“He sees what these other cool guys are doing in terms of trying to pull and make friends, and he tries it himself but he’s just not very good at it.
“I think deep down he’s got a good heart, and he shows that by wanting to go and do the Freedom trail.”
Greg Fossard as Neil (dancing with Lisa Houseman) in the finale of Dirty Dancing. Photo: Alistair Muir
Dirty Dancing is known for its dedicated fanbase, and it appears it appeals to all ages if one incident at an unnamed theatre is anything to go by.
Fossard recalls: “We’d got to the end and were doing the encore and dancing away when out of the corner of my eye I spotted what could only be a child of less than three who started crawling up the stairs that take you up on stage.
“My dance moves were getting a lot smaller and a lot more careful, and I was looking to see if anyone was around. There were ushers making their way from the back, but there was no way they were going to get there in time.
“This little girl got on stage and came and stood right next to me just as we did the final bow. So I grabbed her hand and we bowed together!”
Dirty Dancing may be the biggest show he’s appeared in, but Fossard admits one of his favourite stage moments actually came in the smallest – writer Kat Woods’ one-man play Belfast Boy which some Liverpool theatre goers might have seen at the old Lantern Theatre.
“You take parts for a reason,” he says. “That was the lowest paid job I’ve ever had, and yet it was probably the most rewarding in many ways because of the subject matter and the fact I was on my own all the time.
“You called it an Olympian task in your review, and I honestly did feel it. It was tough but so rewarding.”
As for his next role after he leaves Dirty Dancing this summer? The Central-trained actor is open to offers, and opportunities that come his way.
“I appreciate every part of the industry and know how hard it is to be in work, so anything that comes my way I’d always relish,” he says.
“But it would be nice for it not even to be known what it is yet – for it to be being written now or whatever. And then to take it on and create something would be a dream and would be fantastic. Whether it’s on TV, film, stage, whatever.”
Dirty Dancing is at the Liverpool Empire from May 6-11. Tickets from the website HERE