Jay McGuiness is dreaming of a White Christmas at Liverpool Empire
Jay McGuiness may be used to performing in front of arena-sized live audiences – and for millions of TV viewers, but it turns out that doesn’t stop the nerves in the rehearsal room.
“I felt so alien,” The Wanted and Strictly star admits of his first day of rehearsals for White Christmas, the musical spectacular taking over the Empire stage this season.
“I felt like the new boy and I thought – how many times are you going to do this Jay, where you get a job and you’re not with any of the boys, you’re not with your managers, stylists, no one, you’re walking in on your own again in a new room of 100 people that you’re going to spend the next six months with?
“But the truth is, I know that a week down the line I’m going to think, ‘they’re all a jigsaw puzzle and there’s a few pieces missing and I’m the new piece. And they’re there not just to judge me but to support me’. And they have.”
The 32-year-old is indeed the ‘new boy’ in the four-strong group at the centre of the show, based on the popular 1954 film starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.
He plays Crosby’s character Bob Wallace, half of a double act formed with an old army friend Phil Davis (Dan Burton) who together fall for the Haynes sisters Betty (Jess Daley) and Judy (Monique Young) and follow them to a lodge in the mountains of Vermont which turns out to be owned by their old army boss, Major General Waverly (Michael Starke). Judy Garland’s singer daughter Lorna Luft is also in the cast.
Burton, Daley and Young are all returning to the production, with McGuiness the final piece of that jigsaw.
Above: Jay McGuiness, Jess Daley, Michael Starke, Monique Young and Dan Burton in Liverpool. Photo by Jono Symonds. Top: Jay McGuiness in White Christmas. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.
But despite having previously taken the starring role in huge stage productions, he says he is well aware of differences between himself and trained triple threat musicals veterans.
“There’s a very obvious difference I think to people who have trained and worked for their entire career, and some people who might have some training and then didn’t work, or worked a lot but didn’t train,” he explains.
“My mum doesn’t think there’s a difference between me and the cast. But I know in my heart, and the cast know, that some of the things I’m going to bring are going to be from the realm of boy bands verses from extensive discipline.
“So there is a difference that I can feel, but I just hope that they can feel that the work ethic is the same.”
It’s a work ethic which has taken him from chart-topping boy band to Strictly Come Dancing glory to his current career marrying both singing and dancing on stage.
McGuiness, who attended the Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama as a teenager, won the BBC Saturday night ratings winner in 2015 with professional partner Aliona Vilani – their Pulp Fiction jive remains a Strictly fan favourite.
He’s not the only Strictly alumnus to then make the switch to musicals. So, did he enter the dancing competition with one eye on those sorts of opportunities?
“After the end my band (The Wanted initially split in 2014 to pursue solo projects), I did nothing. Strictly had asked me a few years in a row and I’d always just not…I didn’t want to throw my hat in the ring,” McGuiness reveals.
“Then I started realising I need to focus on something. Part of it was my manager Damien calling me and saying ‘hey, you should come back now’ and part was me saying you know what? I should. I thought, 'this could lead into something in the arts that I want to do'.
Above: Jay McGuiness and Dan Burton as Bob and Phil in White Christmas. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.
“So even though it wasn’t a driving part of my life that ‘I need to get into musicals’, it was definitely a big chunk on the weighing scales that made me go 'yes, I’m ready to do Strictly, because you never know, it also could lead to other things'. Specifically in musicals and plays.
“And it did. I can absolutely draw the dots from me finishing that show to the producers from Big auditioning me, so I’ll never ever not be grateful to the BBC.”
In 2019, he was chosen to play Josh Baskin in Big the Musical, and the following year he took on a second Tom Hanks role, this time as Sam in Sleepless – a Musical Romance, based on the 1993 romcom Sleepless in Seattle. Both roles saw him starring opposite fellow Strictly celeb Kimberley Walsh.
Now he’s back on stage, this time as part of an ensemble – something he relishes – and delivering a feelgood festive treat for Liverpool audiences.
White Christmas celebrates the importance of friends, family and community and for McGuiness – whose all-time favourite Christmas song is Fairytale of New York - the festive season remains an important family occasion.
“My brothers and cousins, a certain generation of us go out together in Nottingham on Christmas Eve and we buy our last gifts together for my sister and mum,” he says. “And we go to a very specific pub every year, and then everyone goes back to my mum’s house.
“My siblings range from 35 to 26, all of us still piled in the house with our kids, I really hope that doesn’t change.”
He reveals he already has a plan in place to make sure he can continue to be a part of those family celebrations, despite only having Christmas Day off.
“Even though we’re going to be here in Liverpool I’m going to get a car on Christmas Eve, arrive in Nottingham city centre and meet my brothers and cousins there, spend Christmas Day at my mum’s and be back here for the Boxing Day show.”
White Christmas is at the Liverpool Empire from December 6-31. Tickets HERE