Tommy cast’s fancy dress tribute to Winter Gardens history

Ashley J Russell, Joe McElderry and Will Barratt in Tommy at Blackpool Opera House
Ashley J Russell, Joe McElderry and Will Barratt in Tommy at Blackpool Opera House
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If you spotted a gang of Paul Nicholas look-a-likes, and a Mamma Mia! Super Trouper, out and about in Blackpool at the weekend, it might have been the cast of Tommy.

The rock opera by The Who is half way through its exclusive run at the Opera House, and the cast were heading out to celebrate their success so far with a fancy dress party - paying tribute to the Winter Gardens’ extensive showbusiness history.

Ashley J Russell is playing Mrs Walker, Tommy’s mother, in the musical, making a return to the venue, having been part of the Mamma Mia! cast which wowed audiences throughout the summer last year.

And the Opera House atmosphere has won Ashley over, with its ‘walls filled with memories’.

“It’s great to see the board in the Winter Gardens, with all the names of who’s played there,” she said. “The cast is having a fancy dress party, and you have to dress up as someone on that.

“Paul Nicholas, who is our director, is on the list, so we did say about us all going as him.

“Of course, Mamma Mia is on there from last year, so I might do that.

“There’s some fierce competition though - as performers we love getting dressed up, so you have to bring your A game.”

Not only does she love the history of the theatre, the warm Blackpool welcome has made the return visit a happy one.

“Blackpool always guarantees great audiences from a performer’s perspective,” she said. “Every night we have had standing ovations for the finale, they’ve been up on their feet clapping and singing along.”

And like many a Scottish family, Ashley was a regular in Blackpool growing up.

“My friend brought her little girl to visit me here - we took her down to the beach for a donkey ride and it was lovely to reminisce,” she said. “I think everyone’s got that classic picture of them on a donkey in Blackpool.”

Ashley’s stage career took off after appearing on BBC talent search I’d Do Anything - the show Blackpool’s own Jodie Prenger won, to be catapulted to household name.

“It’s been really nice to catch up with Jodie,” Ashley said. “She came to watch on the first weekend, and Ashley Luke Lloyd who was in Mamma Mia! with me, and is from Blackpool - I’ve been out with both of them.

“The Nancy girls were all lovely. Mamma Mia! was with Niamh Perry, and I was messaging Rachel Tucker the other day as she’s just opened on Broadway as Elphaba in Wicked.

“We’re all really busy, and that’s the thing with all the girls - we’re working, years after the show. The downside, though, is that we cannot see each other as much as we would like.

“It was great to catch up with Jodie.”

* Tommy, Opera House, Blackpool, until Saturday. Visit www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk for details.