STEWART Clarke often has to pinch himself to remember how fast his rise to fame has been. He only graduated a little over a year ago, but already takes the lead role in a major new musical.
The handsome lad is only 23 but stars in Ghost: The Musical, which is on its first UK tour. It has already stopped off at Wolverhampton and now plays for three weeks over Christmas at Birmingham's New Alexandra Theatre.
It offers something different for those who want a change from pantomime but still want a spectacular, emotional theatrical experience.
Designed more for adults than children, it's a musical version of the 1990 hit film, which starred Patrick Swayze as the banker who is killed during a mugging but who returns as a ghost to warn his girlfriend Molly (Demi Moore) that she's in danger. Whoopi Goldberg won an Oscar for her role as psychic Oda Mae Brown.
The stage production, with songs by Eurythmics guitarist Dave Stewart, is very high-tech, needing 10 articulated trucks to transport the set including seven heavy LED video walls, displaying a total of 172,000 LED pixels. They can instantly take audiences from an office to a New York subway train.
Stewart is looking forward to the Birmingham date as he has plenty of Midland connections. He was born in Worcester where he still has grandparents, aunts and uncles, grew up in Solihull where he attended Tudor Grange School, and studied at University of Warwick.
Both his parents are actors. Mum Julia Hills was in the sitcom 2.4 Children, while his Worcester-born father Paul Clarkson was in The Manageress and was head of drama at Solihull School.
But Stewart confesses: "In my teens I rejected the idea of acting. Then I went to a new sixth form college when we moved down south, and they needed boys for a school musical. I thought I'd give it a go. I sang a song from Disney's Pocahontas at the audition and got the lead of Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music.
"I had so much fun, an absolute ball, and I was bitten by the bug. So I went to the University of Warwick to study drama. Actually I started off doing philosophy, but I knew Warwick had a fantastic drama set-up - that was partly why I chose it.
"After a year I swapped to theatre studies to do it full-time.
"It's been a mental year since I left university. I was performing with the National Youth Music Theatre and an agent was in the audience watching his daughter and offered to represent me.
"I got a job in the West End, the lead in Loserville, within a month of graduating.
"And now Ghost - to have such a role at my age is amazing.
"I've never seen the film and I don't want to now. The Sam I play is my Sam, not Patrick Swayze's. It's hard to fill his shoes so I'm not trying.
"I've had to learn to play the guitar. Playing in front of so many people, while acting and singing, is tough. I play Unchained Melody, of course.
"I am becoming more relaxed about it as I've settled into the tour. We're about halfway through now - we started in April and finish next March.
"I've only missed four shows, which is pretty good going. It is very hard work and emotionally draining, doing eight shows a week, and sometimes you think 'Can I really go through this again?'.
"But as soon as you step on stage, that doesn't cross your mind. It's only when you come off that you feel tired.
"I'm looking forward to being in Birmingham at Christmas. I used to visit the German market every year when I was at university, so I can be a regular there now."
And talking of Christmas, what was the best present that Santa has brought Stewart? "I remember my sister and I were obsessed by Furbies and really wanted one. We were so excited, though looking back, they were very creepy things."
And finally, the big question - does he believe in ghosts? "The rational side of my brain says no," he admits. "But I love reading stories about the supernatural and the unexplained, so I'd like it to be true." ? Ghost: The Musical comes to Birmingham's New Alexandra Theatre from December 17 - January 5. For tickets ring 0844 871 3011 or go to www.atgtickets.com/birmingham.
"I've never seen the film and I don't want to. The Sam I play is my Sam STEWART CLARKE
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