DALKEITH’S Keith Jack was just 19 when he came runner-up to Lee Mead in the BBC One prime-time talent search Any Dream Will Do.
The babyfaced performer, who went from working the tills in Tesco’s Eskbank store to starring in the West End musical Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, is now 26 and barely recognisable, having bulked up from the eight stone ‘weakling’ TV audiences saw, to 12 stone ‘hunk’.
Jack, who returns to Musselburgh’s Brunton Theatre on Saturday to promote his new album A Little More of Me, explains that not everybody took to his new look immediately.
“Some people were like, ‘Bring back the wee Scottish boy’,” he recalls. “But he’s gone now.”
Being cast as Joseph in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash hit musical sparked Jack’s decision to work out. Having already played The Narrator on the national tour of the show in 2010, he was offered the lead role.
“I first thought about working out when I signed that contract,” he reveals. “I thought, ‘I can’t play Joseph in a loin cloth and be a skinny little boy.’ So I went to the gym for three months before going into the role... and absolutely hated every minute of it.”
He hated it because he felt he had “no choice but to do it”. It was a requirement for the role as he saw it. But working out can be addictive, as Jack discovered.
“Half way through the tour, we had a week off. One day, having put it off for ages, I thought I’d better do a gym session... I enjoyed it and realised I’d missed it. It had become an addiction. Suddenly I knew I didn’t want to be the skinny boy any more.
“Working out became something that showed a different side of me, that let people see I had grown up.”
There was a professional reason for the change too. Jack knew the youthful looks that landed him the role of Joseph, weren’t necessarily going to win him the leading musical theatre roles he covets.
“I tend to look quite young so there was an element of wanting to look older, that’s also why I keep the beard. I need to look that bit older because a lot of the parts I want to play, such as Raoul in Phantom of The Opera, are that bit older.”
As people started to comment on his transformation, the actor reveals he developed a new self-confidence.
“At first, most people were like, ‘Where have you been hiding that?’
“They were amazed it was me - they still had this picture in their head of me from Any Dream Will Do.
“Then producers started commenting that I looked more like a leading man - no one wants a skinny leading man with slumped shoulders. I suppose that is what got me addicted.
“It made me more confident, I felt taller and was suddenly enjoying it for myself. Working out is now a hobby. I go five times a week, for an hour and a half at a time. In fact, I’m so much into it that I’ve even researched the best eating plans.”
He laughs, “Other actors now come to me for help with their work out schedules and eating plans.”
With his new physique, Jack’s hopes began to pay off recently when he starred as Ralph, in Sasha Regan’s acclaimed production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy opera HMS Pinafore, a challenge he could never have imagined rising too just a few years before.
“That was one of the things that got me the role. When I auditioned I wore a really tight top as I knew Sasha was looking for someone with a bit of muscle. She wanted us to be buff sailors basically. I actually got that job the day I auditioned for it and was in rehearsals a week later,” he recalls.
Light opera might not have been an obvious choice for the musical theatre star, but it reminded him of a conversation from years before.
“Thing is, when I was doing Joseph, I remember the company manager at the time, who had trained as an opera singer, telling me I should train to be a classical tenor, and consider doing opera,” explains Jack.
“At the time, I didn’t think it was something I would enjoy. But then I heard about Sasha and her productions which, although still light opera, were staged in a very musical theatre style.”
While he “loved being a part of that show”, it wasn’t without its difficulties, one being the convoluted language of the piece.
“There were all these antiquated words, which I had to look up,” he says, quoting from one of his speeches and laughing as his tongue trips over the line: “I am but a living ganglion of irreconcilable antagonisms...”
“I remember reading that thinking, ‘What the hell is that?’ It’s the most research I have ever had to do for a show,” he says, “Also, with eight shows, over six days, light opera really tests your stamina.”
Thankfully, his current workload isn’t quite as heavy. His latest tour finds Jack reflecting on his life and times, telling the story of how he comes to be living his childhood dream.
“I’ll be singing lots of songs from my new album of course, but basically the concert tells the story of where I have come from in the 26 years of my life,” he says.
“Where it started, all the songs I listened to as a kid, a bit of Elvis, a bit of Frank Sinatra, The Temptations...
“People get to see different side of me, a little bit more of me, which is why we have called the tour and the album that.
“The second half is about the more assured person I am now.”
All of which, he credits to his healthier lifestyle, not that he intends to get too carried away with his ‘hobby’.
“I could end up like Hulk Hogan... but I don’t want to do that,” he says, “I don’t want to be so big that I can’t move, leading men need to be able to dance about the stage.”
Keith Jack: A Little Bit More Of Me, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, Saturday, 7.30pm, £18, 0131-665 2240