Peter Corry is back on song

Peter Corry chats to Jenny Lee about his plans for getting back on stage this summer and his hopes for the future of the arts here

PETER Corry is looking forward to getting back to what he does best as he takes to the outdoor stage at Newtownabbey's Theatre at the Mill this weekend.

"It will be my first time singing live in almost a year and a half and I can't wait to once again be lost in the music," says the Belfast-born singer.

He will be joined at Mossley Mill for his Summer Musical Spectacular concerts on August 6 and 7 by 10 young performers, whom he first worked with over a decade ago when he directed three youth productions at Theatre at the Mill: Oklahoma!, The Producers and Les Misérables.

They have since gone on to have professional careers, on London's West End stage and in the world of ballet, opera and our TV screens.

"It will be a great celebration of what the theatre has achieved and a great opportunity for those professionals who haven't had the chance to work for so long now to get back on stage," says Corry.

His voice has taken him all over the world, but as a performer, director, producer and composer Corry has always championed local talent.

He admits that the closure of the entertainment industry due to Covid restrictions has been "a very difficult and frustrating time".

"I don't want to be contentious, but I do feel that the arts are always at the bottom of the queue here, and last to open," he says.

"I know the arts isn't everyone's cup of tea - but neither is GAA, football or rugby - and I do honestly feel that all of these tastes need to be taken into consideration when governments are making decisions," adds the 55-year-old.

Whilst grateful that he has managed to turn his passion for performing into a successful career, Corry admits to being a "workaholic".

During lockdown he tried to find novel ways for Peter Corry Productions to "reinvent the wheel" and continue to entertain, including having singers and ballet dancers in shop windows and singing 'Elfagrams' at Christmas.

"I did a few things online, but that's not where my heart lies as absolutely nothing replaces live performance," he says.

Other ideas were knocked on the head due to restrictions, including his proposal to Belfast City Council and the Arts Council to erect an outdoor performance stage in the city centre.

"This was not just for Peter Corry Productions, but an outdoor opera house for the summer to be utilised by so many different groups," he explains.

"The benefit of the arts and performance to society is so hard to measure, but it certainly goes a long way to helping mental and emotional wellbeing. I think there needs to be a little bit of imagination by those in charge to realise the benefits it brings.

"The amount of government money that is contributed towards the arts per head of the population in Northern Ireland is the lowest in Europe."

During the past month Corry's wife, business partner and choreographer Fleur Mellor has been busy helping local actors Shaun Blaney and Gerard McCabe prepare for the 25th anniversary production of Marie Jones's Olivier award-winning tragicomedy Stones in His Pockets, which is currently running in the Cotswolds.

I asked Corry, who has enjoyed West End success - most notably a three-year stint playing Javert in Les Misérables - if he has considered returning to work in England, where theatres have re-opened without social distancing.

"I've never thought of that," he replies and then hesitates to ponder the idea.

"The problem is I am a great champion of Northern Ireland and what Peter Corry Productions is trying to do is to give reasons for professionals, who are originally from here, to come home and perform at home."

"I want to perform in Northern Ireland, but it's not been made easy by the lack of support from the powers that be," adds Corry, who has recently moved into a new home in Greyabbey.

On a more optimistic note, Peter Corry Productions have been busy planning for the year ahead, with outdoor summer events as well as a Red Velvet Cabaret event at Halloween and the return of Christmas at the Cathedral in St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast.

"We are truly thankful to be once again lighting the creative fires, creating jobs and ultimately engaging with our wonderful audiences once more. Over the next three-months, including young performers, we will probably be using over 300," says Corry, who recently held open-auditions.

"We had a variety of singers, dancers, performers and also some more alternative things which was exciting as we love to create a spectacle. There was even a lady there with a completely new technology for projecting fire and images onto people as they move."

Corry is also artistic director of the Belfast School of Performing Arts and is delighted they will be bringing the Irish premiere of Roald Dahl's Matilda The Musical Jr to Crawfordsburn Country Park from August 18-21.

And on Sunday August 22 Corry will be back in Crawfordsburn, with his band and special guests singing an eclectic variety of musical styles during Sunday in the Park with Peter.

"I can't wait. Over the past six weeks I've been getting myself back in shape and singing every day, because your voice is just like any other muscle in your body it needs to be maintained and strengthened and kept active," he explains.

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