DEAN Elliott used to be Buddy Holly, but now he is Paul Simon.
For five years Elliott played the spectacle-wearing Texan rock and roll pioneer on the West End stage and even played the role at Eden Court.
However, when he returns there this month it will be in rather different guise as one half of one of the pop world’s most famous duos in The Simon and Garfunkel Story, though if it was not for Buddy, the new show would not be happening at all.
"We were doing Buddy: the Musical and we decided we wanted to do a biopic show similar to Buddy, but a little more inclusive," he explained.
"The thing about Simon and Garfunkel is that their time stretched the whole of the 1960s, so we wanted a show that really had a time and a place. It wasn’t just a band on stage playing the songs of Simon and Garfunkel. We wanted to give them a relevance.
"Because they were storytellers, we wanted to tell their story and the story of the ’60s — the story of two best friends with the backdrop of Vietnam and JFK and the happy things that happened in the’60s too, like man landing on the moon and the birth of the teenager."
The show touches on Simon and Garfunkel’s post-split careers before climaxing with a recreation of their Central Park reunion in the 1980s, the seventh biggest concert, in terms of attendance, in music history.
A huge fan of Paul Simon, it was Elliott who came up with the initial idea and finds it extremely gratifying to have seen it grow from that suggestion to receiving standing ovations in theatres across the country.
"Actually, I wasn’t supposed to be in it, I was just supposed to be helping out in creating it," he revealed.
"But Paul Simon was the guy who taught me to sing and pick up a guitar. Every time I pick up a guitar, all my training has been from him and my voice sounds like him, so it was: ‘All right, I’ll do it!’"
With a Simon already in place, finding an Art Garfunkel proved more complicated.
The final candidate is Jonny Smart, who comes to the show straight out of drama school. Not only does he sound remarkably like the American singer, Elliott also points out with a laugh that he also volunteered to perm his hair.
"When he walks on stage he has the proper Art Garfunkel curly blond ‘fro," Elliott laughed.
Like the originals, Elliott and Smart spent hours sitting across from each other copying each other’s mouth movements to ensure they captured the duo’s trademark harmonies on songs which still strike a chord today.
"The amount of people we have met who have told us they were having a bad time like their partner had left them or a parent had died, then they listened to Bridge Over Troubled Water and everything was alright," Elliott said.
During his time playing Buddy Holly, perhaps Elliott’s biggest test came when Buddy’s widow Maria Elena Holly came to the theatre and Elliott found himself recreating her last moments with her late husband on stage in front of her.
"He tells her things are going to be fine and picks up his guitar and tells her he’s written this song just for her, which is True Love Ways," Elliott said.
"I hadn’t really thought of it, but it suddenly hit me like a steam train that the woman that this song was about was in the audience. We haven’t had Paul Simon or Art Garfunkel come to see us — yet — but if they did, I’m sure I would have that same feeling. You have to remember these are real people and you can’t make a mockery of them."
So what of the future? Having played musical heroes of the 1950s and 1960s, would Elliott consider stepping into the next decade?
"That’s not a bad idea," he laughed again.
"Maybe someone like Johnny Rotten? I’m not a massive punk fan, but it would be a challenge!"
• The Simon and Garfunkel Story is at the Empire Theatre, Eden Court, at 7.30pm on Wednesday 23rd April.