It doesn’t take long to spot Martin “Cito” Otto amid the bustling crowd at the Mugg & Bean restaurant at Cresta Shopping Centre.
The frontman of popular band Wonderboom is sporting a black leather jacket, a black T-shirt, huge black shades and several silver rings.
He may be off duty today as a lead singer, but it’s clear Otto enjoys looking like a rock star every day of the week.
But the 45-year-old vocalist and producer isn’t here to speak about the inroads his band continues to make in the music industry; instead, he wants to open up about something else he holds close to his heart.
As he sips his double espresso, he reveals he’ll be returning to the theatre stage, after an absence of more than 5 years, in three weeks’ time.
He last played the role of Jesus of Nazareth in the hit theatre production Jesus Christ Superstar, and is to soon start rehearsing for the role of Stacee Jaxx in the blockbuster Broadway musical Rock of Ages.
“To get back on the theatre stage is very exciting for me,” says Otto. “For a while I’ve been lus (craving) to do it. I’ve been fortunate to go to quite a few openings of theatre shows, and I realised I really miss it.”
Rock of Ages, which has been made into a film, will be staged at The Teatro at Montecasino from September 26 until October 20. It tells the story of a “small-town girl”, Sherrie, and a “city boy”, Drew, who meet on Sunset Strip while pursuing their dreams of becoming stars in Hollywood.
Their romance is told through the hits of Def Leppard, Joan Jett, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison, Whitesnake, and more.
The jukebox musical features 28 classic rock songs from the 1980s, including Don’t Stop Believin’, The Final Countdown and Here I Go Again.
Otto is among a star-studded cast, which includes Josh Ansley, the 2017 runner-up in The Voice, singer, actor, director and producer Zak Hendrikz, actor, writer and award-winning director Neels Clasen, singer Jessica Driver and Lois du Plessis.
“I haven’t started rehearsals with the company. They started yesterday. I’m joining them in true rock-star fashion from next week,” Otto says.
His character is a detached, self- indulgent rock star preparing for his final gig with his band, Arsenal.
Otto will follow in the footsteps of Tom Cruise, who played the role of Jaxx in the 2012 movie Rock of Ages.
“Stacee Jaxx is the most egotistical, self-absorbed rock star, a megalomaniac. He lives in this bubble. He believes his own hype. All the phrases that come out of his mouth are clichés,” says Otto.
Does he identify with the character in any way? “If I did, I would be admitting to being a real jerk – but I do. When I told my wife I had a meeting with the director and they basically described the sort of personality I am playing, my wife told me that it suits me perfectly. She was joking, of course!
“In some ways I do identify with the character, though, especially when I started off in the rock ’* ’ roll world many years ago. As a teenager you believe your own hype, you believe you’re ready to take on the world and the whole world revolves around you.”
While the movie Rock of Ages is very different from the theatre production, Otto says he’s watched the movie a few times to help him learn more about his character.
When the movie came out I was invited to the opening, and I didn’t know what to expect because I had never heard of the theatre production.
“I’m not a big fan of movie musicals; I find them a bit weird because only a handful of such movies are great, like Grease, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Sound of Music.
“But I was surprisingly blown away and super-entertained by Rock of Ages. The song selection was amazing, and the way they brought in the romance and comedy was great. Also, the Stacee Jaxx personality was ridiculously exciting, so it wasn’t a tough decision to be part of the cast.”
While he has a had a 5-year break from theatre, he says there was a good reason for it. “You’re usually in a 18-month contract. You are kept super busy. When I was in a theatre production in 2006, it took up to 6 months of my time. I stopped being with Wonderboom, and my side projects came to a halt. I had to start all over again with the band. People thought we had broken up.
“This time around it’s just a month-long run and it’s in Joburg, which is close to home.”
Is performing in a theatre production in front an intimate audience similar to performing with Wonderboom in front of thousands of rowdy fans? “The essence is the same. At the end of the day, you always strive to perform at your optimum level. A band like Wonderboom takes you on a journey, a different kind of journey than theatre does.
“In theatre you’re telling a story, and it’s beyond you, it’s a team thing; it’s not an individual mission. You need to take responsibility and step up to the plate. Not that it isn’t a team effort with Wonderboom, but you kind of feel more sensitivity in a theatre situation.”
The Saturday Star