Being part of a brand new musical is something every performer dreams of.

For Charlie McCullagh, that dream has come true as he prepares to lead the cast of 42 Balloons when it has its world premiere at The Lowry later this month.

It’s an unlikely story - Charlie plays truck driver Larry Walters who wants to fly 16,000 feet above Los Angeles using a garden chair and 42 helium-filled balloons. But what makes it even more remarkable, it’s actually a true story.

Bury Times: Charlie McCullagh in rehearsal for 42 Balloons

42 Balloons, complete with an 80s-inspired score, follows Larry and his girlfriend Carol, played by Evelyn Hoskins, as they involve their friends in making this hare-brained scheme into a reality.

Evelyn - Charlie refers to her as Evie - has starred in Waitress and Spring Awakening in the West End.

“The message of the piece is so beautiful and important, especially after what we all went through with the pandemic and feeling like our lives were taken away from us,” said Charlie. “You have this true story of a man who says ‘I want this thing; I’m going to go and get it’.

“And with the help of his friends he does.”

Charlie, who has previously starred in Bonnie and Clyde and Annie Get Your Gun in the West End and also in Dr Zhivago at the London Palladium, has been involved in 42 Balloons pretty much from the outset.

“I first got involved in 2022 at the workshop stage,” he said. “It then became a concert production although we only did four performances in London.

“I knew then that I really wanted to be part of the show wherever it went but at that point we had no idea what might happen.

Bury Times: Charlie McCullagh and Evelyn Hoskins in rehearsal for 42 Balloons

“I remember going for a coffee with the writer Jack Godfrey while I was in Bonnie and Clyde. We were just having a general catch-up and I was determined not to ask him about 42 Balloons. because I didn’t want to think I’d invited him just to get information out of him.

“Turns out he was really upset because I didn’t ask as he’d just been been given permission from the producers to tell me that the show was happening and they wanted me to do it.

“We got there in the end I’m happy to say.”

From early on, Charlie realised that 42 Balloons was something special.

“Evie and I had very few moments off stage when we did the concert performances but at the one point in the show when we did we could see the audience reaction, they were going wild,” he said. “Even on the opening night of the concert after the song Big Balloon we missed the cue because the applause from the audience was so loud. None of us was expecting that.”

Charlie admits that the premise for the show is so implausible that if it wasn’t true it’s unlikely anyone would take it seriously.

“Some friends of mine came to see one of the concert performances and there is one moment when they went ‘that’s just impossible, that couldn’t have happened,” he said. “But it was 100 per cent true.

“There are some elements of fiction in the show but it is all based on what is in the public domain. That gives us a chance to occasionally poke fun at ourselves and there are a lot of comments made directly to the audience.”

Bury Times: Charlie McCullagh and Evelyn Hoskins in rehearsal for 42 Balloons

Although Larry is very much the centrepiece of the show, Charlie believes 42 Balloons appeal also lies in the wider cast.

“It tells so many amazing stories,” he said. “The show is a dissection of dreams; multiple characters in the show have them and achieve them but all come at different costs.

“It’s very much about what is the world without your dreams and the community he creates among these people who support him.

“It raises the question ‘would you break all the rules? Would you listen to the voice in your head and just do it? He does and goes out and does it.”

So would Charlie be tempted to strap himself into a deckchair and head up into the clouds?

“People keep asking me if I would do it and I think I probably would, why not?” he said.

42 Balloons will run at The Lowry for four weeks but after that what happens to the new show is not yet clear.

“When Evie and I did the concert shows we were like ‘this has got to have a life, it’s got to be a full show’. Now we have a full show, the next question is then it’s got to have a longer life, it’s got to go on tour, to the West End to Broadway. We’ve made a pact to focus on the here and now.

“Who know what happens next. At the moment we’re just excited to know we will be finally sharing it with audiences. But there really is a buzz about it. When we did the concert performances we only did four shows and we didn’t expect to sell more than 150 tickets but each performances at the Vaudeville Theatre was a sell-out - that’s around 700 tickets each time.

“It’s already got this little cult following and it’s really exciting to see how it’s going to grow.”

Bury Times: Charlie McCullagh

Prior to going into rehearsals for 42 Balloons, Charlie was touring in Jesus Christ Superstar where he was the alternate Jesus and also played Pilate.

And he’ll be back in the show as soon as 42 Balloons finishes.

“It’s mad,” he said. “I think 42 Balloon ends at The Lowry on the Sunday and on the Tuesday I’m back on stage when Jesus Christ Superstar arrives there.

“I think I’m Jesus on the Wednesday.

“I’m going from a completely different show which I’ll have been totally consumed by for 12 weeks to dropping straight back into crucifixion land with Jesus Christ Superstar and getting covered in blood and glitter.

“I’ll miss the balloons, it’s much easier to clean up after. But then I’m off on the road again leaving a trail of glitter around the country.

“In this profession you go through years of grinding and then can suddenly find yourself in position where the great jobs just keep coming.

“I have to step back and realise this is what I’ve been wanting for years. I need to remind myself I’m kind of living the dream here.”

42 Balloons, The Lowry, Salford Quays, Thursday, April 18 to Sunday, May 19. Details from