Malcolm Whelan has clocked up a local stage history of over 25 years which culminated in May last in him winning a national Best Comic award at the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera.
He has always been immersed in music as the son of Michael 'Piccolo' Whelan, who had an army band history, and who alongside bandmate, Frankie McDonald, ran the Athlone Youth band. Malcolm played the trombone in the youth band as a child, and like his father, also played the piccolo.
The Whelan family home in Coosan was full of musical instruments, and Malcolm claims he could never settle on one, and eventually ended up trying them all, and doing a bit of singing.
Malcolm went to fourth grade on the flute, and sixth on the trombone, and learned Irish dancing from Garrycastle teacher, Mary Collins, who had a school of dancing in Athlone for several years.
He went to Feiseanna all over the country, with his younger brother, Colin, and won a few trophies and medals, until his teens, when soccer took over his life for a while. He started playing soccer with Hillview club which was trained by Willie Wallace, and later Malcolm played for Gentex and Elan.
However music was in his background and in his DNA and he couldn't forget it. Malcolm joined Tops of the Towns when he was around seventeen, and found it exciting, and it gave him the opportunity to travel around the country.
"Tops was great, because it was full of young people around my age then, and we travelled to Wexford, Waterford and Dundalk in the regional heats," said Malcolm.
His first show with Athlone Musical Society was 'Kiss Me Kate' in 1991, and by that time, he was hooked on musicals and life on stage.
"I was a waiter, a little drummer boy, and had walk on parts in many of the shows, and remember working with the wonderful Majella Flanagan in 'West Side Story' in Athlone," said Malcolm. "She won Best Actress for that show in Waterford, and I was proud to win Best Comedian there this year, for 'The Producers', which I did for Clara Musical Society."
Malcolm was a popular member of several musical societies from the 80s, up to the present day. He did shows like 'Grease', 'Me and My Girl', 'Crazy For You' and 'Mack and Mabel' for the Athlone society and 'West Side Story' for Tullamore. He played in the chorus on most occasions, and around 2001, his friends from Athlone Musical Society, Ray Collins, and the late Edward Farrell, told him to take the next step after the chorus, and to go for a major role in a musical.
"Edward is sadly missed, and Ray is great for encouragement to everyone, and they both told me to go for an audition in Ballinasloe Musical Society, and that there was a role there that would suit me," said Malcolm. "The role was in 'Some Like It Hot', played in Hollywood by Jack Lemmon, and brilliantly in Athlone Musical Society by Colin Hughes."
The character of Jerry/Daphne requires spot on timing, and by all accounts, Malcolm had it to a tee. He was nominated for an AIMS award for Best Acting for the role.
"I was over the moon with the role, and while I didn't get the award, it didn't matter, because the audiences were brilliant and we had fantastic crowds," said Malcolm.
Malcolm stayed with the Ballinasloe society over the next two years, because he believed they had put their faith in him, with 'Some Like it Hot'.
"I played the part of Nathan in 'Guys and Dolls', and had the part of Will Parker in 'Oklahoma', and five weeks before the show opened, the lead pulled out, and I was in the chorus, and got promoted up to the part of Curly, and I must have been the shortest Curly there, because I played opposite a guy of 6 foot 3," he said laughing.
After three years of Ballinasloe shows, Malcolm took a break from musicals and decided to do a play, and the first one was Ray Collins's production of 'The Field' for Athlone Little Theatre.
"I played the Bull McCabe's son, Tadhg in the play, and it was great, and a great experience," said Malcolm. "I love stage, and it's as good a buzz as you'll ever get in your life. Later on I did a Mel O'Flynn produced play in Athlone called 'Poker Session', and that was brilliant also."
Malcolm worked on Margaret McKenna-Mullen's play, 'The Sleeveens' in St. Ciaran's community centre in Tormey Villas, which he cites as one of his favourite performances.
"We put in great work there, developing our characters, and we sold out the Dean Crowe Theatre, and we did a charity run in the Little Theatre, and sold out," he said.
From the time he was a child in the Cor Fheile, Malcolm, has loved treading the boards at the Dean Crowe Theatre.
"I know every nook and cranny of the place, and it brings back memories of being there as a child, and if you have that sparkle of going on that stage at a young age, you'll never leave it," he said. "Anyone who says they are not nervous on stage is a little bit of a fibber, because you have to be nervous. It's that energy that gets you to your first move, your first position and your first act. You will be nervous and you will have shaky hands, and then the adrenaline kicks in."
He has also loved the characters that he has played over the years, Tadhg in 'The Field', Nathan in 'Guys and Dolls', and his favourite one, Leopold in 'The Producers'.
"Leopold is my favourite one, and that's what I got the award for," he said happily.
Malcolm is passionate about the theatre, and plans to stay living in that world, and hopes that he will continue in it indefinitely.
"When our curtain opens, you get one shot to impress 400 people, and you have to take that shot, and everyone is vital in a show, and everyone is important, from the person who opens the curtain to the lead. The chorus have to work very hard, as hard as the lead, and I don't think they get real credit for it," he said.
He has done Tops of the Town for Clara, and some of his favourite stage moments include doing a stage duet with Alfie Kilduff, whom he calls one of his heroes. He also loved his comic duet with Joe McCaul in the Athlone pantomime, 'Sleeping Beauty' in 2011.
It would seem that Malcolm was born to marry the love of his life, Tara. His and her parents were close friends for years, and Tara's father, army band trumpeter, Joe Byrne, was best man at Malcolm's parents wedding.
"There is a photo of Tara at my fourth birthday party," he said laughing. "She saw me in a couple of shows, and we met during a Tops show, and we are together ever since." The couple have one son, Luke, who is seven years old. Someday Malcolm hopes to direct and impart to children the music and theatre skills that he has honed all of his life. His son, Luke is involved in schoolboy soccer, and Malcolm trains some young lads in the sport. "I started training soccer because 'my little dude' was playing, but when you have a bad day, and you are training seven year olds soccer, your bad day is gone," said Malcolm.