Hi, I’m Mike Benyon and I am musical director for SMP’s production of Sleeping Beauty.
Doing panto is not a new thing for this old stager. In fact, having joined SMP in 1992 this is my 24th successive year being involved with panto, either as musical director or as a member of the band.
So how does this match up with the previous 23? Well it’s right up there with them! What I love about panto is that there is so much scope for SMP to do things its own way. A book show uses the same script and book every time and there are even expected ways that each scene should be set; so much so that it’s almost like painting by numbers. With panto we are able to use our own script, once again beautifully written by the esteemed Mr Warren McWilliams, choose our own songs and then the director has the chance to mould his vision using the supreme talent at hand!
From a musical point of view this year’s panto is a departure from last year’s rock fest. While Aladdin contained a myriad of songs by Alice Cooper, Journey, 90s power ballads and other head banging classics, this year we have filled the show with more contemporary pieces. Still, I am very appreciative of youtube as most of this year’s tunes are not normally in this 55 year old’s gramophone collection.
Still, what makes it so special for me and why I continue to throw myself into SMP productions is that we have the people in our cast to turn songs of any genre into show stoppers. We are very lucky this year to have the lovely Eleanor Joy and the suave Haydn Boxall as Sleeping Beauty and the Prince. Their rendition of a classic from an oh-so slightly successful film of the last year or so had everyone crooning with admiration last week.
With less than two months to go until opening night last week’s rehearsals were a really good chance to see what shape the show is in. Monday night was supposed to be a dance re-cap but our amazing choreographer Fay Kemal was struck down with bubonic plague and missed her first rehearsal in 47 years. However, we circumnavigated this potential disaster by taking the opportunity to do a re-cap of all the songs. What was a real bonus for me is that while I was scrabbling around trying to find my notes about who is singing which harmony everybody in the cast has remembered them anyway. This makes my job so much easier and means that we can now concentrate on fine tuning other parts of the show knowing that the songs are almost ready for performance.
Wednesday night was great as it was the first run through of Act 1. Having not seen any of the acting so far it really brought home what a great script we have and gave a real insight into the hilarious characters that are developing. The Minions Boggers and Sniffle are played by Luke Clow and Sasha Newton. While anyone who has seen Luke on stage before knows what an accomplished performer he is, especially when making a complete fool of himself, this time he is joined by Sasha, who is playing her first main role for SMP. Her characterisation is a complete revelation and the two of them already have a real chemistry on stage.
As you will have heard in last week’s blog, we recently received the news that Warren McWilliams and his cherubic wife Jo are expecting their first baby. While this is fabulous news it did leave us with a missing fairy, something that no panto wants. However, last Wednesday’s rehearsal saw Jo’s part being filled by Wendy Cooper. Having played my wife in Our House it must be nice for Wendy not to
need to be aged half a century. Wendy has clearly slotted beautifully into the role alongside the sublimely talented Marian Lynch and Lynzey Cooper.
Wednesday’s rehearsal also made it abundantly clear that we have a great director in Chris O’Shea. Chris has played roles in a number of SMP shows and I am still amazed by his performance in Our House when he had more costume and character changes than most people have lines. He has a great aura of confidence and this certainly has been transmitted to the cast who at this early stage seem confident of what they are doing. And of course anyone who has followed SMP in the last 14 years since joining the group for SMP’s 2001 production of Jesus Christ Superstar knows how lucky we are to have Fay Kemal as choreographer.
I can’t finish this blog without mention of my band. While they are not yet involved with the show, I know that they can be relied on to turn my vision into reality. John Fossey, Chris Wall, Steve Rogers and Tim Hall must have performed in around 50 SMP shows between them. The band call, when it all comes together the week before the show, is always the most special rehearsal of them all. Bring it on!