THE Sunderland Empire is one of the first theatres in the world to host new stage spectacular Monkee Business the Musical, which pays homage to the hit TV show The Monkees.
THE Guide caught up with cast members Tom Parsons, Ben Evans, Oliver Savile and Stephen Kirwan.
The Guide: You’re all too young to remember The Monkees – so what sort of research have you done?
Ben: “We’ve been catching up with The Monkees on YouTube. We’re all really excited about this great opportunity to create new characters on stage for the first time and about appearing in a new show. It’s something that rarely happens in theatre these days.”
Stephen: “I’m lucky because my mum’s a huge fan of The Monkees so she’s been filling me in on their past history. I didn’t know, for example, that they were one of the first manufactured pop groups put together for their Emmy award-winning television series.
“What’s also interesting is that most of the early songs were written for them by the likes of Neil Diamond.
“So it’s a really good mix of hit songs like I’m A Believer, Last Train To Clarksville and Daydream Believer.”
Tom: “I think what’s particularly interesting about this show is that as well as The Monkees’ hits there’s also other songs from that era like Millie’s My Boy Lollipop and Dusty Springfield’s You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me – so hopefully there’ll be something for everyone in this fun family show.”
Oliver: “Like Stephen I’ve also got a Monkees’ fan in the family. My dad’s even more excited than I am about this new musical as he’s a great fan of The Monkees, so that’s why this is such a great deal for him. The whole family will no doubt be there on the first night!”
TheGuide: What’s the musical about?
Tom: “It’s set in the 60s and we play rather naive members of a group. We’re conned by an unscrupulous promoter into believing that because of the pressure of work, The Monkees can’t do a world tour, but they’re happy for us to stand in for them.
Ben: “It’s a bit like an Austin Powers’ zany adventure. It’s kind of Carry On James Bond.
“We go on a helter-skelter ride around the world using all kinds of transport with all sorts of madcap adventures happening as well as a bit of romance, so hopefully if we’re enjoying ourselves on stage the audience will enjoy it too.”
Stephen: “It’ll be fun and so far it’s been hectic in a good way. Although this is not a tribute show in the very first week we were together we were recording in a studio to make sure that we got The Monkees’ unique sound right.
“It was a great way to start as there’s lots of music in this show. We’ve a cast of 20 and eight members in the band.”
Oliver: “In the show we’re pursued by spies and singing nuns, but it’s all great fun”.
TheGuide: Tell me about your role.
Ben: “I play the character of Chuck posing on a Monkees’ world tour as Manchester’s Davy Jones. As I’m from South Wales I’ve obviously been listening to the different Manchester dialects when we’ve been rehearsing there.
“But there are so many of them I decided to go back to YouTube and just listen to Davy Jones himself. And of course I’m bonding with my tambourine!”
Stephen: “I play Andy who poses as Micky Dolenz. I’ve always wanted to be in a band so this is a great opportunity as now I‘m in Monkee Business The Musical.
Tom: “I’m playing a character called Mark who poses as Mike Nesmith. Ben and I have both been in bands ourselves as well as in musical theatre, so we know in a new show that there’ll be last-minute changes, but we’re definitely up for that as we just want it to be good.”
Oliver: “I play William who poses as Peter Tork who, like me, is quite tall and I still can’t believe I’m in this show as I’m a relative newcomer to the profession. It’s all exciting.”
TheGuide: Why should audiences see Monkee Business the musical?
Oliver: “We’ve only just met up and already we’re enjoying ourselves and so hopefully the audience will too.
“We’re loving rehearsing in Manchester, but I’ve never been to Glasgow or Sunderland, so I’m really looking forward to the pre-London tour.”
Tom: “Summing up, it’s a new fun musical with great music and we’re just lucky enough to be in it!”
Stephen: “Audiences are discerning and everyone from 16 to 60 will recognise the uplifting music of The Monkees and hopefully forget their problems for a while.”
Ben: “This show is that rare thing these days – good all-round, escapist entertainment for the whole family.”
The Manchester run of Monkee Business The Musical will be dedicated to original Monkee Davy Jones, who died last month.
l Monkee Business the Musical will be at the Sunderland Empire from April 24-28. For tickets, priced £19.50-£39.50, tel. 0844 871 3022 or visit www.atgtickets.com/sunderland