Benny’s. The little store that had it all, long before Walmart was a thing. Some of us are still traumatized by their closing and get a little choked up with nostalgia when we reminisce, or see the iconic logo somewhere. But a musical? Hello?!
Benny’s: The Musical describes itself as the tale of your local Benny’s store, the neighbors who shopped there and loved it, and, most importantly, the people who worked there and made it the beloved local destination that it was. With more than a dozen original new songs and a cast of characters you’re likely to recognize from your life in RI, you’ll be sure to come away remembering just why Benny’s was “more than a store.”
Director/Producer of Benny’s: The Musical, Keith Munslow, is also director/host of the Empire Revue — a monthly sketch comedy show based at AS220 in Providence and the creative mind behind Benny’s: The Musical. I had some questions for him upon hearing of the show’s revival.
Alison O’Donnell: Why now?
Keith Munslow: Last year, we decided to take Super Bowl Sunday off from our usual monthly sketch comedy show. We decided to use that time to write a special show. Just around the same time, Benny’s announced that they would be closing their doors. So we decided to write a show about how that would impact both the employees and the community at large. Before we had even written a word of the script, or a note of music, the show sold out. So we added a second one, and that sold out as well. Later last spring, we ran it for a weekend at the Columbus Theatre, and those shows sold out as well. The response we got from audience members, some of whom were former employees of Benny’s, was overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. It felt to us like a great coming together of the community, as a way to celebrate and grieve this great establishment. When talking to people who attend our regular monthly sketch comedy shows, they continually ask us to please remount the show. So, we decided to do it again this March. Once again, the first show sold out immediately. So we have added a matinee on the same day, which is 3/4 of the way sold out. We are thrilled at the continued enthusiasm.
AO: Any changes?
KM: We are planning to add a little bit more choreography to some of the songs. And our stage manager, Nicky Mariani-Wilson, who also acted in last year‘s performances, will be eight month’s pregnant when the show goes up. So, she will be calling the show from the booth. Her part will be played by another member of our in-house comedy team, Tina Wolstencroft.
AO: Future plans for the play?
KM: I suspect this will not be the last time we stage this show. We all love performing it, and the audience keeps showing up! Personally, I would love to see a larger scale production of the show. I would love for a sponsor to step forward to fund such an undertaking. We are a small sketch comedy team, and could never bankroll such an endeavor ourselves. But I would love to see the show do a run for two or three weeks, with more elaborate staging, lights and sound.
All cast members had a hand in writing the musical, and are incredibly proud of this show. They hope it will become woven into the fabric of the story of Benny’s. Sponsors welcome!
Benny’s: The Musical runs on Sunday, March 3 at AS220. The 8pm show is sold out; 3pm matinee still has some seats available as of this printing. For more information, visit the Facebook event: facebook.com/events/538770829956684/?ti=ia