From the advertising material, the piece looks like Austin Powers meets a Monkees film. Is this a fair description?
The challenge with any new show is finding ways to describe it and that inevitably leads to comparison with other shows.
It's an adventure. It's a comedy. It's a romance. It's a musical. It features singing air stewardesses and nuns on a tandem. And four boys singing songs that make you want to cry with joy.
Did you come up with the idea first or do you have to write literally around the Monkees back catalogue?
I was touring with my farce Naked Flame and needed something to play in the car on a long night-drive between venues. I put a Monkees compilation album on the CD player and by the time I reached my destination I was so excited that I had to start scribbling ideas, even though it was 4am. he thing that's unique about The Monkees is that people don't just love the music - they have enormous affection for the TV series because of everything it typifies about the 60's. I haven't tried to recreate that series as it just wouldn't work, extended from 25 minutes of TV to two hours of theatre and I didn't want this to be just a nostalgia-fest for hardcore Monkee devotees. I also decided against a Monkees Biography musical as it would limit the amount of fun we could have. This had to be something original that would be terrific fun for a wide audience.
What's been the most enjoyable part of the process?
It's all been hell ! No, seriously - it's been great working on the script, musical arrangements etc with an incredibly gifted (and experienced) creative team so that I find myself being surprised (usually in a good way!) by all the suggestions they come up with to bring the piece to life. I think the most enjoyable part for any writer or director is witnessing the audience reaction on the first night. Or maybe receiving vast amounts of money in royalties. I'll have to think about that one....
What are your memories of the Monkees?
I grew up watching the TV series and was amazed to see them reach a new audience with each generation. Kids love the daft humour and adults get the more sophisticated gags. Likewise with the music : kids love the catchy tunes and adults recognise them as the work of some of the greatest songwriters of the sixties : Neil Diamond, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Harry Nillson, Boyce & Hart etc. Of course, some of the best numbers were written by members of the band and it's great that we've got several of them in our show. I just love stuff that works on different levels.
Have you had to change any scenes since Davy sadly died or are there any references to him?
Davy's death was obviously a huge shock and as this is a comedy, I rushed to the script to check there was nothing that could be perceived as tasteless. There wasn't. As The Monkees were originally conceived as a comedy combo as much as a band, it's fitting that Davy should be remembered as much for the laughs he gave us as for those timeless songs like "Daydream Believer." The media was flooded with tributes for days after - a mark of just how loved The Monkees are. Of course, it has particular poignancy in Manchester where the show is opening as Davy was a local lad.
How long has the piece taken to write and what has inspired you?
I first discussed my plot outline with EMI nearly 8 years ago. They were incredibly encouraging and so I worked it up into a full script. The first draft had a private rehearsed reading 6 years ago, just to find out if anyone would find it amusing. It was then reshaped a little and we did a production at a drama college. After more rewrites, our current producer staged a rather lavish "workshop" - the audience went wild. All those rewrites and reshaping had paid off. The inspiration is the music. I find the term "jukebox musical" rather insulting as it implies that one is choosing songs to fit a pre-existing plan. These songs chose me. The story emerged from listening to the numbers over and over and letting the ideas suggest themselves. It was like a musical jigsaw. The sad thing was that there were a couple of pieces of the jigsaw left over but to force them in would have made nonsense of the picture. Two of my personal favourites - "Goin' Down" & "For Pete's Sake"- had to be sacrificed but I still had more first class songs than you would normally expect to find in a show. And the variety is astonishing :irresistible pop, country, achingly beautiful ballads, soft rock and some stuff that defies categories. It's all there in the songbook of a single band called The Monkees. Incredible.
What is the best outcome for you with regards to the show?
This is going to sound naff but nothing gives me greater pleasure than knowing I've made people laugh or lifted their spirits. Everybody shares that experience. We all love the look of delight on someone's face when we give them a gift or do them an unexpected favour. Money can't buy that. (Please don't tell the producers!)
Why should people take a chance on a show not seen anywhere else before?
Don't we all like to say "I saw it first?" I would buy a ticket for this show because it combines more than twenty incredible songs with an outrageously funny - and sometimes rather touching - plot that I guarantee will send you home with a smile on your face. If you're not singing the songs on the way home then your cat must have died that morning. In fact, if your cat has died then this show is the perfect way to cheer yourself up. And I'm a cat lover ! By the way, we have cat in the show but he is VERY evil.....
Peter Benedict was speaking to Glenn Meads.
Monkee Business is at the Manchester Opera House from 30 March - 14 April.