Ahead of Studley Operatic bringing Annie to the stage from 19 - 23 April, we caught up with Mike Bentley, who is taking on the role of Miss Hannigan.
So, Mike, tell us a little bit about yourself...
Well I am married to my husband Colin and we have two wonderful pets, Destiny my 16 year old black cat and Rory our adorable 6 month old cockapoo. I have a diverse life, my main job is as a dental coach and presenter, which I have been doing for the last 4 years. My job is fantastic as I get to travel to many destinations in the UK and Europe.
I have combined my 18 years of knowledge in dentistry with my love of theatre to deliver dental training courses in an entertaining way. My main passion includes performing, theatre is my favourite, but to be honest anything with a live audience is when I am at my happiest. Recently I have taken up ballroom dancing and can often be found on a tennis court or reading as I am in a bookclub. My family and friends are very important to me so I enjoy spending time with them, laughing as much as possible; it's good for the soul.
Who inspired you to take up acting?
No doubt my first inspiration was Bonnie Langford, and to this day that remains the same. I have always adored Bonnie’s all round ability, stamina, work ethic and sheer talent. I have had the opportunity to see her perform in many guises over the last 30 years and admire her ability to charm audiences with her performances. Closer to home, my inspiration was the late Chris Macrow who sadly passed away 2 years ago. My first show was with Solihull Theatre Company in Guys and Dolls at the tender age of 16. Chris was a constant rock in my early days of treading the boards and his kindness will always stay in my heart.
You're currently in rehearsals for Annie with Studley Operatic - how's it all going?
It is going brilliantly and the kids and the big kids are definitely ready for audiences. As an adult performer, it has been inspiring to work with and watch the two teams of kids grow with confidence, week on week, with clever and supportive direction from our directors, Kevin and Alison Hirons. Our two Annie’s, Caitlin and Millie are just lovely girls, they both bring something very different to the role of Annie but are very supportive of each other at the same time, which is lovely to see. I have not performed so closely with a group of kids before and I can honestly say it has been a pleasure to get to know them all and have lots of fun at the same time. I have to mention how accepting they have been of me playing Miss Hannigan, which could have been a strange concept, but they have not batted an eyelid. The rest of the cast are super and there are some fabulous performances from a great set of principle leads.
Is it possible that you are part of the first am dram group to cast a male in the role of Miss Hannigan? How does it feel?
I think I might be, how fantastic is that!!!
It feels utterly brilliant, she is a wonderful character and I have enjoyed exploring the different layers of her character under superb direction. It has been interesting playing a female who likes a few to drink, completely different from anything I have ever done before, but I must say I do like a wearing a heel. As an actor you want to push yourself, to make youself feel uncomfortable, that way you have to work hard to achieve your character. I have come a long way from my audition that's for sure.
The musical director Norma Kift and I spent a lot of time on Hannigan’s main song Little Girls, ultimately the key has been changed from the original, which doesn't normally happen in amateur shows, but I am so glad that we have as it packs a punch and I am excited to bring our version to the table. The transformation to turn me into Hannigan has been meticulously planned, it is not me in drag, so we have been choosey on the wig, costume and makeup and hopefully the audiences will love our combined creation and portrayal of this iconic women.
What can the audience expect from the show?
Annie is a very well known show, and is one of the musicals that is very much about bringing together a family audience. I think the music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin are infectious. I recently listened to Charles sing the songs from Annie with just a piano live and it gave me such a personal insight into the real heart of how he wrote the melodies of the shows top songs. The show is much darker than people realise, which I particularly like. The script by Thomas MeehanI is clear at depicting the darkness of the orphanage, but all the way through you have Annie’s story of hope and optimism as she searches for her real parents.
Tomorrow is a real anthem and a number most people know and love. The audience can expect plenty of laughs with high energy numbers being performed from our ensemble. It is a busy show for the ensemble, taking many different roles on throughout, which I know they have enjoyed. If you pushed me a little, then my favourite songs are Never Fully Dressed, Easy Street and Hard Knock Life, but really every song is a winner and it's a lovely show for an audience to watch.
You've played many roles over the years, are there any particular favourites?
A tricky question, especially as I have performed in shows for over twenty years! I must say that Carmen Ghia from The Producers is up there for me, alongside Angel from Rent and Jeff from Title of Show. I have had the opportunity to be in 3 workshop musicals and even recorded two soundtrack albums with Stuart Jones, so those shows are personal highlights for me for so many reasons.
Have you got a dream role you'd like to play and if so what is it?
Another tricky question as I really never know what I am going to do next. I enjoy variety and I let destiny take me to my next performing adventure. There is one character that I would adore, if the chance ever arose, and that would be Alban from La Cage, but who knows if that will ever actually happen!
And finally, for the people who haven't yet booked to see Annie, what would you say?
If, through this interview, I have whet your appetite to see Annie then buy a ticket, you won't be disappointed! You will go way with a happy heart that's for sure.