The musical memories of Tony Stenson
21st December 2018
Professional musician Tony Stenson has worked on many shows in his home town of Tunbridge Wells. He’s currently bringing us The Wind in the Willows at the Trinity theatre. So what makes this musical maestro so noteworthy…
During your professional career you worked on a number of West End shows. What are your key highlights?
Being involved with The King and I, which starred Yul Brynner and Virginia McKenna in the title roles, at the London Palladium was certainly a highlight. I have some very happy memories of working with them both. The show ran for approximately nine months and during this time I also had the opportunity of conducting an excerpt from it for the Royal Variety Show at Drury Lane, which was a great honour! During my time in the West End I also worked on Singing In The Rain with Tommy Steele, Cats and Starlight Express, before leaving in the 1990s to join the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Any other key moments worth sharing with us?
I was also involved with the first London production of Jesus Christ Superstar and was booked to play keyboards. Our little group were performing not in the orchestra pit but actually on stage, so we were very close to all the action! I remember the auditorium feeling positively electric on our opening night. I was with the show for six months and then left to join Matt Monro as his personal Musical Director. During that time we visited Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines and were even invited to dine with Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos at their official residence in Manilla. I was with Matt for two and a half years. He was a lovely man with a great voice.
You’ve also worked on several Trinity shows over the years. What do you enjoy most about it?
I love the venue and the staff and over the years it really has become like a second home to me. Putting on Oliver! was a real highlight for me a few years ago, and personally I think it was one of our best productions. I also enjoyed last year’s production of The Wizard of Oz and the previous year’s Spamalot, which was a great crowd pleaser!
What attracted you to working on this year’s show The Wind in the Willows?
Well it’s such a timeless story and full of interesting characters. Rather coincidentally I worked on the Toad of Toad Hall production at the Duke of York Theatre in London but the version we are doing expands on the original and makes it more of a musical. I think the size of Trinity Theatre is ideally suited for the staging of this particular piece and it will always be one of my favourite stories.
For those not familiar with the production, can you tell us a little bit about it?
It’s to do with the adventures of a group of animals who live near or on the river bank. Within the story we encounter a collection of different ones who become friends and eventually join forces to win back Toad Hall for Toad after it has been taken over by a gang of stoats and weasels. It’s a story that’s great fun, and full of characters we come to love and empathise with.
What do you think the enduring secret of this story is, given it’s been adapted for the stage and screen several times over the years?
Sometimes you come across a story that just lifts the spirits, and stays with you forever. I think every child should be encouraged to read it as it’s a sublime story. For me its enduring secret is the way it draws us into a sense of believability in its characters. The differences, the personalities and the message behind joining forces to overcome problems. All the animals within the story are completely believable and have interesting lives.
Does Trinity’s version stay faithful to the original, or can we expect something a little different?
Ours is based on an adaptation by Julian Fellowes which was first done at the London Palladium last Christmas. We are staying faithful to the original story with one or two added characters.
As a Musical Director, what have you enjoyed most about working on the show?
I have greatly enjoyed choosing the cast and matching them to the characters they have to play. Watching them come together, evolving into their parts and teaching them their songs is always so joyous. We are also excited to be delivering the music courtesy of a live orchestra of six musicians!
What do you think audiences will enjoy most about Trinity’s production of The Wind in the Willows?
Those who know what Trinity’s productions are like won’t be disappointed and those who don’t will be in for a real treat! I am hoping that everyone who comes will go away with happy memories that will stay with them for a long time.
The Wind in the Willows is on at Trinity Theatre until January 2nd. Ticket prices and timings vary so go to www.trinitytheatre.net for further information