Saturday Night Fever is going to be on at the State Theatre in Pretoria from 13 September to 9 October. It features a high calibre cast and I had the honour of chatting to Daniel Buys (Tony Manero) and Bongi Mthombeni (Monty).
Neither of these young entertainers need any introduction to the South African public: you know each of them from successful times in Idols – Bongi from 2010 where he made it to the top 8, and Daniel was a finalist in 2007. They’ve been in many other productions, and each of them has been a Prince Charming in a different pantomime – eat your hearts out ladies!
They’re performing for the first time together in Saturday Night Fever.
I see you’ve played Danny Zuko and Tony Manero. Are you a John Travolta fan?
DB: It’s hard not to be a Travolta fan. He seems like such a lekker oke. And the music. He is so charismatic so it’s hard not to be a fan of him.
DB: I must be honest I haven’t watched it. I’ve read the script obviously. I’m interested to watch it but I’m apprehensive because it might influence the way I do it. Not that it’s some deep work that you can delve into this deep psyche but still you want it to be your own. I’ve been taking some dance classes, modern jazz classes, for SNF. When I did Grease it was more for a community production, and you go as far as the choreographer needs you to. I would like to continue classes. I enjoy it a lot. Your body gets fit.
The character of Tony goes through quite an evolution in the show and you’ve also always played big characters and big musicals. Is character development and trying to inspire people something you’re keen to do as a performer?
DB: I think it is a lovely pay off when you do see impacts that you have on people and sometimes you do inspire people and it’s a wonderful feeling and it’s a nice thing to know that the work you do is not just for yourself. I think initially I got into it for myself. You can’t help but gravitate towards it if it’s something you enjoy so it just happened. So it’s a nice pay off that other people get something from it too. Thank goodness otherwise we’d have no work.
You also trained as a chef. Is that to have something to fall back on?
DB: I knew I wanted to do music really, and I wasn’t sure what to study within music but it seemed the only thing available was a B.Mus, heavily theory based and it seemed to qualify you to be a teacher, basically. I probably should have done it or at least gone and studied jazz or something but I wasn’t interested in that then. I didn’t know what avenue to take and my only other passion was cooking. It’s also expressive and quite a buzz. It’s the same sort of feeling, you go onto stage and get this buzz, and you finish late and then you still want to like have a beer and have a little wind down. It’s the same kind of lifestyle. Except as a performer you can sleep in a bit later than a chef.
DB: That was probably the most phenomenal experience of my life. It was quite a coming of age process. It was such a whirlwind. I went with the two guys who played Frankie. We went to NY to working on the show with the creatives there, prior to starting working on rehearsals in Joburg so it just felt amazing, to be rehearsing in the middle of Manhattan. You felt like you’d made it. Once it got off the ground we opened in Singapore, played here and Cape Town. We did Istanbul. Not places you would expect. Off your own bat you probably wouldn’t go there. We kind of lived the story in real life. You’re on tour with your band, we shared life together and had tumultuous events. It was great.
I saw you in Aladdin as Wishee Washee. You are madly talented. It was the first time I’d seen you but I see people say they were surprised by this role. Were your other roles more serious and did this represent a growth in your career?
BM: In terms of pantomime, most of them were. My first pantomime I did was of Cinderella and I was Prince Charming. It was very challenging, what Janice wanted of that character was not me. It was my first time doing theatre so the stage and everything was new to me and after that I did Jack and the Beanstalk, and then Aladdin. That was the most energetic and after that was Peter Pan, an old man. Nine shows in a week, I tell people you better go and do it but be mentally and physically fit.
Then I saw you in Spamalot which had me laughing from start to finish.
I think most of the productions I’ve done, they are all challenging. I’ve never done a production where I had to do the same or act the same. It’s an English thing from overseas and I had to train as best as I can. Bongi loves talking, and that character didn’t talk much but was always on stage. I talked with my body, which also played a big role in me growing up as an actor. I had to listen to a lot of English theatre, listen how they speak. I was given coconuts to hit together and keep in synch to make the noise of the horse.
Your entry into the field is quite unique – could you describe it for us?
Wow! I’m going to try hard. It all started being born with it. And word started spreading when I was selling toys at the Rand Easter Show. Apparently there were two shops selling exactly the same items but because I have that edge with people, we made triple the money that the other shop made by myself, and then around the corner was a Yamaha store and I got on that stage and started playing. Most of the time I got in trouble with my boss because I would stay there over my lunch. That’s where the manager of the store saw me and took me in and started making me gig, taking me to Cape Town. That’s where it started, doing shows for schools. Then my mom lost her job and I had to move back home to help but luckily from doing that, two years later they came and said Bongi there’s a new studio that is opening in Pretoria. I went there to be a music arranger and arranged music for Afrikaans artists mainly. I did backing vocals and then went to audition for Idols. It was raining and we slept there and I was like 50 in the queue and the next morning everyone swarmed in and I was about 250. It was very annoying, but then I had to take time off and I had to decide what I wanted to do as a career. I loved what I did in the studio, I learned a lot. I loved what I did but I thought my career had to grow and that’s where I did Idols. And that’s where I met Bernard Jay who told me he wanted me for pantomime. I didn’t know what on earth Pantomime was and he explained it to me and that’s when it started and I took it and I ran with it.
And with that the guys were off to the first photo shoot for Saturday Night Fever!
Catch both these talented performers in Saturday Night Fever on at the State Theatre in Pretoria from 13 September to 9 October. Tickets are on sale now at Computicket from R150. Visit www.computicket.com. Terrific group party discounts for all performances are available from Melissa Lai at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 082 881 6688 or Winnie on 083 266 9768.