Belfast Telegraph

Sunny Afternoon star Ryan O'Donnell: 'It's a musical with grit underneath the fingernails'

By Jackie Bell

The stage musical Sunny Afternoon - which portrays rock band The Kinks' rise to stardom in the 1960s - is a 'jukebox musical' but with a bit of 'grit underneath the fingernails' according to star Ryan O'Donnell.

The Olivier Award-winning show is set for the Grand Opera House in Belfast next week, and promises audiences a step back in time to the iconic band's beginnings as one of the most influential and controversial figures in music.

Ryan (34) stars as The Kinks's frontman Ray Davies in the show, alongside Mark Newnham as Dave Davies, Garmon Rhys as bassist Pete Quaife and Andrew Gallo as drummer Mick Avor.

"The show covers The Kinks and their rise to stardom but we also cover all their big hits and we play what is essentially one big gig - but with a meaty story in between," Ryan said.

"Even die hard fans come away saying, 'Oh I never knew that about the Kinks'.

"It is like a jukebox musical but with a bit of grit underneath the fingernails."

Ray Davies was heavily involved in the production of Sunny Afternoon having written the show's music and lyrics - and Ryan admits it was a bit daunting taking on the role of a real-life person, especially when he is sitting in the audience.

"I'll never forget the first time he watched," the actor recalled. "That was slightly terrifying but I sort of got over it by thinking it must be more terrifying for him to watch someone portraying him.

"He obviously doesn't remember everything in his life (exactly) how we play it, so it must be just as awkward for him to watch some youngster strutting around pretending to be him.

"On the whole he is just really supportive, if he does have any little pointers to say it's normally about the music - he seems to be really behind the way I'm portraying him."

Sunny Afternoon is currently touring the UK after enjoying a successful run in London's West End.

And Ryan said it has been interesting to see the reactions of people from all walks of life - whether they be a fan of The Kinks or not.

He added: "London audiences are nice and supportive and they are regular theatre goers, so they are not coming to see a Kinks show, they are coming to see a show in the West End.

"It's a different kind of audience when you take it out on tour where people are there to see a show about The Kinks, and they are usually going nuts by the ends of it.

"A lot of the feedback has been that it's like being back in the 1960s watching the actual band and that's great to hear."

Audiences will be treated to a multitude of Kinks' tracks throughout Sunny Afternoon, with You Really Got Me, All Day and All of the Night and Lola all among the set list.

Ryan says he's enjoying performing the iconic hits on stage and also bringing the music to a new generation of Kinks fans.

"Our audiences are mainly men and women in their 50s plus, but on the weekends we are getting a lot of younger people coming," he said.

"The Kinks were pioneers of that traditional British rock sound - they kind of half created it. And I think they are a gateway band for youngsters who are getting into playing guitar or just into music in general.

"We've had a lot of guys and girls in their late teens who are just discovering this music and it's nice to see their faces in the audience too."

Ray Davies himself agrees, having previously said of the show:  "It brings a new generation to the story who may connect with the songs but not necessarily the band per se. I think they will enjoy it on a number of levels."

He added: "It is a coming of age story, it is about sibling rivalry, a changing society, the pitfalls of the music industry, and about loss of self.

"It is compelling on several levels."

  • Sunny Afternoon runs at the Grand Opera House in Belfast from Tuesday, May 2 - Saturday, May 6.

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