On Stage

All About the Benny’s

The Empire Revue stages a musical love letter to Rhode Island’s favorite store

Posted

Late last year, the news hit Rhode Islanders like a pallet of filter sand: Benny’s, the beloved box store, would close all of its 31 locations by the end of 2017. When Keith Munslow found out that “your favorite store” was disappearing forever, he did what any good composer-comedian would do: he decided to produce a musical about it.

“We love Benny’s,” says Munslow. “The closing of the Benny’s stores has sparked a lot of understandably strong emotional responses. And at the end of the day, it’s a story about people, and how they deal with a situation like this.”

Munslow is a founder of The Empire Revue, which stages Broadway-style cabaret shows, but Benny’s: The Musical aims for new creative heights. The ensemble has written the script collectively, and the story is rich with plots and subplots. The show will perform twice this month, on March 4 and 11, at AS220. Benny’s has already attracted rabid attention from fans, and the first performance sold out almost immediately.

Because of this intense interest, Munslow can easily imagine a revival, or even a cast recording, down the line.

“We always challenge ourselves to create comedy with heart and substance,” he adds. “A great deal of work goes into the creation of something like this, so getting as many people to see it as possible is definitely a goal.”

The show is a comedy, and the tone will be light. But Munslow is serious about his affection for the local chain.

“I used to go to Benny’s frequently with my dad,” he recalls. “He was always buying something to fix his car, to fix our house, to fix my bike. He had a chummy relationship with the folks who worked there, so there was always a lot of chit-chatting as well. And I swear, every time I walked in the front door, that ‘new bike smell’ was always incredibly intoxicating.”