Let me entertain you: Tony Penny

As The Hong Kong Singers celebrates its 85th anniversary with a high-energy production of Gypsy, DB-based chairman Tony Penny chats with Carlos Magno.

Pass a true thespian in the plaza and you might not know it – you might not pick up on that spark of the extraordinary that only really radiates in front of an audience. DB resident Tony Penny has that spark, as well as a penchant for drawing it out of those who share his passion for theatre. Chairman of The Hong Kong Singers, he is currently directing (along with Mandy Petty) a production of the great, all-American musical Gypsy, which opens this month.

Gypsy tells the story of a woman determined to get her daughters into show business – an apt way for The Hong Kong Singers’ chairman to celebrate the company’s 85th anniversary.

Two of Gypsy’s lead cast members, educators David Benzie (who plays Herbie) and Kim Ward (playing Miss Elektra), also live in DB. The trio share a cab home from thrice-weekly rehearsals at Beacon Hill School, Kowloon Tong. David first met Tony in 2004, and Kim is new to the company, but their shared passion means they are already firm friends.

Tony moved to Hong Kong from the UK 25 years ago, and settled in DB in 2005, working first for Cathay Pacific and later for a private jet-management firm. His day jobs though, have never been allowed to interfere with his thespian pursuits.

“I’ve been involved in theatre in Hong Kong ever since I’ve been here,” says Tony. “I first joined The Hong Kong Singers in 2003. I came in to act and sing, but soon ended up directing – My Fair Lady in 2003 and Anything Goes in 2008.”

Hong Kong community theatre

Established in 1931, The Hong Kong Singers is the longest operating community theatre company in Hong Kong, inactive only during the Japanese occupation in World War II. As chairman, Tony now also sees to the business needs of the company, ensuring that each production generates the revenue necessary to fund future shows.

Revealing that it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to put on just one show, Tony explains that local companies help each other in all sorts of ways, from promoting each other’s productions to lending costumes, props and players. Being part of such a tight-knit community is clearly a motivator for Tony.

“While we’ve got 7.5 million people, Hong Kong is very concentrated, it’s still a village, so if you’re in theatre, a lot of people get to know you and you get to know them,” he says. “It’s great socially because theatre people are fun people.”

Tony notes that the local scene really took off post-handover, with new theatre troupes coming into being, both Chinese- and English-speaking. He is also impressed by the number of international shows that now come to Hong Kong.

“These days, we have to make sure our productions stack up and compete,” he concludes. “To make sure we sell out, we have to be good. We really do have to be good.”

Gypsy is showing from May 4 to 7 at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Tsim Sha Tsui. You can purchase tickets at www.urbtix.hk. For more on The Hong Kong Singers, visit www.hongkongsingers.org.

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