JONNY Buxton is no stranger to directing shows - it’s just he has never worked with adult actors before.

Jonny is well-known on the south Essex amateur theatre scene and has directed shows featuring school pupils in his daytime job as a teacher.

But directing Southend Operatic and Dramatic Society’s production of the classic Hello, Dolly! has seen him broaden his horizons to direct adults for the first time.

“It has been an emotional journey; it’s been absolutely fabulous so far,” long-time SODS member Jonny said.

“This is my directing debut with the company and we’ve gone from strength to strength. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful cast and a very talented creative team by my side, so we’re in a good place and I would imagine it’ll be an absolute gem of a show.”

Jonny, who has played Harmonia Gardens head waiter Rudolph in a previous production of the Jerry Herman show, said he jumped at the opportunity to directed Hello, Dolly! and has enjoyed the experience.

He explained it was bizarre going from being a cast mate with his fellow SODS members to directing them, and meant he had to work on being tougher to take command.

“I have been their friend for a long time , so it’s been an interesting progression,” he added. “But everyone has been very respectful from the get-go and I haven’t had any problems at all.”

That has let Jonny focus on his vision for the show, which was a stage hit in the West End and Broadway before becoming a much-loved film starring Barbra Streisand in the title role, alongside Walter Matthau as Horace Vandergelder.

“I’ve tried to add a bit of a different storytelling element to it” Jonny explained.

“I found a secret weapon in the waiters, who are famous in the Harmonia Gardens sequence. I didn’t want to waste their wonderful costumes and characters, so I’ve brought them into act one as well to help the story progress.

“I’ve also even had the stage crew dress up in waiters’ costumes to make it look like the waiters are moving the story on during the scene changes. It’s giving it a different edge and I haven’t ever seen it done like that before.

“We’re keeping it in the period of the 1890s and keeping the style of the show, but giving it a slightly more modern, almost comic edge to it. It’s a case of trying to bring something new to the show while also keeping that nostalgic charm.”

Jonny says the highlights of directing his first show have been seeing his vision come to life and watching his cast blossom in their roles, particularly those playing their first principal roles for SODS.

Southend Operatic is staging Hello, Dolly! at the Palace Theatre, in London Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, between Wednesday, April 13, and Saturday, April 16, with evening performances at 7.30pm and 2.30pm matinees on April 14 and 16. Tickets cost £17 for evening performances and £14 for matinees.

SODS veterans Suzanne Walters and Les Cannon star as Dolly Levi and Vandergelder, with a supporting cast including SODS regulars Declan Wright (Ambrose Kemper), Emma Tout (Irene Molloy) and Nick Bright (Cornelius Hackl).

The show also sees Rachael Farrow (Minnie Fay), Sacha Jonas (Ermengarde Vandergelder) and Ewan Dunlop (Barnaby Tucker) making their principal debuts for SODS.

The production has been choreographed by Cassie Estall and Becki Wendes, who are working with SODS for the first time, with Elizabeth Dunlop returning as musical director.