Scrapbook memories… every now and then I dip into scrapbooks that piled up during my 24 years as Arts Editor of The Mercury newspaper in Durban and, just for fun, dig out reviews and interviews from yesteryear. Today we go back to April and December 1995.
BY BILLY SUTER
Scrapbook memories today, both from 1995, are focused on two events quite special to me – one applauding the breakout role from a fine South African actor, Craig Urbani, who went on to impress abroad and locally, and continues to do so.
The other is my interview with popular Durban singer-actress, the now-retired Norraine Swanby – who happens to be my cousin. The feature was to promote her standout role as the volatile, guttural-accented wicked witch, Evilene, in The Playhouse Company’s festive season production of The Wiz in 1995. That production starred current Playhouse Company head, Linda Bukhosini, in the lead role of Dorothy.
The Urbani article, pictured above, appeared in The Mercury on April 28, 1995, and is my review of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, a huge touring success for which a then-24-year-old Urbani so impressed in the title role that he was snapped up to play it in London in 1995.
For the Durban season, the role of Buddy Holly was alternated between Urbani and Joseph Clark. I recall, well, that, to prepare for the role, Clark took guitar lessons with local singer-guitarist Barry Thomson, who is now such a core component of hit Durban showband, The Reals.
I wrote in my Buddy review that Urbani was “a talent so huge – he won a Vita Award for his role – that, mark these words, he is sure to soar to even brighter heights after his June 19 West End debut”. And, indeed, he did – he spent a decade in London, appearing in Grease, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Fame, Kiss Me Kate, South Pacific, Contact and other hit shows, before returning to South Africa.
Interestingly, Urbani’s performance as Captain Von Trapp in the Playhouse Company’s 2016 festive season production of The Sound of Music marked his first time back on the Playhouse Opera stage since his performances there in Buddy.
The interview below, featured in The Mercury on December 18, 1995, is with powerful-voiced soprano Norraine, who was also choir mistress of The Playhouse Singers before the group was dissolved by the arts body.
The interview highlights Norraine (or ‘Norrie’, as she was affectionately known in the theatre world) in her role as nasty Evilene, but also refers to an altogether different role she played before that – Mother Abbess, in the Playhouse Company’s 1993 production of The Sound of Music.
The interview recalls that she had laryngitis while playing Mother Abbess – and it got so bad that she had to leave the show quite early in the run. She was admitted to hospital with what turned into bronchial pneumonia… and Durban theatre doyenne, Caroline Smart, was given short notice (just seven hours, she reminds me!) to step into the role.