Miss T, a bare boob and a 30cm hair

Tonya Koenderman salutes Liza Minnelli in Liza With a T, at Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre, Umbilo, on March 31 and again on April 1 and 2.

BILLY SUTER interviews vivacious, Gauteng-based performer TONYA KOENDERMAN, whose Liza With a T show, a lively salute to the music and memories of Liza Minnelli, is to be staged at Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre, 42 Cunningham Road, Umbilo, at 8pm on March 31 and April 1, and also at 2pm and 6.30pm on April 2. The fun show tells of Minnelli’s life – her close relationship with her director father, her struggle to conquer drug and alcohol abuse, her many relationships, and of the influence her mother, Judy Garland, had over her. But mainly the musical revue pays tribute to the songs Liza made famous – among them Cabaret, Mein Herr, Maybe This Time, Money Money and New York, New York. Tickets cost R150 (R100 at Friday shows, if you buy a R200-a-year  Loyalty Card). Book at Computicket or call Roland at 082 499 8636.   

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THIRD TIME LUCKY FOR THE RHUMBELOW THEATRE, AFTER TWO PREVIOUS PLANNED SHOWS HAD TO BE CANCELLED WHEN YOU FELL ILL?

Rather a horrible time.  I came down with a virus and ended up hospitalised for a week.  Apart from feeling pretty lousy, the stress of letting down audiences, and letting down dearest Roland (Roland Stansell, Rhumbelow Theatre entertainment co-ordinator) was not something I enjoyed in the slightest.

WHEN AND WHERE DID YOU FIRST PERFORM THE LIZA SHOW?

I have been performing my Liza show for 23 years now… oh my goodness, time flies! It has been my most requested show. The first time was at Theatre on the Square in Rosebank, around 1995.

The theatre’s Daphne Kuhn had seen me in another show at the Grahamstown Arts Festival, and asked me to do a show at her then-newly opened theatre.

I had just seen the video of Liza at Radio City Music Hall, and I saw my future! I carefully put together a show that has barely altered in all the years I have done it.

The production then resulted in me performing in an impersonation show at The Carousel called Stars In Your Eyes, and then came the offer to play Liza in the international production, Beyond Belief, at Sun City.  I was the only local artist to star in that show.

WHERE ELSE HAS YOUR LIZA TRIBUTE TAKEN YOU – AND HOW MUCH DID YOU STUDY THE STAR TO MASTER HER MANNERISMS?

I have been to every province in South Africa, sometimes more than once. I have performed it in Hermanus, Grahamstown, East London, Port Elizabeth, Prince Albert, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Namibia, Swakopmund, Bloemfontein, Durban and even performed it twice on the MSC Sinfonia. I’m sure I’ve left some places out.

I studied Liza’s every move, every twitch, every gesture, for months.  Eventually it felt like I had absorbed her in some way.

HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU PERFORMED ‘LIZA WITH A T’, HOW FAR AFIELD – AND WHERE AND WHEN  LAST DID YOU PERFORM THE SHOW IN DURBAN?

I have lost count of how many times. The furthest away would have to be on the MSC Cruiseliner while on the Mediterranean.  It was very much appreciated by the foreigners, especially the Germans.

The last time I did Liza in Durban was for a private birthday party. It’s not your typical party show, but it went down a treat.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO PEOPLE TO ENCOURAGE THEM TO SEE THE SHOW?

Whether or not you are a Liza fan, this is a show to be enjoyed by all. Not only for the songs she made famous… she loved to tell stories with music, and those are the true highlights. Liza is an icon, a symbol of another era. She deserves to be celebrated.

WHERE TO FOR YOU AFTER THE RHUMBELOW SHOWS? AND WHAT PLANS FOR THE REST OF THIS YEAR?

I have a really good year ahead of me, I am happy to say. Lots of returns to Durban, lots of corporates, lots of touring to everywhere and anywhere.

ANY OTHER SHOWS PLANNED WITH YOUR LONGTIME PAL – AWARD-WINNING DURBAN THEATRE DARLING  LISA BOBBERT?

We are planning to bring our Convent Girls back… this time bigger and better, with new songs and new stories. Seen before at the Rhumbelow, it based on our very special, 36-year friendship, commencing at Rosebank Convent at the age of 13.

We have been through puberty, adulthood and now menopause together. We still act like we’re 13 when we see each other… much to the embarrassment of her children.

WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOU?

Witty. OCD. Empathetic. Perfectionist. Protective.

Tonya new 8
Tonya Koenderman has been tipping a hat to Liza Minnelli for 23 years.

WHAT ARE FIVE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF (HOWEVER TRIVIAL) THAT PEOPLE ARE UNLIKELY TO KNOW?

I love my yoga and I am training to become a teacher.

I love teddy bears.

When it comes to the welfare of animals, politeness, courtesy and even friendship will not stand in my way to protect them.

I have no sense of direction. Wayze is my best friend.

I love autobiographies.

YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT ON STAGE?

It was during a show at Sun City and involved a dancer who had to remove a jacket I was wearing. In an over-zealous moment he removed the layer underneath as well, and exposed my right tit. Needless to say, I felt like one!

WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING SOMEONE HAS SAID OF YOU?

“Gosh, you’re tall!” (I’m five-foot-four).

IF YOU COULD CHANGE THREE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF WHAT WOULD THEY BE?

A filter would be nice. Also, I wish to be more perky in the mornings… and I wish I had small, dainty feet as I am built like a Hobbit.

WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE FICTION HEROES/ AND REAL-LIFE HEROES?

Batman, when played by George Clooney. My Dad is my real-life hero. He is the kindest, gentlest soul I know.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE COLOUR, MEAL, BAND, ALBUM, TV SHOW AND MOVIE?

Colour:  Indigo.

Meal:  Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and a nice, tasty gravy.

Band:  Will I be judged if I say Abba?

Album: Any Sting album will do.

TV Show: The Good Wife.

Movie: Lion … brilliant!

WHAT IS THE WORST TROUBLE YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN?

I was caught drinking from the bottle of an Old Brown Sherry – by a client who insisted no alcohol be consumed before the show.

WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED – AND WHO GAVE IT?

Sister Imelda, my junior school choir mistress, told me: “Don’t ever stop singing”.

WHAT DO YOU MOST MISS FROM CHILDHOOD?

A metabolism.

THE MOST FRIGHTENING THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU?

Finding a 30cm hair on my chin.  No idea how long it had been there!

WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS’? AND WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTE NO-NOS?

Absolutely fabulous: Lindor balls, a pedicure, Versace Absolu, Kanebo Base and Paris in the springtime.

Absolute no-nos: Snorting in public, not tipping, sitting on a cellphone while lunching with a friend, box wine and one-ply toilet paper.

WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE’?

Sherry, Lindor balls, a fat cat, a slice of carrot cake, and a one-hour bath.

THE BEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER HAD? AND THE WORST?

Best: “You are world class!”

Worst:  “I thought you were a man in drag.”


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