BILLY SUTER chats to Durban-born, Johannesburg-based SAMANTHA PEO, star of such hit musicals as Cabaret, Chicago and Thoroughly Modern Millie, who returns to her hometown this week (May 9 to 13). She is to perform in a revival of this reviewer’s pick of the best show at the Rhumblow Theatre in 2017 – Soulfire and Fireflies, a reflection on life and love. Catch it at the Rhumbelow Theatre’s Kloof branch at Tina’s Hotel, 14 Beryldene Road. This classy show, a hit at the recent Hilton Arts Festival and seen at the Umbilo Rhumbelow Theatre last year, also features local pianist Evan Roberts and, this time around, a guest appearance by Durban’s Marianthe Panas. Catch Soulfire and Fireflies at 8pm on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, and 2pm on Sunday. Tickets cost R150 and booking is at Computicket or by phoning Roland at 082 499 8636.
TELL US ABOUT “SOULFIRE AND FIREFLIES” – AND HOW EVAN ROBERTS ENDED UP TAKING THE PLACE OF YOUR INITIAL SIDEKICK.
The show is actually deeply personal for me and somewhat autobiographical, but in a way that most people could relate to. It has gone through various adaptations, and this latest version feels the most authentic.
It has changed and evolved as I have evolved. Unfortunately, Clifford Cooper, my original co-star in the show, who has been a friend since I was 12, has had a really tough personal tragedy recently in losing his dearest father, and needed to attend to more immediate things.
Evan Roberts was the first person who popped into my head to step in for him. And he very graciously agreed to join me.
HOW AND WHEN DID THE SHOW COME ABOUT – AND HOW WOULD YOU BRIEFLY SUMMARISE IT?
A good many years ago, I performed with Clifford in a show called I Still Believe in Love. It detailed the journey from the end of a relationship to the beginning of a new one.
Over the years we knew that we wanted to reprise the show, or at least a version of the show, but I also knew I wanted to create more than just a show about the search for new love, but rather one about the journey that we all have to make at some point in our lives, towards our own self-love.
Both Cliff and I are passionate performers and dedicated towards not only our own personal development and self-growth but towards the upliftment of humanity and the general consciousness of the planet as a whole. We loved the idea of combining those two passions to create a show that explored both.
This was also why choosing Evan to step in was of crucial importance because we live with the same life ethos.
WHAT CAN PEOPLE EXPECT FROM THE SHOW- WHAT RANGE OF SONGS? AND WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO ENCOURAGE THEM TO SEE IT?
It really is a beautiful, honest show and I am extremely proud of it. In a nutshell, we will take you on an intimate, musical journey reflecting on life and love.
We perform well-known songs (with fresh arrangements), poetry and personal stories, which ultimately details the journey from the end of an important relationship.
We go through the stages of loss, highlighting all the ups and downs, the funny and poignant moments in between, towards self-acceptance and love. And, as I said, it is performed as a personal account but tells a very human story. It is a “feel good” story and tells the story of personal triumph.
After all, what is life without promise, hopes and dreams, challenges, triumphs, mystery and drama? And of course….a whole lot of love!
HOW OFTEN HAS THE SHOW BEEN PERFORMED – WHERE AND WHEN MOST RECENTLY…AND WHERE TO FOR IT AFTER DURBAN?
The show has undergone a couple of adaptations. In its previous incarnations we performed it at various supper clubs in Joburg, at the Rand Club, and for various corporate events. In its current form, it definitely feels like it needs more of a theatrical platform. We performed at the Hilton Arts Festival as a tryout, and it worked really well.
YOU AND EVAN PERFORMED IN THE TOURING PRODUCTION OF KICKSTART’S “CABARET”, IN WHICH YOU PLAYED THE LEAD, SALLY BOWLES (ORIGINALLY PLAYED IN DURBAN BY LISA BOBBERT). WHAT MEMORIES OF THAT EXPERIENCE?
Cabaret marked the first time Evan and I met and worked together… and clearly he was an absolute joy to work with, obviously a beautiful musician with a brilliant ear and musicality.
Then he accompanied me on keyboards when we performed at The Naledi Awards, and for a singer there is nothing better than an accompanist who sensitively and intuitively follows and supports you.
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO IN RECENT MONTHS?
I most recently performed in the original South African musical, Calling Me Home. I have also been working in corporate theatre as an emcee, as a solo performer and also with my two corporate bands the Rockabilly Ravens and the Modernettes.
WHAT NEXT FOR YOU AFTER THE RHUMBELOW SHOWS – AND SOME PLANS GOING FORWARD?
We definitely want to take Soulfire and Fireflies further, and to tour and perform in as many intimate cabaret venues around South Africa as possible. Also, as creative beings, there is always some new idea brewing. So watch this space.
WHERE WERE YOU BORN AND HOW AND WHEN DID THE SHOWBIZ BUG FIRST BITE?
I was born in at The Parklane Clinic in Durban. I was always just interested in singing and dancing and watching movie musicals with my mom.
I took all the classes just because I enjoyed them. I never thought of it becoming a serious career until around Std 9 and matric, and winning Best Actress awards and full colours in dramatic art.
WHAT FORMAL VOICE AND ACTING TRAINING HAVE YOU HAD – AND WHAT MARKED YOUR FIRST BIG BREAK?
I studied at the Performing Arts Workshop which was based on the original Fame school, where one learnt all forms of the performing arts. This was from the age of 12 until I was 17.
My first big break was auditioning for my first professional show, pretty much straight from school, and being cast. And every successful audition after that felt like a break. Then, about two years into it, I was cast in my first leading role.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THREE CAREER HIGHLIGHTS?
I have more than three! I really have had a very fortunate career, in that I have played many of the roles I would have wanted to play.
WHAT IS A DREAM ROLE AND A DREAM CO-STAR?
I have always wanted to play Charity in Sweet Charity. I love all the Bob Fosse-inspired, song-and-dance musicals. Dream co-stars? Oh gosh… how many hours do we have? uit definitely Kate Normington and Carly Graham.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING OR AMUSING MOMENT ON STAGE?
It was during the Cape Town run of Cabaret. For some reason I couldn’t remember a particular word in the title song from the musical.
So funny how the brain works, especially after months of performing the song eight times a week. And this particular word is repeated often in the song. It was “chum”.
I searched furiously for the elusive word in the dark recesses of a tired brain. First time around, I sang “pal”, then “friend” , then “mate”. Oh God… finally “chum” came to me, in all its glory, and I sang it as loudly as I could, much to the relief of the entire cast who were guffawing backstage.
WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOU?
Free spirit, generous, impatient, funny, passionate.
WHAT ARE SOME THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF THAT PEOPLE ARE UNLIKELY TO KNOW?
I like being true to myself, no matter what – my idealistic and activist heart standing up, no matter the consequences, against bullies. I also like to really “see” and value the “essence” of someone. And I always wish the best for people.
THE MOST FAMOUS PERSON YOU HAVE MET – AND WHO WOULD YOU GIVE GOLD TO MEET?
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. I would love to have dinner with Dame Judi Dench, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Dame Helen Mirren, philosopher Ken Wilber, Graham Norton and lovely Will.I.Am.
HOBBIES, PASTIMES AND FAVOURITE THINGS?
I reading voraciously and I am a series junkie. I enjoy hanging out with just my darling kitty-cat Ebony Grace, as well as spending quality time with good friends and relaxing with my beautiful family.
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘VASTLY OVERRATED’?
Labels, selfies, hot spots, air kissing and ass kissing.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING SOMEONE HAS SAID OF YOU?
That I have somehow inspired or motivated them when I wasn’t even aware of it.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR YEAR SO FAR?
Meeting and sharing a little time and space with some truly remarkable, kind, generous, conscious and wildly entertaining people.
WHAT ARE YOUR FEARS AND PHOBIAS ?
I am not an active adrenaline junkie… at all. The stage gives me as much adrenaline as I need. I don’t have a death wish!
WHAT IS THE WORST TROUBLE YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN?
Eish. It was after sending an SMS to someone that I was actually talking about. Awkward. Horrible. Biggest lesson!
WHAT THINGS DO YOU MOST MISS FROM CHILDHOOD?
Having no worries. Being an adult is hard.
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS’? AND WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTE NO-NOS?
Fabulous – laughing LOUDL, sleeping, authenticity, creating, love.
No-no’s – Being famous for being famous, no accountability, the inability to say “sorry”, bigots, mean-spiritedness.
THE BEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER HAD? AND THE WORST?
I was once told that I have magic… isn’t that lovely? The worst? Being told that I have no patience for neediness and can seem cold… but that’s true.
WHAT ALTERNATIVE CAREER PATHS MIGHT YOU HAVE CONSIDERED ?
Social upliftment and development – but my current career is evolving more and more in this direction.
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
To discover your gift, your purpose, and to share it with the world to make it a better place. Just love.