Stage: We Luv Abba – Rhumbelow Theatre, Umbilo, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
FRIDAY night marked a very special occasion for Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre when the Umbilo venue in the three-theatre franchise reopened, ushering in its 18th year with much merriment and a packed house.
For some seven months the venue has been closed, time in which a new roof, a new ceiling, sanded and varnished flooring, fresh paint and other refurbishment has taken place at the Cunningham Road shellhole accommodating the theatre.
Hard-working theatre manager and entertainment co-ordinator Roland Stansell announced on Friday that some R90 000 had been raised from the recent Rhumbelow Theatre fundraiser held at Glenwood High School’s hall – and one can see where the money has gone.
The stage’s proscenium arch, once a v-e-r-y tired blue with two large, tacky, faded-glitter stars, is now a vibrant merlot colour – and those dated stars have vanished (yay!). New lighting rigs suspended from the ceiling, and new lighting on stage, are also most welcome. Black curtaining lines the now-dark-grey walls of the venue which has new fans and lighting, and a new, lower ceiling.
Plans are to add gold highlights to the stage arch and also on pelmets that are to be fitted over the hall curtaining. Also, raised platforms for spotlights and a sound desk at the back of the theatre are in the pipeline.
Stansell and his caring team of helpers certainly richly deserved their rapturous applause at the theatre’s reopening but I have to say I was hugely disappointed with the show chosen to open the venue.
Singer-pianist Cat Simoni is one of my favourite performers and a popular draw at the Rhumbelow Theatre and other cabaret venues countrywide, so I was very much looking forward to her tribute to the music of Swedish supergroup Abba.
We Luv Abba, the poster for which implies the production is a Simoni-only show, also stars Simoni’s manager, producer and director, Paul Spence. And there’s the rub.
Spence has a limited vocal capability, which falls very, very far short of Simoni’s. Also, to put it quite bluntly, he is here the hammiest of performers, and with an infuriating tendency to hog the spotlight and cheapen the show.
Simoni often comes across as a somewhat embarrasssed backup singer to his antics, which include constantly circling her piano and leaving the stage to mingle with audience members, often encouraging them to sing along.
Many in the audience, it must be noted, thought it was enormous fun, and I acknowledge that. However I, for one, along with others, found Spence to be an unnecessary and constant distraction, way too over the top, and quite exhausting.
Simoni is a performer who deserves so much better – and her heartfelt vocals and piano work with the Abba ballads Chiquitita and I Have a Dream prove just how good this production could have been were she to present a more sophisticated tribute to Abba.
Instead, on a stage decorated with the flags of Sweden, the US and the UK, she has to wear a cheap blonde wig and blue catsuit, tell bad jokes and, with Spence, stumble through super-corny dialogue that knocks the relationships of the four Abba members. Mamma mia!
Spence, in extremely tight trousers and bad wigs, appears in the show’s first half as Bjorn to Simoni’s Agnetha, then in the second half as Benny to Simoni’s Anna-Frid.
For the record, the production also features Simoni on sax here and there, and contains hits such as Thank You For the Music, Waterloo, Nina Pretty Ballerina, Does Your Mother Know?, Bang a Boomerang, The Winner Takes It All, Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, Ring, Ring, Hasta Manana, Voulez-vous and Super Trouper, among others.
Final performances are at 8pm today (Saturday, July 7) and 2pm tomorrow (Sunday, July 8). Tickets cost R150 each and booking is at Computicket or by calling Roland at 082 499 8636.