STAGE: Joseph Clark: The Music of Queen – Rockwood Theatre, Sibaya Casino
THERE was a time when nearly every show in Durban seemed to star Joseph Clark, the Texan-born, former Napac ballet dancer who, long based in Durban, was the quintessential triple threat – superb as a versatile dancer, an actor (remember him in March of the Falsettos at the Playhouse?) and as a singer.
It was the late Geoffrey Sutherland’s terrific, ahead-of-its-time Queen at the Opera – a sumptuous, high-camp tribute to the music of British band Queen; a flamboyant yet stylish spectacle of grand-scale song and dance – that best showcased Clark as a singer.
So exceptionally good was he in that 1990 success and its sequels; so perfect his interpretation of the essence and soul of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury; so effortless his vocal range, that Clark, understandably, has been dining out on Queen tribute shows for years, both locally and globally.
Some two decades have whizzed by since the versatile performer, long based in Johannesburg, last performed for the general public in Durban, so it was with great excitement that I attended Thursday night’s opening of The Music of Queen at the stylish, three-tier Rockwood Theatre.
Set against the stage’s wall of flashing lights and backed by an excellent five-member band, Clark opened the show with Let Me Entertain You/We Will Rock You and if the vocals were a little strained, the singer-dancer was quick to explain.
Clark apologised to the audience, explaining that a recent visit to Nambia, with its dry air, had taken a heavy toll on his voice. He said he was probably giving only 30 percent of what he normally gives vocally to this show, which has also been staged abroad, but was happy to plough on if the sizeable audience was happy for him to do so.
Loud whoops and applause let him know the crowd was happy for more – and it says a lot for the power of the music, the excellence of the band and, most of all, the charisma and clout of Clark, even if not at full throttle, that the show was hugely enjoyable and spurred a standing ovation.
The Music of Queen also has a standout in Axe Lourens on lead guitars and vocals, and a boyish Richard Brokensha on guitar and vocals, but also contributing enormously to the show are Kyle Petersen on piano, keyboards and backing vocals, Trevor Donjeany on bass and Marlon Witbooi on drums.
The team is tight and the hits just keep on coming, with Clark, who never tries to impersonate Mercury, appearing in a different outfit each half. He also dons a black wig and black sequinned dress for the fun I Want to Break Free, after which he leaves Axe and Richard to share vocals on Crazy Little Thing Called Love as he hops off for a costume change.
All the biggies crop up – Innuendo, Another One Bites the Dust, Killer Queen, Fat-Bottomed Girls, Bicycle Race, We Are the Champions, Under Pressure, Tie Your Mother Down, Living On My Own and the inevitable Bohemian Rhapsody, among them.
A big highlight for me was Clark in more mellow mode for his delivery of Too Much Love Will Kill You and, even more impressively, the haunting ballad Take My Breath Away, sung as he plays keyboards. His version of this song has always been a favourite of mine, stemming from the early Queen at the Opera, when he performed it in a Madama Butterfly setting.
One can only hope his voice is back on top form soon, because when Clark is on peak form a good show can only become great.
Final performances of The Music of Queen, which also features some lesser hits from the latter part of Freddie Mercury’s career, are at 8pm today and tomorrow (Friday and Saturday, September 7 and 8) and 2pm on Sunday (September 9). Tickets cost R180 each and booking is by phoning (031) 161 000