Stage: The Reals: Hot August Night – Rhumbelow Theatre, Cunningham Road, Umbilo, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
SIMPLY put, the latest showband entertainment at Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre in Umbilo is a Reals gem – a sparkling Neil Diamond tribute which, at last night’s opening, attracted the first choc-a-block full-house at this theatre since its recent refurbishment.
So great is the pull of Hot August Night that final performances this weekend are virtually fully booked, reports delighted theatre manager Roland Stansell.
However, fear not, as the show has also been booked in at this venue at 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays, October 12, 13, 19 and 20, and at 2pm on Sundays October 14 and 21. In addition, performances are scheduled for the Rhumbelow’s Kloof branch at Tina’s Hotel, later in October.
If anyone ever doubted seasoned Durban showband The Reals’ talent, versatility and charisma, and uncanny ability to turn out new shows of high quality within days, they should pop along to see this excellent entertainment.
Along with the band’s Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Dire Straits and British Invasion shows, Hot August Night ranks as one of the very best from the crack team of singer-guitarist Barry Thomson, keyboardist-singer and musical director Dawn Selby, singer-drummer Mali Sewell and singer-bassist Jason Andrew.
When I chatted backstage to Dawn and Barry, separately, before the show, both expressed nervousness, Dawn even showing me her hands shaking. But if they had any worries they were quickly dispelled by the responses from an enthusiastic opening night audience which was moved to give the band a standing ovation and loud whoops of approval.
The show opens with video footage sketching the rise and accomplishments of Neil Diamond – beamed on two raised screens flanking the stage. We then launch straight into the catchy Forever in Blue Jeans (Barry on lead vocals), before renditions of A Beautiful Noise (Mali on lead vocals) and a song Brooklyn-born Diamond is said to rate as a personal favourite, the haunting I Am, I Said, beautifully performed by Barry on lead vocals.
Other items from the first half include the lesser known Brooklyn Roads and the hit Solitary Man, both sung by Mail; and Shiloh and Heartlight, both featuring Jason on lead vocals. We also get an interlude of novelty snippets from Diamond’s Hot August Night album before Jason takes lead vocals for a well-received Song Sung Blue. This gets the audience singing along and continuing to do so during Barry’s lively rendition of Cherry, Cherry, an excellent first-half closer.
The show’s second half opens with a welcome surprise – only Dawn and Barry on stage for a gentle duet rendition of The Story of My Life, a moving song penned by Diamond in 1986 – and is followed by Diamond’s 2014 song, Something Blue, an upbeat look at newfound love, for which the Diamond promo video for the song is shown on the screens while Barry handles lead vocals.
Barry is on tip-top vocal form in the second half, particularly with renditions of Love on the Rocks, America and Holly Holy. A big personal favourite is his vocal delivery of Play Me, for which he plays acoustic guitar.
The second half also has Mali singing Longfellow Serenade and Jason performing Soolaimon, which has a great drum solo by Mali and has the stage bathed in green and blue hues from lighting designer Sarah Claxton. Not surprisingly, the Diamond biggies, Cracklin’ Rosie and Sweet Caroline, are kept for last and they bring the house down. The only big hits I could think of that were conspicuous by their absence from the programme were Desiree and Be.
The show, with sound design by Andre Norden, is laced with interesting anecdotes and facts about Diamond, who was the recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this year, was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1984 and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
It came as a surprise to some at my table that the American wrote hits for others too, not least The Monkees chart-topper, I’m a Believer (this show’s encore item) and the UB40 classic, Red, Red Wine (also on the Hot August Night bill).
Now 77, Diamond announced in January this year that he had retired from touring after having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Very sad, as he enjoys live performances more than anything, he says in interview footage shown during this show. However, his music will live forever.
Tickets for Hot August Night cost R150 each (R130 for pensioners and students with cards).Book at Computicket outlets or phone Roland at 082 499 8636.
Note that one can take along one’s own food and snacks to the Rhumbelow Theatre in Durban, but all beverages must be bought at the theatre pub. Light snacks and meals can also be bought at the venue.