Scramble of corn and craziness

Ian von Memerty and Gino Fabbri in Common and Class, which has started its South African tour with performances at Durban’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. It’s there until February 17.

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STAGE: Ian von Memerty and Gino Fabbri in Common and Class – 
Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, Durban
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IMAGINE an awkward amalgam of a young Jerry Lewis, the late Al Debbo and Leon Schuster at his most silly. If that thought tickles your funnybone you, like many at last night’s opening Durban performance of Common and Class, are sure to find a lot to enjoy from Gino Fabbri, a singer, comedian, guitarist and drummer.

Seen at Durban’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre before, many years ago, and having also worked the Barnyard circuit, Fabbri is perhaps most popularly known as a core member and owner of Port Elizabeth entertainment production company, Centrestage, which specialises in musical tributes. He is also in demand countrywide as an MC at corporate events.

Now, playing Common, an aw-shucks, guttural-accented bloke from the Bluff, he teams for a national tour with showbiz all-rounder Ian von Memerty, who plays Class, a posh-voiced snob, singer and pianist (or “penis”, as Common introduces him).

The premise of the show is that dim-witted Common saunters on stage while Class performs a song and announces he wants to do a variety show with him for reasons related to a romantic entanglement. This is the cue for a scramble of song, jokes, slapstick and dance.

I have to lay my cards on the table and say I found much of the first half of the show a hard slog. Fabbri’s brand of comedy is so broad and so very corny – silly expressions and endless outpourings of mispronounced words are his schtick – that I seriously considered I might not return after interval.

Gino Fabbri performs I Am What I Am in Common and Class.

The first part of the show’s first act is just too laboured and weak, with an overlong country and western tribute that has Fabbri in groovy cowboy gear, strumming an acoustic guitar. It has him slicing the ham ultra-thick. And his kimono drag for a cringe-worthy interpretation of I Am What I Am simply left me cold, although it must be noted that this routine left some in hysterics.

Thank heavens things get better, starting with Von Memerty’s spirited and fun delivery –  in wig, heels and corset, of course – of The Rocky Horror Show’s Sweet Transvestite, which morphs into Time Warp, with Fabbri on better form as a scruffy Riff-Raff.

The show’s second half is a big improvement, Fabbri toning down the silliness a notch or two for some good musical interplay – first in a medley in which snippets from show tunes by Von Memerty, on piano and vocals, take their lead from pop and rock snippets performed by Fabbri on vocals and electric guitar.

Also a crowd-pleaser is a routine in which the performers provide different iconic dance moves to a soundtrack of familiar favourites – everything from boeremusiek and Irish dance to the trademark moves of Austin Powers and M C Hammer, to the famous Patrick Swayze-Jennifer Grey above-the-head lift from Dirty Dancing.

My favourite moment of the show is the second half’s very funny and slick, if overlong. sketch in which the two performers sit on canvas chairs to play elderly gents. They milk humour from casual conversation covering topics as diverse as modern technology, false teeth, droopy boobs, bad driving, a giant penis, walnuts and coconuts. Add a similar sketch to the first half, dispense with some of the overlong slapstick there, and Common and Class would be a much better production.

Another standout sequence has a drumkit wheeled out at the eleventh hour for Fabbri to provide excellent percussive accompaniment to a medley of classical tunes performed by Von Memerty on piano. More along this line would have been most welcome, and, frankly, is the type of fare I was expecting from this show.

Common and Class looks a little lost on the large Sneddon stage, notwithstanding good lighting and an impressive backdrop of a shimmery curtain. It would probably work a lot better in a more intimate setting, perhaps as supper theatre, where a good few wines might help one to buy more into the craziness. The Rhumbelow Theatre in Umbilo perhaps?

This all said, it has to be reiterated that there was much loud laughter from the audience on opening night and many people were even moved to give the show a standing ovation.

Performances of Common and Class are scheduled for 7.30pm Tuesdays to Saturdays, with 3pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Booking is at Computicket.

Note that the show is scheduled to visit Johannesburg, Cape Town, Somerset West and George after its Durban season. Also note that Fabbri has announced he is to to bring a one-man show to Durban’s Suncoast Barnyard Theatre in Durban in April.

Ian von Memerty and Gino Fabbri in Common and Class.

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