Stage: Hollywood Hits – Rockwood Theatre, Sibaya Casino
AFTER the hiccup that was the disappointing Best of the Decades, the last show staged at this elegant and spacious, three-tiered casino venue near Umhlanga, it is pleasing to report a return to form for The Rockwood Theatre which is now fully owned by Durban performer-director Andrew Webster and his wife, Cindy.
Andrew, who continues to produce and direct shows for both the Sibaya Casino venue and The Rockwood Theatre in Pretoria – owned by his former partners at the Durban theatre, Tom and Anne Muller – has put together a slick and very enjoyable show with Hollywood Hits.
The song selection is varied, the on-stage band is tight and the cherry on top is that Andrew has assembled a good group of strong singers that features some welcome new faces – not least among them a bubbly,17-year-old Durban blonde, Savannah de Beer, who makes her professional debut with a powerful set of pipes, a mature confidence and a charisma that points to great potential in the industry.
Also new on the Rockwood Theatre stage are former Idols Top 10 finalist from 2016, Sanele Mkhize, and the show’s MC, tall and camp Donovan Yaards, who is a versatile singer with good moves. He is quite the charmer, but really needs to severely cut back on the unnecessary chit-chat (sometimes incoherent mumbling) between songs. Less is more.
The band is perched at various levels on a stage which now features illuminated steps below a screen on which are beamed various movie titles and scenes from films. The team comprises the excellent John Ellis on vocals and lead guitar, Evan Cullum on vocals and keyboards, Dillan Kanny on drums and Trevor Donjeavy on bass.
Performing choreography by Zia James, in colourful costumes designed by Cindy Webster, the cast has a ball romping through favourite movie songs from the 1970s to the present – a programme that nods to everything from Fame and Footloose to The Greatest Showman, Grease, Dirty Dancing, Despicable Me, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born, with many others in between.
The show also features Capetonian Candice Kennedy, who was so good at this venue in Beautiful Noise, but who, despite a strong voice, was a teeny bit below her usual good form the night I attended Hollywood Hits.
Both her Let It Go from Frozen and This is Me from The Greatest Showman were lacking in passion, but she did a good job of Diamonds Are Forever in a James Bond sequence and in duet with Donovan for Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now, the Starship hit from the movie, Mannequin.
Also among the Hollywood Hits cast is an impressive Kyra Green, whose stage credits include having performed alongside Andrew Webster in the musical Rock of Ages in Johannesburg in late 2017.
Kyra’s You’re The One That I Want (with Donovan) from Grease is a standout, performed in front of a pink car with illuminated headlights, along with her performance of The Time of My Life from Dirty Dancing, sung in duet with rich-voiced Sanele.
The production starts with a mighty bang with The Greatest Show from The Greatest Showman, Donovan leading the pack as the ringmaster, and goes on to also present hit songs from Mamma Mia (good vocal chemistry between Candice and young Savannah) and Saturday Night Fever (Donovan with nifty footwork and the Bee Gees schreech down pat),
The show also nods to Trolls (the full cast with a jovial Can’t Stop the Feeling) and Gnomeo and Juliet (Evan Cullum singing Elton John’s Crocodile Rock, complete with sequinned glasses).
Three of the show’s highlights feature John Ellis on lead vocals and guitar – Prince’s title track from Purple Rain, Queen’s Radio Ga Ga from the Oscar-nominated Bohemian Rhapsody and the Lady Gaga-penned ballad, Shallow, from A Star is Born, a duet with Kyra.
Also worth special mention are Savannah’s delivery of Queen’s Love of My Life; Sanele’s Live and Let Die Bond theme and his A Whole New World duet with Kyra; and a Rock of Ages salute featuring Sanele with Just Like Paradise and the group in good harmony for Don’t Stop Believing.
One can also look forward to songs from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, St Elmo’s Fire, The Great Gatsby, Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun.
Hollywood Hits, under the musical direction of Shelds von Grimm, is being presented until April 7.
The show and venue are ideal for fundraisers, private and corporate functions. On show nights, the venue opens at 6.30pm for dinner service, with the performance starting at 8pm nightly, Thursdays to Saturdays, and at 2pm on Sundays.
The theatre now accepts Edgars Thank U account cards for in-house production ticket purchases. Tickets can be booked at www.rockwoodtheatre.co.za or by phoning (031) 161 0000.