Excellent showcase for stellar talent

Nick Wium with Marianthe Panas and Bernelee Frick in a scene from Listen at the Rhumbelow Theatre in Durban. Picture here and below by John Robinson.

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Stage: Listen – Rhumbelow Theatre, Cunningham Road, Umbilo, Durban
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ANYONE appreciating excellent vocals and popular songs from musical theatre should do themselves a huge favour and head for the Rhumbelow Theatre in Umbilo for the final performances – at 8pm today (February 9) and 2pm tomorrow (February 10) – of Listen, featuring one of Durban’s hottest properties on the entertainment scene.

Essentially, it’s a showcase for Marianthe Panas,  just 17, who, with further guidance and experience, has the vocal strength, range, versatility, charisma, emotional nuances and polish to go far in the world of musical theatre.

Having watched this modest teen grow in confidence and clout in recent years, I have to say I have not been this excited about a blossoming local talent since Johannesburg’s Jonathan Roxmouth first performed as a schoolboy in Durban some 15 years or so ago, as a pupil of Northcliff High School.

Roxmouth is today the undisputed king of South African musical theatre, currently touring internationally as the lead character in Phantom of the Opera, a role he first played internationally some years ago. Also, he recently played Billy Flynn in an international touring production of Chicago.

Marianthe, who lists her career highlights as having sung with Roxmouth, has the same passion and vocal talent to succeed that I saw in the young Jonathan, and it will be very interesting indeed to watch her soar as she studies musical theatre further when she completes her matric this year at Crawford College, La Lucia.

In Listen, which was first presented in 2017 at the Hilton Arts Festival, Marianthe is backed by the Shizam band – keyboardist and MC Nick Wium, drummer Alwyn Singh, guitarist Shyane Kistensamy and bassist Sebastian Gilchrist.

She is also lent strong vocal support from former Crawford College pupil Bernelee Frick, who blends beautifully in a number of duets with Marianthe and also impresses in solo spots with, notably, a slinky version of the title song from the Cher musical Burlesque, a haunting You Must Love Me from Evita, and a gutsy Hopelessly Devoted to You from Grease. My only quibble is that she could smile more and should be taught how to not hide her mouth with her microphone.

The show was put together by Wium, music director at Crawford College. He is sometimes a distraction, being too robust behind the keyboard  – and would add more pace to the proceedings were he to edit his discussion (sometimes read) of the background to virtually every song on the programme. It is really not necessary, a little amateurish, and it would be so much better to let the two vocalists handle occasional chit-chat instead.

Marianthe Panas and Bernelee Frick in Listen.

Another wobble is a lack of direction. Yes, the stage is very small, but it gets a little boring having the singers stationary in one spot for most of the show, only Marianthe occasionally taking a few steps here and there.

These small gripes aside, Listen is a sterling showcase for vocal versatility, the songs selected testing the full range and excellence of both its attractive vocalists. It is an informal but elegant production that is pure joy for anyone even remotely keen on show tunes.

Opening with The Age of Aquarius from Hair, the production covers many musicals, highlights including Marianthe’s Don’t Cry For Me Argentina from Evita, the gutsy Listen and I Am Changing from Dreamgirls, and, the best of the lot, a goosebump-raising rendition of the challenging Caruso, sung in Italian (dedicated to the late Italian tenor of the same name) which drew a lengthy burst of applause from the audience.

I also loved Marianthe and Bernelee in duet for a medley of songs from Les Miserables and with my all-time favourite duet from musical theatre, For Good, from Wicked. The show also features songs from Chess, The Greatest Showman, Jesus Christ Superstar and Miss Saigon.

Tickets for Listen cost R150 (R130 for pensioners and students with cards, R75 for under-13s and tables of eight or more). Book at Computicket or phone Roland at 082 499 8635.

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Marianthe Panas and Norraine Swanby.

FOOTNOTE: There were tears at my table on opening night when my cousin, award-winning former Playhouse Company choir mistress, actress and opera singer Norraine Swanby, who is making great progress after suffering a stroke, attended the show on Marianthe’s request. The teenager tearfully thanked Norraine from the stage for having recognised and promoted her singing talent when she was in Grade 1 at Our Lady of Fatima Convent School in Durban North, where Norraine taught music. Norraine, who had not seen Marianthe perform since she was a child, immediately burst into tears and she and Marianthe hugged for ages after the show.

 


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