BILLY SUTER interviews vivacious, Gauteng-based performer TONYA KOENDERMAN, whose A Night in Paris is to be staged at Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre, 42 Cunningham Road, Umbilo, at 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2pm on Sundays, from April 5 to 14. The show features all the loved romantic favourite songs. Tickets cost R150 each and booking is at Computicket (or call Roland at 082 499 8636).
TELL US ABOUT “A NIGHT IN PARIS” AND HOW THE SHOW CAME ABOUT.
I fell in love with Paris after my first visit, when I was 21. I was broke as hell, and stayed in youth hostels, but this did not stop me from dressing up to the nines every day. I was determined to do Paris in style because the French are incredibly fashion conscious and will go broke to look good, so I’m told.
As I started developing my own shows, I fell in love with songs that tell stories… and no one does that quite like the French.
Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour and, of course, Jacques Brel – all have drama, passion, and stories: that is what I love about the French classics.
The songs in the show are often melancholy, so be prepared to shed a tear or two. Ne Me Quitte Pas, Autumn Leaves, Amsterdam, No Regrets and La Vie En Rose are just a few of the classics you can expect.
HOW GOOD IS YOUR FRENCH?
Even though my French is not very good, I adore the sound of the language. While travelling on the Metro in Paris, I would sit, just listening to people talk. It’s so poetic. I am desperately trying to work on rolling my Rs, but I haven’t quite mastered that yet.
WHERE HAVE YOU STAGED “A NIGHT IN PARIS” BEFORE?
The show has been performed at Theatre On the Square in Sandton, on the MSC Cruise liners, and at La Casta Diva in Pretoria. Possibly the most nerve-wracking performances were on the MSC cruise liner, because about 50% of the audience was French. But they were very appreciative and warm. And I think most of all, my passion shone through, so I was forgiven for more than a couple of mispronounced words.
The show is evenly mixed with English, so even those with no knowledge of French will understand.
YOU ARE PERHAPS MOST FAMOUS FOR YOUR LIZA MINNELLI TRIBUTE SHOW, YES?
I have been performing my Liza show for 25 years now… oh my goodness, time flies! It has been my most requested show. The first time was at Theatre on the Square in Rosebank, around 1995.
The theatre’s Daphne Kuhn had seen me in another show at the Grahamstown Arts Festival, and asked me to do a show at her then-newly opened theatre.
I had just seen the video of Liza at Radio City Music Hall, and I saw my future! I carefully put together a show that has barely altered in all the years I have done it.
The production then resulted in me performing in an impersonation show at The Carousel called Stars In Your Eyes, and then came the offer to play Liza in the international production, Beyond Belief, at Sun City. I was the only local artist to star in that show.
WHERE ELSE HAS YOUR LIZA TRIBUTE TAKEN YOU – AND HOW MUCH DID YOU STUDY THE STAR TO MASTER HER MANNERISMS?
I have been to every province in South Africa, sometimes more than once. I have performed it in Hermanus, Grahamstown, East London, Port Elizabeth, Prince Albert, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Namibia, Swakopmund, Bloemfontein, Durban and even performed it twice on the MSC Sinfonia. I’m sure I’ve left some places out.
I studied Liza’s every move, every twitch, every gesture, for months. Eventually it felt like I had absorbed her in some way.
WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOU?
Witty. OCD. Empathetic. Perfectionist. Protective.
WHAT ARE FIVE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF (HOWEVER TRIVIAL) THAT PEOPLE ARE UNLIKELY TO KNOW?
I love my yoga and I am training to become a teacher.
I love teddy bears.
When it comes to the welfare of animals, politeness, courtesy and even friendship will not stand in my way to protect them.
I have no sense of direction. Wayze is my best friend.
I love autobiographies.
YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT ON STAGE?
It was during a show at Sun City and involved a dancer who had to remove a jacket I was wearing. In an over-zealous moment he removed the layer underneath as well, and exposed my right tit. Needless to say, I felt like one!
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING SOMEONE HAS SAID OF YOU?
“Gosh, you’re tall!” (I’m five-foot-four).
IF YOU COULD CHANGE THREE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
A filter would be nice. Also, I wish to be more perky in the mornings… and I wish I had small, dainty feet as I am built like a Hobbit.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE FICTION HEROES/ AND REAL-LIFE HEROES?
Batman, when played by George Clooney. My Dad is my real-life hero. He is the kindest, gentlest soul I know.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE COLOUR, MEAL, BAND, ALBUM, TV SHOW AND MOVIE?
Meal: Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and a nice, tasty gravy.
Band: Will I be judged if I say Abba?
Album: Any Sting album will do.
TV Show: The Good Wife.
Movie: Lion … brilliant!
WHAT IS THE WORST TROUBLE YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN?
I was caught drinking from the bottle of an Old Brown Sherry – by a client who insisted no alcohol be consumed before the show.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED – AND WHO GAVE IT?
Sister Imelda, my junior school choir mistress, told me: “Don’t ever stop singing”.
WHAT DO YOU MOST MISS FROM CHILDHOOD?
THE MOST FRIGHTENING THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU?
Finding a 30cm hair on my chin. No idea how long it had been there!
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS’? AND WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTE NO-NOS?
Absolutely fabulous: Lindor balls, a pedicure, Versace Absolu, Kanebo Base and Paris in the springtime.
Absolute no-nos: Snorting in public, not tipping, sitting on a cellphone while lunching with a friend, box wine and one-ply toilet paper.
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE’?
Sherry, Lindor balls, a fat cat, a slice of carrot cake, and a one-hour bath.
THE BEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER HAD? AND THE WORST?
Best: “You are world class!”
Worst: “I thought you were a man in drag.”