Stage: Curtain Up! – Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
DURBAN’S annual youth musical by the Young Performers Project, which auditions teenagers from schools throughout KwaZulu-Natal, has been a shining showcase for future talent, an excellent way for youth to cultivate a passion for the arts, for 18 years.
At the very least the annual rehearsal and performance experience, with a professional director and crew, and with at least one professional actor in a starring role, has allowed a changing parade of youngsters to experience the joys and challenges of working together as a group in a professional environment, creating something of which they can be proud.
The project also promotes cross-cultural friendships, strong interpersonal skills, and the experience can lead to greater things. It is a known fact that Durban’s award-winning KickstArt theatre company has used these annual musicals to tap or earmark future talent, while other former cast members have gone on to excel in other areas of professional entertainment.
Every year the shows have had a certain spark, an exuberance, a high level of enjoyment. Sometimes they are quite excellent – most notably 2010’s Hairspray, 2011’s Seussical the Musical, directed by Steven Stead, and my favourite, 2013’s Can You Feel It, an original production built on Michael Jackson hits, written and directed by Peter Court and Charon Williams-Ros.
Coincidentally Williams-Ros wrote the first of the Durban youth musicals in 2002. It was Curtain Up!, staged at Durban’s Playhouse Drama with Frank Graham as the professional guest star.
It is this show which has been revived this year under the direction of Johannesburg-based theatre all-rounder Jaco van Rensburg, who has injected a fresh zest into a script that has been deftly updated and tweaked by Williams-Ros.
The result is a thorough delight of a show, packed with popular show tunes, and with some terrific talent, making it, for me, the best of these annual productions since Can You Feel It.
Featuring a 37-strong cast, the production has a thin storyline of a large group of teens taking shelter from the rain in a derelict theatre where they discover the evocative remnants of past productions. Inspired by the idea of bringing the old theatre back to life, the performers appeal to the new owner, Siyanda (played by the ebullient and amusing Mthokozisi Zulu) to re-open as a community theatre, only to learn that the theatre is to be knocked down to make way for a casino.
The passion with which the young performers fight to save the theatre, with help from Siyanda’s personal assistant, Thuli (professional Sbongiseni Shezi), leads Siyanda to the realisation of where his true values lie.
Songs in the show, which features a set and props by Greg King, include numbers from The Wiz, Little Shop of Horrors, Cats, Cabaret, Pippin, Fiddler on the Roof, Oliver!, Rent, Les Miserables, Into the Woods, Ipi Tombi, Billy Elliot, The Greatest Showman and Sarafina.
This is a large ensemble of talented teens and, performing to backing tracks, they sing, dance and act with gusto and confidence, each having some time to shine and all executing lively choreography by Sisi Mann-Burden.
There are, however, obvious standouts – notably Crawford College pupils Leah Mari and Marianthe Panas, both of whom have shown their considerable vocal and acting talents time and again in various productions; and a welcome new face in 16-year-old Keeley Crocker, an attractive blonde from Kingsway, who does a magical job of Memory from Cats.
Among the boys, special mention has to go to 13-year-old Kyran Taylor of Reddam House. His beautiful delivery of the moving Electricity from Billy Elliot is a show highlight and he is a name to watch. Ditto for William Young of Kearsney, a 17-year-old who does a superb job of Corner of the Sky from Pippin. Also of note is tall Sihle Manonyane, 16, of Kearsney, who has some deft moves and a very nice voice.
Among songs featured in the show are Oom Pah Pah and Consider Yourself from Oliver!, This is Me from The Greatest Showman, Master of the House from Les Miserables, Seasons of Love from Rent, and Welkommen and Cabaret from Cabaret.
Book for the production through Computicket online or via outlets at Shoprite Checkers. Tickets cost R90 and performances are at 6pm Wednesdays to Saturdays, with 2pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays, until June 2.