Another winner for the Barnyard

Raymond Ray and band members in the Van Morrison sequence from Celtic Rock, in Durban until July 21.

Stage: Celtic Rock – Barnyard Theatre, Suncoast Casino, Durban

KUDOS to the Barnyard Theatre group – Celtic Rock, a revival and refreshening of a 2007 production that played the national Barnyard circuit, when Irishman Ciaran Fox and the late Matthew Stewardson were hosts, is the third show in a row to hit the ball out of the park at the venue at Durban’s Suncoast Casino since the Barnyard opened there in December.

Arriving in Durban after a season in Gauteng, the new Celtic Rock retains most of the repertoire from the show staged 12 years ago, but with the big bonus of showcasing one of the best bands to date for this sort of party-showband entertainment.

It also scores points for being slickly presented, nicely costumed, exquisitely lit and featuring three strong vocalists in Kyle Matthews, Raymond Ray and the attractive Zoe Townsend, who starred in the truly outstanding Rhythm of the Night show that has just ended a season at the Suncoast Casino Barnyard.

Kyle Matthews and drummer Kristo Zondagh in Celtic Rock.

As the title implies, Celtic Rock is a musical celebration of the Emerald Isle – a big, bulging, green bag of old and more recent Irish pop and rock, traditional pub tunes and novelty singalongs and nods to Lord of the Dance and Riverdance.

The band is terrific – headed by Durban keyboard-player and the show’s musical director, Calli Thomson, and her ace lead guitarist husband, Barry Thomson. They are backed by bassist Nathan Machent, drummer Kristo Zondagh and two of the most animated and exciting young musicians I have ever seen in this sort of showband entertainment – fiddle player and acoustic guitarist David Kyd and pennywhistle and sax man Mduduzi Kumalo. Great team!

Opening with charmer Matthews arriving to announce, in an Irish accent, that he is a Dublin pub owner and that we, the audience, need to raise our glasses whenever he gives the call, the show is a pacy outpouring of feel-good music.

In the show’s first half we get a variety including medleys of Irish traditionals and songs associated with Dixie Chicks (Irish Medley), The Corrs (Irresistible and Breathless), Van Morrison (Brown Eyed Girl, Have I Told You Lately and Gloria), Chris de Burgh (Don’t Pay the Ferryman), U2 (Sunday, Bloody, Sunday and Pride (In the Name of Love), as well as that soppy old standard, Danny Boy, performed by Matthews while seated in the middle of rays of emerald-green lighting.

The exuberant David Kyd with vocalist Zoe Townsend in Celtic Rock.

The show’s second half is even better, no more so than when Barry Thomson takes the spotlight for a standout cover of Parisienne Walkways by Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore. This is followed immediately by another show highlight that has Barry and David Kyd delivering Duelling Banjoes (with a brief nod to AC/DC), followed by an exciting drum solo by Zondagh.

Another second-half standout is a sequence of classic soul songs associated with Irish band The Commitments (from Alan Parker’s 1991 film of the same name). These feature Zoe on good form with I Can’t Stand the Rain, Raymond Ray offering In the Midnight Hour and Kyle singing Try a Little Tenderness.

Ray, who gives oomph to the U2 numbers in the first half, is equally good value with the popular Simple Minds hits, Alive and Kicking and Don’t You Forget About Me, which have him bathed in a sea of criss-crossing coloured lighting.

The Irish Rovers novelty, Christmas in Killarney, as well as The Cranberries hits Linger and Zombie (showcasing Zoe) are also on the bill, along with such chestnuts as Wild Rover, Leaving of Liverpool, Whiskey in the Jar, the rugby anthem Ireland’s Call and The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) .

Celtic Rock runs until July 21. Tickets for performances from Wednesdays to Saturdays cost R165 each (two-for-the-price-of-one on Tuesdays), and for the 2pm Sunday performances tickets cost R130 each (but half-price for pensioners and children under the age of 12 allowed in free). Phone (031) 940 0500 to book.

Zoe Townsend and band members in the I Can’t Stand the Rain sequence saluting The Commitments. A scene from Celtic Rock.

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