Stage: Here’s to You: The Simon and Garfunkel Songbook – Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino, Johannesburg
(at Cape Town’s Theatre on the Bay from July 31 to August 17)
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
THERE are some who may be a little disappointed with this new stage tribute to the music of Simon and Garfunkel – a production from VR Theatrical, a small, passionate and commendable entertainment company which has presented such diverse and exciting recent fare as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Avenue Q and The Mystery of Irma Vep.
One argument, and I do get the point, might be that most of the close-harmony American duo’s classic songs have been rearranged for the show. Also, some of the obvious hits (Simon’s Take Me to the Mardi Gras and Mother and Child Reunion; Garfunkel’s Bright Eyes and I Shall Sing, for instance) are conspicuous by their absence, omitted in favour of a handful of lesser known songs associated with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.
On leaving the theatre at a weekend preview, I also heard a quibble about a lack of spontanaiety among the cast due to the more theatrical, precise styling of the show.
It is for most of these reasons, however, that I loved the stylish but decidedly unstuffy Here’s to You, a production that gets better as the cast warms up.
It offers occasional patter that highlights a few facts about the famous duo, but thankfully, for me anyway, steers away from being yet another history lesson, a trap into which many tribute shows so easily fall.
I loved Here’s to You’s easy elegance and theatricality, it’s freshness involving a very talented cast of eight, all of whom sing beautifully and also handle various musical instruments, allowing the music, the Simon and Garfunkel poetry, to speak for itself.
The old songs in new wrappings – arrangements by Bryan Schimmel, Matthew Vlok, Jaco van Rensburg, Wessel Odendaal and Daniel Keith Geddes – together with director Timothy le Roux’s deftly orchestrated manoeuvrings of the performers around the stage, lend a freshness and elements of surprise that see this production amount to a whole lot more than just another showband tribute.
Embellishing no end on all this is truly wonderful, inspired lighting design by Oliver Hauser and a striking, deceptively simple set by Nadine Minaar that comprises mostly slatted pine and suspended and raised globes. There is a sophisticated country jamboree feel to it all.
Director Le Roux, also a noted choreographer, moves the show along with a smooth, informal precision. He often injects moments of surprise as the stage layout changes with the removing or moving of wooden trunks here; the swivelling of a platform or piano, the repositioning of chairs, there.
All the time, while performing in varying combinations, sometimes a cappella, the cast shifts between playing various instruments – everything from guitars, percussion, piano, cellos and violin to ukelele, banjo, triangles, tambourines and pennywhistle. It’s great fun and the harmonies are excellent.
More than 20 songs from the Simon and Garfunkel songbook, as well as the men’s solo catalogues, feature in the show which opens with the cast casually arriving on stage, one at a time, for a rendition of Mrs Robinson.
Each member of the team has time to shine, more than once, and highlights include a number of solos by sweet-voiced 2017 The Voice South Africa runner-up, Josh Ansley, who has played the Barnyard Theatre circuit.
Ansley, often on guitar, is also great pairing for The Sounds of Silence alongside cellist-soprano Sanli Jooste, best remembered for her hapless Joanna in KickstArt’s excellent touring production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. I also loved Ansley’s gentle, beguiling interpretation of Kathy’s Song, in duet with the versatile Ashleigh Butcher, both of them on acoustic guitars.
Also on vocals and various instruments are Daniel Geddes, Phindile Dube and Jason Swartz, with the show’s music director, Wessel Odendaal, behind the piano and on backing vocals.
Completing the lineup is versatile Hanna So, who plays cello and violin and wins hearty applause for a piano solo which meshes songs to open the second half. I, however, found it overly dramatic, too hammering for my ear.
Ho also leads vocals in a pleasing delivery of Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years.
One of my favourite moments in the show is a slow, gospel-gutsy, slinky interpretation of the usually upbeat Keep the Customers Satisfied, performed by feisty Phindile Dube, who I would have liked to have seen perform more songs in the show. A light-hearted duet by her and amusing vocalist-percussionist Jason Swarz, of the omitted Simon solo success, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, would have been a good choice.
Among other songs featured in the show are a beautifully delivered Scarborough Fair, The Boxer, The Sounds of Silence, A Hazy Shade of Winter, Kodachrome, Al Condor Pasa, Graceland, Slip Sliding Away, Cecilia, You Can Call Me Al and, of course, Bridge Over Troubled Water.
Here’s to You is at the Pieter Toerien Theatre at Montecasino until July 28, with performances at 8pm from Wednesdays to Saturdays, as well as 4pm on Saturdays and 3pm on Sundays. Tickets are available from R100 to R350 at Computicket outlets.
The show moves to Cape Town’s Theatre on the Bay from July 31 to August 17. Book at Computicket.
Note: Durban is not on the Here’s to You itinerary, but would it not be a great show for Sibaya Casino’s Rockwood Theatre?