Stage: Lenny, Andrew, Steve and Me – Rhumbelow Theatre, Umbilo, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
LITTLE surprise that one could almost have heard a pin drop during tonight’s packed Durban opening performance of the latest show by South Africa’s king of musicals, Jonathan Roxmouth, whose vocal excellence and easy audience rapport led to an instant standing ovation at the end of his two-act performance.
Durban is truly priviliged to have a star of this calibre at the Rhumbelow, a theatre Roxmouth loves very much as it gave him early breaks with solo shows as far back as 2010.
In case you are unaware, Roxmouth is very hot property right now. He recently completed a global tour as the lead in Phantom of the Opera, immediately after appearing in a global tour as conniving lawyer Billy Flynn in Chicago. He is touring Lenny, Andrew, Steve and Me in South Africa while on a short break before rejoining the Phantom of the Opera tour.
Lenny, Andrew, Steve and Me, which is in Durban after a season at Cape Town’s Theatre on the Bay before September dates at the Pieter Toerien Theatre in Montecasino, is so much more than just another tribute to the successes of musical theatre icons Leonard Bernstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim.
Under the thoughtful direction of Wesley Swain Lauder – with whom Roxmouth co-starred two years ago in the riotous comedy The Mystery of Irma Vep, staged in Johannesburg and Cape Town – this is a cleverly conceived production; sophisticated without being stuffy and high-brow, and which moves at a brisk pace, not always offering what is expected.
Roxmouth, with superb piano accompaniment by Rowan Bakker, doesn’t merely get up and sing numbers associated with his trio of musical theatre heroes. Instead he uses songs, some familiar and some less so, as carefully selected examples of an informal, tongue-in-cheek, mini master-class on how musicals are constructed. There are a lot of winks, dashing smiles and mischievous twinkles in the eye.
The reason and timing for the overture and the entracte; the hows and whys over the introduction of principal and supporting characters, the need for a pretty song here, a belter there – all get discussed as Roxmouth deftly hops between stools allocated to each of the composers he salutes.
Hits associated with West Side Story, Gypsy, Into the Woods, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cats, Evita, Aspects of Love and Phantom of the Opera are here. But also in the mix are delicious curiosities that include items from On the Town and Whistle Down the Wind, as well as the beguiling Finishing the Hat from Sunday in the Park with George and two exuberant songs that Sondheim wrote for Madonna’s character in the 1990 Dick Tracy film – More and Back in Business.
Roxmouth’s other surprise is that he avoids the obvious by sometimes covering songs associated with female characters, among them Everything’s Coming Up Roses from Gypsy, and both You Must Love Me and Another Suitcase in Another Hall from Evita. A nice touch.
He is most appreciated by the majority, however, when he wraps those smooth, silky vocals around the biggies – Memory from Cats, Any Dream Will Do from Joseph, Somewhere from West Side Story and, in a beautiful finale piece, Music of the Night from Phantom, sung a cappella and illuminated by only a single, carefully placed light bulb, shadowing one half of his face.
Talking of lighting, what a truly wonderful ambiance has been conjured by Durban’s award-winning lighting designer, Tina le Roux, who works on all KickstArt productions. Here, as she did in Cape Town and as she will do in Johannesburg, she has stripped the stage bare, removing all curtaining, to create a dazzling play of light and shadow that extends beyond the stage to the auditorium ceiling and walls. A big slap on the back, Tina!
Lenny, Andrew, Steve and Me comes highly recommended, but note that it is sold out for the final Durban performance at 2pm on Sunday. However, there are still tickets available for the 2pm and 8pm Saturday performances.
Tickets cost R180 each and can be booked at Computicket or by phoning Roland Stansell at 082 499 8636.
Don’t miss this one!