Stage: Smash Hit Radio – Barnyard Theatre, Suncoast Casino, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
DURBAN’S Barnyard Theatre has done it again – the latest production, Smash Hit Radio, booked in until September 1, is a well-staged, slick and attractively costumed show that boasts a talented, versatile cast and a playlist that gets my vote as the best and most diverse in a very long time for this sort of showtime entertainment.
This is a show, beautifully lit, that is designed for making merry, offering timeless music over six decades to get you into party mode, and it works like a charm. The ample audience at last night’s performance seemed to lap it up, and I certainly walked away with a spring in my step.
Bubbly host and lead vocalist Gavin Hayze introduces the show as DJ Gee, from behind a DJ booth. It dominates the centre of the stage, where a giant blow-up of a night-lit city provides a backdrop, and where the names of acts covered in the show pop up from time to time.
In between songs, Hayze sometimes plays old-time radio ads and, at the start of the show’s second half, reads a few dedications that members of the audience are encouraged to write and submit during interval. These are clever, fun touches.
Smash Hit Radio opens with a bang with the entire cast offering a spirited delivery of Earth, Wind and Fire’s September that leads into Donna Summer’s On the Radio and The Jacksons’ Blame It On the Boogie. As early as that the audience, the night I was there, was already on a roll.
The production not only covers diverse hits from many decades but features a stellar cast with four fine and varied vocalists – the versatile Hayze, playful powerhouse Anastasia Dilima, leggy belter Yvette Barnard and longtime Durban favourite, Percy Smith.
Smith impresses no end, especially with his delivery of Satchmo’s What a Wonderful World, Seal’s Kiss From a Rose (well backed by the other vocalists) and a medley of UB40 hits (complete with flowing dreadlocks). He is also a winner with My Girl and I Can’t Help Myself, as well as a beautiful rendition of I’ll Be Over You that kicks off an excellent medley of Toto classics that the vocal quartet performs to close the first half.
The cast also features a tight team of musicians headed by top-notch pianist and musical director Rainer Jadischke, who unexpectedly takes lead vocals for Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street and a rollicking version of Elton John’s Sad Songs. Both these songs crop up late in the show and I’d have liked it had Rainer performed in the first half as well, even if only one more song.
Also among the musical contingent is superb Nigerian saxophonist Ola Aina, who is first highlighted in an early solo delivery of Glenn Miller’s In the Mood and, later, in a carefully considered, deftly performed sequence featuring the hits Baker Street, Careless Whisper, Who Can It Be Now and a snippet of I Will Always Love You.
Completing the line-up are lead guitarist Jared Gunston, drummer Anthon Mannel and bassist Gilbert Sithole.
The show has many moments of note, among them the spunky Anastasia’s comical interplay with Ola during Etta James’s dramatic At Last; her feisty delivery of the disco anthem I Will Survive; her lively rendition of Brenda Fassie’s infectious Vuvindlela; and in her playful interchange with Hayze and Barnard during the linking of Love is in the Air and Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.
Barnard excels in a sexy Cher tribute, marred a little the night I was in by a wobbly mic, and also in her duets with Hayze – great versions of Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Lines’ catchy Meant to Be and the now-classic Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper ballad, Shallow.
The show features a good mix of costumes and some excellent wigs (not usually a strong point in shows like this), and includes such hits as Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl and Castle in the Sky, George Ezra’s Shotgun, Men at Work’s Who Can It Be Now?, UB40’s Kingston Town and Red, Red Wine, Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory, Tina Turner’s Thunderdome, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama and Toto’s Rosanna, Africa and Hold the Line.
For a fun night out to let down your hair with some food and drinks, it is a must.
The show is performed every Tuesday to Sunday, with specials on certain days. Phone (031) 940 0500 for further details.