BILLY SUTER chats to versatile singer-cellist SANLI JOOSTE – seen as Johanna in KickstArt’s Sweeney Todd – about being part of the eight-member cast of VR Theatrical’s excellent Simon and Garfunkel tribute show, Here’s to You. The production, after two successful seasons in Johannesburg, will be staged at Durban’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from March 19 to 29 – and it is a must-see! Tickets are priced from R130 to R185 and booking is at Computicket. The show’s musical director, Wessel Odendaal (Saturday Night Fever, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), also sings and plays piano in the show. All other cast members also sing and play instruments. The cast is led by The Voice SA 2017 runner-up, Josh Ansley (Rock of Ages), on guitar, with Ashleigh Butcher (Peppa Pig Live, Great Balls of Fire) playing guitar, ukulele and bass. Assistant musical director, Daniel Geddes (Avenue Q), handles keyboards and guitar; South Korean-born music teacher Hanna So is on piano, violin and cello; Justin Swartz (Oliver Twist, West Side Story) is on cajon and percussion; and Kwa Mashu-born Phindile Dube (Dolphins by Starlight, Journey to Eternity), a 2017 Top Four Idols finalist, is on percussion. The show is directed by Timothy Le Roux, features fine musical arrangements by Bryan Schimmel, Wessel Odendaal, Daniel Keith Geddes, Matthew Vlok and Jaco van Rensburg; and features scenic design by Nadine Minnaar. Sound is by Fried Wilsenach and lighting is by Oliver Hauser. My review of the Johannesburg performance is available by clicking here: https://wp.me/p8dL0W-4F
What comment on being a member of Here’s to You and how many instruments do you play in the show?
Being part of Here’s to You is almost a surreal experience every night. It is such a special show to be a part of. I play only the cello in the show – although in one song I play it like a bass.
What is a highlight, or two, for you in this show?
There is definitely a highlight in every single song, although my favourite song to perform, from when we started out and probably will be until the end, is Still Crazy After All These Years. Another highlight that doesn’t happen ON stage is seeing the audience’s reaction going from not being sure what to expect to absolute enjoyment.
Have there been any anecdotes you can share from performing this show – any embarrassing or amusing mishaps or wobbles, perhaps?
Just the other night there were suddenly two very strange words in The Sound of Silence. When you’re so used to a show you start thinking you’d never forget a note or word – but then sometimes, seconds before you have to sing whichever word, doubt likes to creep up on you and what comes out (in my case, at least) is some strange sound that’s kind of between two words! I really just wanted to laugh at myself right there, but couldn’t because of the seriousness of the song.
How challenging, or otherwise interesting, was the rehearsal process for this production?
The rehearsal process for this production was quite unlike anything I’ve experienced before and something I will cherish for a long time. I remember being so excited every day that we did a new song, to hear what the arrangement was going to sound like. At first, I found the parts where I have to sing and play at the same time a bit intimidating, as it can be very hard to pitch on the cello while you have another note literally ringing in your head, but it was a challenge I enjoyed.
When and why did you start playing cello – and where else have you featured this talent?
I started playing the cello in Grade 5, or age 11. I guess it was a decision that my parents made. They wanted their kids to play instruments, so both my sisters and I started playing the recorder at a very young age; then the piano after a few years. Eventually we could choose an “orchestral instrument”.
We learned these at a very unique music school in Bloemfontein called The Musicon. Orchestra-playing was a big focus at this school, so on a Friday you would walk through the grounds and hear sounds from four or five different orchestras (from the lowest beginners to the more advanced), all blaring at you from different rooms.
What is your favourite Simon and Garfunkel song? Also, were you a fan of the duo before this show?
As a child, growing up, I was definitely more exposed to Paul Simon as a solo artist than I was to the duo of Simon and Garfunkel. My dad used to fetch me from orchestra rehearsals on a Friday afternoon and Paul Simon’s Greatest Hits album often featured as the soundtrack to our drive home.
The first guitar chord change in the song Graceland is probably one of the most nostalgic sounds that exists for me.
Any other news form you (gigs, album, shows etc)?
Nothing in the pipeline right now. Life of a freelancer – always in search of the next job!
Where were you born, where and what did you study – and what was your first professional production?
I was born in Bloemfontein and studied Drama and Theatre Arts at the University of the Free State. The first full-length musical I did after my degree was The Fantasticks, in which I played Luisa.
What have been three highlights of your performing career to date?
Playing Johanna in KickstArt’s Sweeney Todd (the first show I did in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town; Here’s to You marks my second); the most recent international tour of The Sound of Music,and getting to play Maria for for seven performances during the Johannesburg-run. And, of course, Here’s to You.
What is your favourite song right now?
I have a hard time choosing any sort of favourite, but at this moment I guess it would be She’d Say by Andy Grammer and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. See a pattern anywhere?
The last album you bought?
Someraarde – the latest by Joshua na die Reën. I don’t listen to Afrikaans music all that much but I am absolutely in awe of anything that Joshua na die Reën produces, and I can still listen to his earliest albums on repeat.
Two of your favourite songs of all time?
Peace Train by Cat Stevens and Nimrod from the Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar.
Song you hate the most right now?
I think if I ever listened to a station like 5fm I’d be able to tell you (as I’m pretty sure it would be something current), but I’m kind of stuck on stations that play “older” songs, so I never really have to listen to something I hate.
Worst song in history?
Song you most associate with your teens?
Drops of Jupiter by Train.
Song you most associate with your early childhood years?
I can’t necessarily think of a specific song, but most probably something by Cat Stevens or Queen.
The size of your music collection and the artists represented most there?
My music collection is mostly digital now, but the most physical albums I have are by Josh Groban, Celine Dion, Michael Bublé, Joshua na die Reën and Nataniël.
Favourite radio station and DJ?
I listen to MixFM more than any other station, but can’t say that I have a favourite DJ.
The local artist you most admire?
Most definitely Joshua na die Reën.
Artist from abroad that you most admire?
Most over-rated people in the recording business?
The first person that comes to mind is Kanye West.
Pet hate/s about the music scene in South Africa?
The complete bull that many Afrikaans “artists” churn out and make money from.
The one music act you would give the world to see perform live?
I would really love to see Pink perform live! Second would be Bruno Mars.
Ever asked a music personality for an autograph?
I only remember asking Richard van der Westhuizen (an “older” Afrikaans artist who I greatly admire) for an autograph.
Music acts you have seen live and loved?
I’m sure this is getting old now, but Joshua na die Reën.
Best singing star ever?
Clichéd, but Freddie Mercury.
The greatest musician of all time?
Freddie Mercury is the first that comes to mind.
Best band in history?
The styles of music you most enjoy – and least enjoy?
There are so many styles I enjoy, it’s hard to say. Anything that’s an assault to the senses (for example, heavy metal) is what I enjoy the least.
The most embarrassing artist represented in your music collection – and why is it there?
Anyone who’d like to know would have to ask me in person…
The one song that will always be guaranteed to get you on to a dancefloor?
Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars.
Your choice of karaoke song?
If I Ain’t Got You by Alicia Keys, because it’s fun to sing and people generally don’t expect a girl as light-skinned as me to sing RnB!
The first song you ever performed for an audience?
Not sure, but I remember the first song I ever performed for an audience and got paid for – From this Moment by Shania Twain. I was 12 and it was my first wedding gig.
Guilty pleasure: a song you really feel you shouldn’t enjoy, but secretly do?
My Grade 4 arts teacher taught us to never insult anyone’s taste in music, so I won’t apologise for any song I enjoy.
Worst decade for music?
First thought is the 2000s, but all of them sure have their good and bad.
Maybe not the hottest, but I find Joseph Gordon-Levitt terribly cute.
Instruments you can play?
Cello and a little bit of ukulele.
The song you’d like to be played at your funeral?
Not something I’ve thought of!
The song you find the saddest (and why)?
You Will Be Found from the musical Dear Evan Hansen. It was sung at the memorial service for a very beloved member of our industry, Francois Theron.
Two dead icons you’d most like to invite to dinner?
Freddie Mercury and Heath Ledger.
What next for you on the theatre scene?
I wish I knew! Holding thumbs for some exciting audition briefs to come in soon.
Any other news or comments?
I’ll be a married woman by the end of the year.