BY BILLY SUTER
THE Rockwood Theatre at Sibaya Casino, near Umhlanga, will be the first Durban theatre to open its doors again to an audience, following a loosening of the strangehold of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
The three-tiered venue, with a now-limited audience of 50 per performance and a cast, crew and staff restricted to 15 people, will resume performances of its pre-lockdown party show, Nothing But ’90s, every Wednesday to Sunday from July 15 until August 16.
Booking opens tomorrow (July 2) and tickets cost R160 each. Call or whatsapp 062 453 9237. Note that, in line with Covid-19 restrictions, only soft drinks will be on sale and there will be strict adherence to safety protocols and social distancing.
“We are so very excited to be back. We are opening because we know we have to get this industry up and going,” says Cindy Webster, who handles marketing and publicity for The Rockwood Theatre.
“Restrictions are strict but we have done our research and our sums, over and over again. The whole cast and crew is on board to make this work,” she adds.
The theatre is not bringing any staff back yet, due to lockdown capacity restrictions, but all members of the cast and crew of Nothing But ’90s have pledged to go the extra mile to make things work, says Webster.
“Everyone in the cast and crew is pulling together. Besides their usual duties they are working in the kitchen, selling cooldrinks, working the door. Our lights guy is doing coffee; our spotlight guy is in the kitchen…
“We are very excited and Sibaya Casino is too. At the moment I think we’re the only theatre in Durban opening during this early phase. But we’re going to do it.”
Nothing But ’90s, reviewed on this site when it opened in late February, is an exuberant and well-paced show. It is devised by hard-working Rockwood Theatre show producer and director Andrew Webster, who uses it to introduce some welcome new faces while showcasing the talents of some seasoned local favourites among his nine-member cast.
Webster also tries something new in featuring a reduced band, and while it might seem odd to highlight only three musicians – drummer Dillan Kanny, lead and acoustic guitarist Sheldon von Grimm and fine saxophonist Mxolisi Mdlalose – the result is a surprisingly full, very good sound.
The production has the added gloss of two energetic dancers, new on the theatre scene, who were chosen for the show by Webster after he recently held auditions to create a pool of local dancers for future shows. Shapely and sassy Savannah de Almeida and charming and super-energetic Sherwin Green, who works many gravity-defying leaps and frantic spins into the dance repertoire, add immeasurably to the fun of Nothing But ’90s, a show packed with hits.
Opening with the cast performing a medley of old dance favourites – among them Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now) and I Like to Move It – the production tips hats to movie songs, one-hit wonders, reggae and rock hits, South African chart-toppers, cheesey favourites and boy band successes. There are also second-half sections covering acoustic and Latino hits, both highlights for me.
Heading the cast are popular Cape Town-based vocalist Granville Michaels, petite blonde belter Jessica Laws, singer and good mover Jean Citto, and vivacious Durbs darling Marion Loudon.
Loudon, who is alternating with Jemma Badenhorst as lead female vocalist and host of this show, is ubiquitous in Durban, often performing with Lisa Bobbert (The Glitter Girls and, most recently, Diva Lost Vegas), The Reals and The Gee Jays. She is forever chirpy, charming and in good voice, and makes for a fun host here.
Loudon excels with Alanis Morrissette’s Ironic, Cher’s Believe, 4 Non Blondes’ What’s Up (better known, perhaps, as What’s Going On) and in duet with Michaels for Beauty and the Beast. Michaels shows his versatility with UB40’s Kingston Town (complete with dreadlocks) and All-4-One’s I Swear. He also offers a curious delivery of Toni Braxton’s Unchain My Heart that doesn’t quite work.
Laws, who I have sometimes found “shouty” in other shows, is on top form in this production, exuding confidence and most impressing with a nicely balanced delivery of Mariah Carey’s cover of the Nilsson classic, Without You. A bubbly presence throughout, she also does a particularly fine job of my most hated Celine Dion hit, My Heart Will Go On, and, sharing vocals with her real-life beau Von Grimm, Roxette’s The Look.
Von Grimm adds value with vocal contributions throughout, hitting a high spot with Santana’s Smooth and a Lenny Kravitz medley, while sax man Mdlalose has his solo moments with Pick Up the Pieces and Scatman.
Citto exudes a constantly cheerful stage presence, displays deft footwork and sings well. His highlights include Big Mountain’s Baby I Love Your Way and Santana’s Maria, Maria.
Nothing But ‘90s also offers hits associated with Robbie Williams, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, M People, Mango Groove, Johnny Clegg and Shaggy, while a colourful ‘cheesey’ medley includes snippets from such novelties as Who Let the Dogs Out?, Barbie Girl, Blue, The Macarena and Mambo No 5.