BY BILLY SUTER
ORIGINALLY staged at the now-defunct Heritage Theatre in Hillcrest in 2009, and last performed at the Rhumbelow Theatre in Umbilo in 2019, 2017 and in 2014, when the venue first installed and used the audio-visual screens flanking that stage, Woodstock is back again. And this hugely popular show celebrates not only the 51st anniversary of America’s legendary three days of love and peace in 1969, but this reviewer’s first time back in a theatre since Coronavirus lockdown in March.
The current season, which opened last weekend and ends with performances at 6.30pm on Friday and Saturday (October 2 and 3) and 2pm on Sunday (October 4), marks my sixth time seeing the show. Once again, I have to say it never loses its shine, remaining as vibrant and enjoyable as ever, a fine mesh of talent and classic songs and tunes that keeps the customers more than satisfied.
Under the musical direction of keyboardist-singer Dawn Selby, Woodstock highlights singer-guitarist Barry Thomson, now-bespectacled bassist Jason Andrew, Mali Sewell on drums and vivacious guest vocalist Marion Loudon, who appears in a changing parade of outfits.
They perform against a backdrop of large peace signs. massive dream-catchers and changing coloured lighting, the stage draped in drops of colourful fabric, to present a repertoire that has been tweaked since it was first performed years ago.
The production opens with Richie Havens’s Freedom, performed by Thomson, who goes on to offer Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s The Cost of Freedom, Andrews and Loudon then taking the lead vocal for I Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die.
With various footage from the Woodstock documentary appearing on a raised screen between songs, patrons are treated to a broad cross-section of the legendary material that made the Woodstock music festival such an historic event.
Highlights in the first half include Loudon’s Me and Bobby McGee and I Shall Be Released, along with Sewell’s delivery of The Letter, Andrews’s interpretation of The Band’s The Weight, Thomson’s If I Were a Carpenter and, the closer before interval, the band performing the catchy Marrakesh Express.
The second half is even better, opening with Lay Down, Woodstock, If You’re Going to San Francisco and Thomson’s delivery of Fortunate Son, before Selby’s belting, showstopping rendition of Janis Joplin’s gutsy Piece of My Heart.
An excellent delivery of the funky Santana instrumental Soul Sacrifice follows before the show’s finest moments – a medley of hits by The Who ( See Me, Feel Me, Summertime Blues and My Generation) , followed by Thomson taking the spotlight for I’m Going Home and a closing salute to Jimi Hendrix with the rousing Voodoo Chile and Star-Spangled Banner. Brilliant stuff!
The audience laps it up, especially when Thomson plays guitar with his teeth, and behind his neck, in tribute to Hendrix, who was the last to perform at Woodstock and also the highest paid act at that festival (ShaNaNa got the least, by the way).
The show, which closes with a crowdpleasing rendition of the Joe Cocker version of The Beatles classic, A Little Help From My Friends, is a great deal of fun, performed by a band that is clearly having a good time making music.
Note that the venue, in line with Covid-19 protocols, requires the wearing of masks (unless you are drinking or eating) as well as the sanitising of hands at the hall entrance. Patrons are also required to fill in some Covid-19-related forms.
Tickets cost R160 (R140 for pensioners and students with cards) and booking is essential as no walk-ins are permitted, as the venue is limited to only half of its capacity, due to lockdown rules. Book by calling Roland at 082 499 8636.