Wonderful salute to Joel and Sting

From left are Andy Turrell, John Ellis and Evan Cullum in Billy Joel Meets Sting.

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STAGE: Billy Joel Meets Sting – Rhumbelow Theatre, Umbilo, Durban
(Final performances at 8pm today and 2pm tomorrow)
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
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WHAT a joy of a show, this elegantly structured yet delightfully informal and wonderfully nostalgic salute to the great, diverse music of Billy Joel and Sting.

This a very welcome, all-new showband entertainment for the Rhumbelow Theatre that is already creating such a good buzz with its three debut performances this weekend – tomorrow’s 2pm matinee has already sold out – that one hopes Rhumbelow Theatre manager, Roland Stansell, is negotiating a return season. He would be wise, too, to commission a sequel (or two), such is the show’s appeal and the wealth of Sting and Billy Joel material left to mine.

Amid atmospheric stage lighting and with minimal frills and fuss, loads of skill and charmingly playful patter milked from their very easy rapport with each other and their audience, the three seasoned Durban performers comprising the cast of Billy Joel Meets Sting constantly impress.

They are singer-guitarist John Ellis, who also handles ukulele here; singer-keyboardist Evan Cullum, who here also handles some bass; and multi-instrumentalist Andy Turrell, here mostly on drums but also on stand-up bass and bongo.

They allow the music to do most of the talking in the show, with the charismatic Cullum and Ellis offering quips and casual observations, playfully sparring over who is the better of the two artists to whom they are paying tribute. Towering Turrell remains taciturn throughout, but clearly is having a ball… I can’t remember seeing him smile and enjoy himself more on stage.

John Ellis, Andy Turrell and Evan Cullum in Billy Joel Meets Sting.

Devised by Cullum, who is at his most confident and the best I have heard him vocally and musically to date, the show’s 18 songs are largely faithful to the original recordings, but there are some nice flourishes and tempo variations, as well as some deft tweaking of arrangements here and there.

The show opens with the men, all dressed in black, performing the toe-tapping Joel classic, You May Be Right. Cullum handles lead vocals here, and performs most of the Joel classics, with the charming Ellis, formerly of hit band Tree63, singing most of the songs associated with Sting (and his band Police). Each has a voice and range well suited to the famous artists saluted, whose compositions are not always as easy to sing as one might think.

Highlights are many, the first half’s sparklers including Ellis’s Every Breath You Take, his haunting rendition of Fields of Gold and the bouncy Englishman in New York, for which he also strums ukulele, an instrument he picks up again in the second half for a delivery of the jaunty Joel gem, For the Longest Time.

Another standout moment sees both vocalists bathed in red lighting, in harmony for Sting’s plaintive Shape of My Heart, featuring Turrell on upright bass at the front of the stage. An equally atmospheric moment appears in the second half, with Ellis’s fine performance of the dramatic Roxanne.

Evan Cullum, Andy Turrell and John Ellis.

Cullum’s finest moments are with a jovial River of Dreams, Piano Man and Just the Way You Are, but there is no dull moment whatsoever in this show. Other numbers featured are My Life, Uptown Girl, We Didn’t Start the Fire, If I Ever Lose My Faith in You, Message in a Bottle, It’s Still Rock ’n’ Roll to Me, Every Little Thing She Does is Magic and She’s Always a Woman to Me (sung well by Ellis, with only his own guitar accompaniment).

Tickets are available for tonight’s 8pm performance and I would recommend you see it as this show is unlikely to be performed again until the new year. Tickets cost R160 (R140 for pensioners) and booking is by calling Roland at 082 499 8636.

Note that one can take snacks to the venue but patrons must buy all beverages at the theatre’s pub. Covid-19 protocols relating to temperatures and mask wearing on arrival and departure apply.

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