STAGE: Prince of Piano – Rhumbelow Theatre, Umbilo
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
Final shows at 7.30pm today (Wednesday, November 18) and 7.30pm tomorrow (Thursday, November 19)
FANS of seasoned song, dance and comedy man, Ian von Memerty, get all they expect of this charmer in his latest solo show, an adaptation of a production he performed as part of a series of shows he and wife, Vivienne, presented on cruise ships last year.
He and Viv had 2020 planned as a year without risk, he explains from a piano stool alongside a black baby grand on the brightly lit Rhumbelow stage. With Covid-19 chaos, however, all those plans were shelved, “so instead of most of the year visiting places like Finland, Russia and Scotland … here I am in Umbilo,” he says with a grin.
His easy rapport with his audiences and quick wit have always stood Von Memerty in good stead and he shows again in this production that he has lost none of his sparkle.
If there is any grumble with the show it is that it has too many medleys, but it remains enjoyable, light fun and a fine showcase for both Von Memerty’s vocal and keyboard talents.
Opening with a medley of older songs – Unforgettable, Georgia, Great Balls of Fire and a spot of boogie-woogie among them – Von Memerty then goes into an amusing, casual chat about growing up in Zimbabwe, having colourful neighbours and learning to master the piano.
He points out that he was classically trained but rarely reaches in that direction nowadays. He does, however, offer a spot of Chopin before a salute to the princesses of piano – Carole King, Roberta Flack, Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, Adele and Nina Simone.
The show’s highlight, for me, a great rendition of Elton John’s dramatic and haunting instrumental, Funeral for a Friend, opening track on the classic Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album, comes next, effectively performed on a stage darkened but for illuminated columns of background, white fairylights.
Von Memerty, as he does again in the second half, then briefly exits the stage for a costume change, leaving the audience members to listen to music and chat among themselves. Odd. I’d have preferred him to have had a rail of costumes on stage to rather change behind them while chatting to the audience.
Returning to the stage as a sparkly Barry Manilow, Von Memerty then presents a medley including Copacabana, I Write the Songs and I Can’t Smile Without You. Adding some sparkly spectacles and stripping down to satin shorts, he then dives into more Elton – a medley that includes Honky Cat, Your Song, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Song for Guy and Bennie and the Jets.
A lively tribute to Freddie Mercury closes the first half and the second opens with Von Memerty in elegant, burgundy-velvet suit for Mack the Knife before he chats to a member of the audience, collects personal info from that person, then performs a song with lyrics pertaining to the chat. He’s done it often in shows before, but it always works a treat.
A fun version of Let’s Do It, lyrically reworked to comment on the Coronavirus, is another second-half highlight, along with a high-camp nod to Liberace (Tea for Two performed various way), a very good instrumental rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody and medleys saluting Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder.
Prince of Piano has only two more performances in Durban – at 7.30pm today (Wednesday, November 18) and 7.30pm tomorrow (Thursday, November 19).
Tickets cost R180 each (R150 for pensioners). Book at Computicket or phone Roland Stansell at 082 499 8636. Note that masks must be worn and Covid-19 protocols apply.