Jingling in the new year

The cast of Jingle Bell Rock. From left are Trevor Donjeany, Dawn Seby, Andy Turrell, Marion Loudon and Barry Thomson.

STAGE: Jingle Bell Rock – Rhumbelow Theatre in Pietermaritzburg (2pm on December 13), Rhumbelow Theatre in Umbilo (December 18-24) and Rhumbelow Theatre at Tina’s Hotel in Kloof (December 27-31)

AS MUCH a Durban festive season staple as the glitzy annual pantos, the Dolphins by Starlight shows and a dip in the sea, the jolly holiday performances by hard-working Durban tribute band, The Reals, never fail to disappoint.

There is no exception this year, Jingle Bell Rock being liberally strung with the tinsel of familiar carols and novelty songs, with the bulk of the programme being a diverse selection of songs that reflect on recent and more distant shows performed by a versatile band that has been keeping customers satisfied for decades.

The low-fuss production had its first performances this past weekend at the Rhumbelow Theatre branch at Northlands Bowling Club in Durban North before it visits other Rhumbelow venues before year-end.

Now, more than ever after the decidedly dreadful year the world has had, we need a little Christmas, and The Reals deliver sufficient good cheer to sock away the blues.

The band’s regular guest vocalist, Marion Loudon, is back in some sparkly outfits, performing alongside seasoned and hugely popular Reals members Barry Thomson, on lead guitar and vocals, and musical director, keyboardist and singer, Dawn Selby.

New to the line-up for this show is Trevor Donjeany, former bassist for Johnny Clegg. He is standing in for The Reals’ Jason Andrews, who is on a festive season break. For the same reason, Jingle Bell Rock has ever-dependable Andy Turrell standing in for regular Reals drummer Mali Sewell.

Opening with the jovial title song, the show launches into a medley that salutes former Reals guest artist Richard Hose, who recently passed away in Scotland. He appeared many years ago with The Reals in a Mamas and Papas tribute show. Nodding to that memory, the band here deliver California Dreaming and the Wilson Phillips hit, Hold On.

The Rocking Around the Christmas Tree number in Jingle Bell Rock.

Thereafter we get a bulging bag of crackers. One never knows what will come next, the show’s first half offering such delights as Barry with The Beatles’ Golden Slumbers, Marion singing and deftly whistling through the Avicii hit Wake Me Up, Dawn handling lead vocals for Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams, and the whole team having a ball with Kid Rock’s All Summer Long.

First-half standouts, for me, were three 1970s classics, among them The Sweet’s classic Ballroom Blitz and Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music. Both songs showcase Barry with classic guitar solos and the latter spotlights Donjeany in a bass solo that also playfully nods to the classic bass line from Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust.

The other ’70s classic that made my night is Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way, while Pharrell Williams’s Happy and the carols Winter Wonderland and Let It Snow keep the smiles on the faces.

The show’s second half opens with Barry alone on stage for two excellent solo spotsNeil Young’s plaintive Harvest Moon and Pink Floyd’s melancholy Wish You Were Her. The rest of the team then return for Neil Diamond’scrowd-pleasing chestnut, Cracklin’ Rosie, and Diamond’s lesser-known The Story of My Life, a sweet Barry and Dawn duet.

Bad Company’s Ready for Love (Barry on lead vocals) and Run with the Pack (Dawn on lead vocals) are also in the second half, along with the Santana classics Samba Pa Ti and Well Alright, and the festive Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, Merry Xmas (War is Over) and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Also much fun is a rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas that has had lyrics changed to reflect on Covid-19 lockdown and calls on Andy and Trevor to contribute to the vocals.

The Elvis Presley bopper, Let’s Have a Party, and the rousing Three Dog Night rocker, Joy to the World, close the show.

Tickets for Jingle Bell Rock cost R160 each (R140 for pensioners) for most performances and booking is via Computicket or by phoning Roland Stansell at 082 499 8636.

Note that masks must be worn to all venues, where sanitisation and social distancing protocols are in place. All beverages have to be bought at the bars at the venues.

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