…BY BILLY SUTER…
TRIBUTES are pouring in for South African cabaret, musical theatre and television legend Alvon Collison, who died last night in Cape Town. The singer and dancer, who will forever be remembered at the Elvis Presley-like Pharoah in the hit 1970s South African production of the musical, Joseph, was 79.
Born in Woodstock’s Coronation Road in 1941, Collison, who had no formal voice training, would have celebrated his 80th birthday this April. He is survived by his partner, Faried Swartz.
Colin Law, theatre producer and a longtime friend of Collison, wrote on Facebook today: “Dearest Faried Swartz, your loss is immeasurable. For 47 years I have loved him (Alvon), laughed with him and felt his warmth. He was kindness personified. A superb entertainer who always knew what he was doing.”
Law added: “Thank you, Faried, for your steadfastness. All those drives to dialysis, the clear love and regard you had for each other. I love you and rest well, Alvon Collison.”
Theatre stalwart and radio presenter Carolyn Steyn wrote on Collison’s Facebook page: “The most loved man in showbiz in our country has left us. I heard the news at 10pm last night. I immediately searched Facebook, Twitter and Google and there was nothing suggesting that Alvon Collison had passed. I hoped so hard that this was fake news. But no. I woke up to social media brimming with sadness.”
She added: “I met Mr Showbiz, the great Alvon Collison, as a young, starry-eyed girl wanting a career on the stage. My second professional production was as one of the adoring girls in the 10th anniversary production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, where Alvon reprised the role of the Pharoah for which he was so famous. The Pink Lady – the incredible powerhouse Marloe Scott Wilson – was the narrator and the gorgeous Michael Tellinger was Joseph.”
Steyn concluded: “ Oh Alvon. You will leave such a void in our lives. I always enjoyed your positivity on Facebook and I would often remark that you are the most loved person in our entertainment industry. There’s one more angel in heaven. There’s one more star in the sky. RIP my lovely, lovely friend.”
Honoured at Johannesburg’s 2016 Naledi Theatre Awards with a Lifetime Achievement Award, Collison won his first award in 1975. That was for playing the hip-swivelling Pharoah in the massive success that was the original 1974 South African touring production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which also starred Richard Loring and Bruce Millar.
He went on to receive several awards in a glittering career spanning five decades, among them, reportedly, the accolade of ‘Best Pharaoh in the World’, from Joseph lyricist and author Tim Rice.
A performer on the ill-fated Oceanos cruise liner that sank near Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast in 1991, Collison continued to perform until recently, producing his own shows to celebrate Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Women’s Day and Christmas.
Collison pointed out in a video interview a few years ago that he got into showbiz after seeing singer Johnny Ray perform at the Alhambra Theatre in Cape Town. Collison was 12 at the time and said he told a friend that one day he would be on that stage.
At the age of 25, while working at a Greatermans store in Salisbury (now Harare), he featured in a show called Countdown at the Reps Theatre and caught the eye of South African theatre legend Joan Brickhill, who happened to catch the show. She suggested Collison consider going professional.
He eventually moved to Johannesburg, after working for a while at Payne Brothers in Durban, and, early in his career, appeared in such stage successes as South Pacific, Fiddler on the Roof and Minstrel Scandals.
Collison then secured a three-year engagement at Kyalami Ranch in Johannesburg, performing in 18 shows, where he became known as “the Ziegfeld of the Highveld’. It was while working there that he was approached by the producers of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for the role of Pharoah.
Collison also appeared in such successes as Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, while his TV credits included Late Night Live, Open End, The Knicky Knacky Knoo Show, Something Old, Something New, Music a la Carte, Revue Plus, Noot vir Noot and Lirieke Raai.
Among other Facebook tributes on Collison’s Facebook page today are these:
Ramaine Barreiro Lloyd: “Thank you for being among a handful of Cape artists making sure a little Coloured girl from Strandfontein realised that jazz is not the only option. That being OTT, flamboyant, theatrical and being your ‘faboosh’ self CAN be your comfy place, even when most don’t understand it! Thank you for your fingerprint on my career!”
Alan Committee: RIP Alvon Collison. You were a mentor to my mentor (Mark Banks) and an adored icon in our industry. You will be sorely missed, but fondly remembered. Sending love and strength to Faried Swartz. Heavenly concerts just got a whole lot livelier and longer….”
Alastair Izobell: “My heart is broken…the giant of cabaret has left the stage. Sleep sweetly, gentle man and friend. My heart will always smile remembering the many years of lessons, laughs, love, hugs and stories visiting with you… I am so grateful you were in my life.”
Sibongile Mngoma: “Gave me my first singing job. Took me to my first singing competition and I won. Loved me to the end. I will always love you, Alvon Colluison. And all that jazz!”
Anne Power: “Dearest Alvon. You were my inspiration. I loved you and respected you so much. Rest in peace, my darling. Thank you for everything you did for our industry. So much love to Faried. God bless you!”
Sally Benson: “One more angel in heaven and one more tear in my eyes. You will always be remembered for your love and passion for people and music.”