Wonderful salute to Joel and Sting

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

………………………………………………………………………
STAGE: Billy Joel Meets Sting – Rhumbelow Theatre, Cunningham Avenue, Umbilo
(Performances at 7.30pm this Friday and Saturday (April 23 and 24) and 2pm on Sunday, April 25. Extra performances on Monday and Tuesday next week are sold out.)
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
………………………………………………..………………………

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. It premiered to great support last October at the Umbilo branch of the Rhumbelow Theatre, and is now back there for the weekend after proving a recent hit at the theatre group’s Pietermaritzburg and Kloof branches.

It is certainly a must-see… a show so very entertaining that one hopes theatre manager Roland Stansell will commission a sequel (or two), such is 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 cost R160, seating is at tables of four and booking is at Computicket or by calling Roland at 082 499 8636.

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

……………………………………………………………………………………………


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s