BILLY SUTER interviews vivacious, Gauteng-based performer TONYA KOENDERMAN, whose acclaimed Liza Minnelli tribute, Liza With a T, is to be staged at Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre, 42 Cunningham Road, Umbilo, at 7.30pm on June 11 and 12, and 2pm on June 13. She is also staging the show at Durban North’s Northlands Bowling Club at 7.30pm on Saturday, June 19, after presenting another fun cabaret, Growing Old Disgracefully, at the Umbilo Rhumbelow Theatre at 2pm on the public holiday on Wednesday, June 16. Tickets for each show cost R160 and booking is at Computicket (or phone Roland at 082 499 8636).
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIZA MINNELLI TRIBUTE SHOW.
I have been performing my Liza show for 26 years now… oh my goodness, time flies! It has been my most requested show. The first time was at Theatre on the Square in Rosebank, around 1995.
The theatre’s Daphne Kuhn had seen me in another show at the Grahamstown Arts Festival, and asked me to do a show at her then-newly opened theatre. I had just seen the video of Liza at Radio City Music Hall, and I saw my future! I carefully put together a show that has barely altered in all the years I have done it.
The production then resulted in me performing in an impersonation show at The Carousel called Stars In Your Eyes, and then came the offer to play Liza in the international production, Beyond Belief, at Sun City. I was the only local artist to star in that show.
WHERE ELSE HAS YOUR LIZA TRIBUTE TAKEN YOU – AND HOW MUCH DID YOU STUDY THE STAR TO MASTER HER MANNERISMS?
I have been to every province in South Africa, sometimes more than once. I have performed it in Hermanus, Grahamstown, East London, Port Elizabeth, Prince Albert, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Namibia, Swakopmund, Bloemfontein, Durban and even performed it twice on the MSC Sinfonia. I’m sure I’ve left some places out.
I studied Liza’s every move, every twitch, every gesture, for months. Eventually it felt like I had absorbed her in some way.
YOUR “GROWING OLD DISGRACEFULLY” SHOW IS MORE RECENT. TELL US MORE.
It’s a light-hearted, frank look at the funny side of ageing, and features popular songs with a wicked twist. My Favourite Things has been rebooted to embrace more age-appropriate themes. All About That Bass is now an ode to make-up and other anti-ageing tools. Memory from the musical Cats, is now about… can’t remember.
HOW DID YOUR PERFORMING CAREER BEGIN?
Fresh out of drama school, I appeared in Kevin Feather’s cabaret, The Doo Wah Girls, in 1990, which toured the country for four years. Other show since have included We 3, Juke is King, Jive to the Juke, All of Woman, Shake Your Bootie and solo cabarets including Tonya Unwrapped, Makin’ Whoopee, Liza with a T, Age of Aquarius, A Night In Paris, When Jazz Was King and Born To Diva.
In 2007, I co-directed and starred in Convent Girls with my friend, Lisa Bobbert. The show was nominated for three Mercury Durban Theatre Awards: Best Production, Best Direction and Best lead Actress (for which both Lisa and Tonya were nominated).
WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOU?
Witty. OCD. Empathetic. Perfectionist. Protective.
WHAT ARE FIVE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF (HOWEVER TRIVIAL) THAT PEOPLE ARE UNLIKELY TO KNOW?
I love my yoga and I am training to become a teacher.
I love teddy bears.
When it comes to the welfare of animals, politeness, courtesy and even friendship will not stand in my way to protect them.
I have no sense of direction. Wayze is my best friend.
I love autobiographies.
YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT ON STAGE?
It was during a show at Sun City and involved a dancer who had to remove a jacket I was wearing. In an over-zealous moment he removed the layer underneath as well, and exposed my right tit. Needless to say, I felt like one!
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING SOMEONE HAS SAID OF YOU?
“Gosh, you’re tall!” (I’m five-foot-four).
IF YOU COULD CHANGE THREE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
A filter would be nice. Also, I wish to be more perky in the mornings… and I wish I had small, dainty feet as I am built like a Hobbit.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE FICTION HEROES/ AND REAL-LIFE HEROES?
Batman, when played by George Clooney. My dad was my real-life hero. He was the kindest, gentlest soul I knew.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE COLOUR, MEAL, BAND, ALBUM, TV SHOW AND MOVIE?
Meal: Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and a nice, tasty gravy.
Band: Will I be judged if I say Abba?
Album: Any Sting album will do.
TV Show: The Good Wife.
Movie: Lion … brilliant!
WHAT IS THE WORST TROUBLE YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN?
I was caught drinking from the bottle of an Old Brown Sherry – by a client who insisted no alcohol be consumed before the show.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED – AND WHO GAVE IT?
Sister Imelda, my junior school choir mistress, told me: “Don’t ever stop singing”.
WHAT DO YOU MOST MISS FROM CHILDHOOD?
THE MOST FRIGHTENING THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU?
Finding a 30cm hair on my chin. No idea how long it had been there!
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS’? AND WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTE NO-NOS?
Absolutely fabulous: Lindor balls, a pedicure, Versace Absolu, Kanebo Base and Paris in the springtime.
Absolute no-nos: Snorting in public, not tipping, sitting on a cellphone while lunching with a friend, box wine and one-ply toilet paper.
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE’?
Sherry, Lindor balls, a fat cat, a slice of carrot cake, and a one-hour bath.
THE BEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER HAD? AND THE WORST?
Best: “You are world class!”
Worst: “I thought you were a man in drag.”