A Reals gem, a sparkler of note

The Reals in Hot August Night, their excellent tribute to Neil Diamond. Final performances of this hit revival show will be at Pietermaritzburg’s Rhumbelow Theatre at the Allan Wilson Shellhole at 2pm on Sunday, Seprember 12; and at Northlands Bowling Club, Durban North, at 6pm on Saturday, September 18. Tickets cost R160 each. Book at Computicket outlets, or by calling Roland Stansell at 082 499 8636.

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Stage: The Reals: Hot August Night
– Pietermaritzburg Rhumbelow Theatre (Allan Wilson Shellhole) at
2pm on Sunday, September 12; and at the Northlands Bowling Club Rhumbelow Theatre, Durban North, at 6pm on Saturday, September 18 
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
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SIMPLY put, the latest showband entertainment at Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre in Umbilo is a Reals gem – a sparkling Neil Diamond tribute which, at its first staging at this Umbilo venue in October 2018 , and again at its first revival in 2019, attracted large and enthusiastic audiences.

Little wonder then that the show is being revived again – and, in these dark days of Covid-19 worries and unsettling political times in South Africa, it couldn’t have come sooner to prove a perfect tonic for the blues.

If anyone ever doubted seasoned Durban showband The Reals’ talent, versatility and charisma, they should pop along to see this excellent entertainment.

Although the band has not entertained in many months, due to Covid-19 lockdowns, it proved at a recent matinee at the Umbilo Rhumbelow Theatre that it had lost none of its spark. Hot August Night is an excellent tribute to the memories and music of Neil Diamond and, along with the band’s Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Dire Straits and British Invasion shows, ranks as one of the best from the crack team of singer-guitarist Barry Thomson, keyboardist-singer and musical director Dawn Selby, singer-drummer Mali Sewell and former Johnny Clegg bassist Trevor Donjeany, who permanently joined The Reals last year.

The show opens with video footage sketching the rise and accomplishments of Neil Diamond – beamed on two raised screens flanking the stage. We then launch straight into the catchy Forever in Blue Jeans (Barry on lead vocals), before renditions of A Beautiful Noise (Mali on lead vocals) and a song Brooklyn-born Diamond is said to rate as a personal favourite, the haunting I Am, I Said, beautifully performed by Barry on lead vocals.

Other items from the first half include the lesser known Brooklyn Roads and the hit Solitary Man, both sung by Mali; and the ballad Heartlight, for which smooth-voiced Trevor takes lead vocals for the first time. We also get an interlude of novelty snippets from Diamond’s Hot August Night album before Song Sung Blue, which was well received in spite of lacking a bit of oomph in the vocal by Mali. The song got the audience singing along and continuing to do so during Barry’s lively rendition of Cherry, Cherry, a great first-half closer.

The show’s second half opens with a welcome surprise – Dawn and Barry in a gentle duet rendition of The Story of My Life, a moving song penned by Diamond in 1986 – and is followed by Diamond’s 2014 song, Something Blue, an upbeat look at newfound love, for which the Diamond promo video for the song is shown on the screens while Barry handles lead vocals.

Barry is on tip-top vocal form in the second half, particularly with renditions of the rousing America and Holly Holy, while Trevor does a very good rendition of Love on the Rocks. A personal favourite in the show is Barry’s vocal delivery of Play Me, for which he plays acoustic guitar.

The second half also has Mali singing Longfellow Serenade and Barry performing Soolaimon. Not surprisingly, the Diamond biggies, Cracklin’ Rosie and Sweet Caroline, are kept for last and they bring the house down. The only big hits I could think of that were conspicuous by their absence from the programme were Desiree and Be.

The show, with sound design by Andre Norden, is laced with interesting anecdotes and facts about Diamond, who was the recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this year, was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1984 and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

It came as a surprise to some at my table that the American wrote hits for others too, not least The Monkees chart-topper, I’m a Believer (this show’s encore item) and the UB40 classic, Red, Red Wine (also on the Hot August Night bill).

Now 80, Diamond has retired from touring after having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Very sad, as he enjoys live performances more than anything, he says in interview footage shown during this show. However, his music will live forever.


2 thoughts on “A Reals gem, a sparkler of note

  1. Neil Diamond show – magnifique !! Best show I’ve seen for a very long time – hats off to Barry and his Reals. This show is not to be missed.

    Like

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