Elegant excellence with Brel

Keryn Scott in the lively Brussels number in Crazy Carousel (An Intimate Evening with Jacques Brel) at the Roy Couzens Theatre at Durban’s Westville Boys’ High School. Scott is flanked by dancers Luvo Mthethwa and Connor Gordon.

STAGE: Crazy Carousel (An Intimate Evening with Jacques Brel) – Roy Couzens Theatre, Westville Boys’ High School, Durban
(Performances from September 23 to 26 – at 7pm today, tomorrow and Saturday; and 6pm on Sunday)

LET me cut to the chase – if you’re aching for a Durban theatre experience of note after these interminable months of Covid-19 restrictions, do yourself a great, big favour and catch Crazy Carousel (An Intimate Evening with Jacques Brel), a show with elegance, polish and some truly remarkable, fresh, young talent. It will be R120 so very well spent!

Presented over 75 minutes, with no interval, narration or a single weak link, this production is one of the finest high school productions I have seen to date – certainly the one with the most consistently high level of vocal talent.

Not only is Crazy Carousel super-slick and highly enjoyable, with a commendable injection of easy sophistication, it also showcases confident youngsters not only tackling, but fully connecting, with material one seldom comes across in youth productions.

Loud applause to the 15 singers and four dancers, an attractive and versatile bunch from Westville Boys’ High and Westville Girls’ High, whose fine performances have been harnessed and allowed to gallop by Durban’s kingpin director, KickstArt’s award-winning Steven Stead, who now teaches drama at both schools. Kudos too, for the magic spun by the show’s musical director, Roland Perold.

Stead, writing in programme notes, explains that the songs of Jacques Brel, the celebrated 20th century Belgian singer-songwriter, provide ideal material for an exercise of this kind. Brel’s songs are passionate short stories, intimate monologues that communicate with great depth of feeling, ideally suited to the genre of true cabaret.

Jethro Milne gives a commanding rendition of Jackie, complete with hip swivels.

“It has been a great pleasure to introduce these young people to this important and powerful material, and to this art form, and to see how readily they responded to it; and how they are relishing this direct, potent theatrical experience,” Stead writes.

Certainly the dress-rehearsal audience last night, comprising mostly of Durban’s theatre fraternity, were impressed with expectations exceeded. The standing ovation at the close of the show was immediate and genuine.

The show unfolds on Greg King’s simple but striking stage setting of dark blocks of varying shape, set at different heights on a wide stage, and with the audience seated, cabaret-like, at small tables accommodating two or four people.

Stage right you will find the music-makers – ace pianist Roland Perold, percussionist Heath Squire and guitarist Viwe Kumalo.

Crazy Carousel is further embellished with the atmospheric, subtle lighting design of award-winning Michael Taylor-Broderick, and some fun choreography by Simone Mann.

The production opens with all performers seated or standing alongside the blocks on stage, performing the joyful and jaunty Marathon. Then, for the remainder of the show, with the company always on stage, soloists step forward to take the limelight on a podium, with microphone stand, that protrudes from the front-centre of the large stage.

Many Brel classics, and some lesser-heard songs, comprise the 18-song programme which, due to one pupil, Sma Mkhwanazi, having to isolate at home as a Covid-19 precaution, sees Stead stepping up for one song, Mathilde, rather than cut the song from the show and interrupt its flow. It’s a nice surprise.

Thando X Mzimela performs Port of Amsterdam in Crazy Carousel.

It seems unfair to single out performances when all in the cast do such a consistently sterling job and ooze confidence, but I simply have to acknowledge the touching, impassioned delivery of If You Go Away, by Dumo Cele, and an ebullient Keryn Scott’s toe-tapping Brussels (with dancers) and her performance of that giddy whirl of a tongue-twister, Carousel.

Other personal favourites were the feisty, near-manic delivery of Port of Amsterdam by Thando X Mzimela; a commanding delivery of Jackie by Jethro Milne (complete with saucy hip swivels) and The Old Folks, my all-time favourite Brel song, performed as a poignant duet by Nkanyezi Kunene and Athokomele Hlekwayo.

The Desperate Ones and the closing If We Only Have Love are performed by the entire company, while other songs on the programme include No Love (You’re Not Alone), Fanette, Sons of, Timid Frieda, I Loved, My Death, Ethan Dunk’s fun and campy rendition of Madeleine (also with dancers), and Amahle Tembe’s impressive, crowd-pleasing delivery of the demanding Marieke.

Crazy Carousel has performances at 7pm nightly from today until Saturday (September 23 to 25) and at 6pm on Sunday, September 26. The venue offers two tables of four, and 21 tables of two. No single ticket bookings will be accepted. Tickets cost R120 each, from Webtickets.

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