Slick, sophisticated and superb!

A scene from Cabaret and Beyond. From left are Lyle Buxton, Samantha Landers, Amanda Kunene and Tshepo Ncokoane.

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STAGE: Cabaret and Beyond – Seabrooke’s Theatre, Durban High School

(final performances on October 17, 22, 23 and 24)
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
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IF YOU are a Durban musical theatre fan keen to return to the theatre but perhaps a little wary about attending this show because it is a compilation of only new musical theatre songs by 21 different local composers, do yourself an enormous favour – throw caution to the wind and book now.

By taking a chance on Cabaret and Beyond you will experience not only one of the most rewarding and sophisticated shows seen in Durban in some time, but get to realise, in no uncertain terms, why live theatre is such a massive necessity in stimulating any society.

You will also wallow in the enjoyment of experiencing four terrific vocalists at their best – artists, like so many, who have been so sadly grounded for so long by Covid-19 calamity that they seem injected now with renewed vigour and brilliance. That same sense of enthusiasm spilt into the audience at last night’s gala opening performance.

The show offers a quite magical journey through a diverse mix of songs, many of them quite wonderful, that will have you, by turns, smiling broadly, nodding knowingly, tapping your feet, entertaining food for thought and wiping away a tear.

Cabaret and Beyond is entertainment out of the top drawer and kudos are due to the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre For Creative Arts (CCA) for making it all happen. The production is the culmination of a three-month writing collective, the Cabaret and Beyond Festival, facilitated by Roland Perold, at the behest of the centre, the director of which, Ismail Mahomed, saw the event as the perfect venture for the organisation to add a live music theatre event to its bouquet of festivals.
 
The 21 composers for this project come from Durban, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Gqeberha, and two of them (or writing teams) whose work shows most promise for future development will receive grants to develop their ideas into a project to be realised in conjunction with the CCA. A partnership with the Mandela Bay Theatre Complex will result in two full-length, one-act, musicals being premiered in that city in March next year and later also staged in Durban. Big, big yay!

To present 20 of the best songs from the songwriting festival, the CCA appointed KickstArt’s award-winning Steven Stead to direct, fresh from his recent great success with the Westville Boys’ and Westville Girls’ tribute to the music of Jacques Brel that he staged at Westville Boys’ High.

That show and Cabaret and Beyond have similarities in style and staging – the cast dressed in black throughout and stepping forward to perform, in varying combinations, while the remaining cast is seated on blocks behind them – and it works well.

Hard-working musical director and exemplary pianist Wessel Odendaal, from Johannesburg, also remains on stage throughout in this production and does a fantastic job accompanying vocalists Amanda Kunene, Samantha Landers, Lyle Buxton and Tshepo Ncokoane.

Opening with the whole cast singing an upbeat song about the hopes and expectations of auditions (Hurry Up and Wait), then going on to showcase the vocalists performing solo, in duet, or as a team, the production’s highlights include two wonderful, heartfelt ballads centred on self-assessment, by the dynamic Kunene – I Choose Me and Letting Go.

Another of my favourites has Kunene, who first impressed as a teenager in the Durban Young Performers’ productions of Seussical The Musical and Can You Feel It, delighting in a fun number with cellphones, Never Before Has a Wrong Number Been Right, alongside an equally impressive Buxton.

Buxton’s finest moment is probably Mason, a song about gay acceptance, composed by Durban’s Leah Mari, who also wrote the powerful, moving ballad, Play By the Book, Landers’s finest moment in this show. Landers, who has the sweetest and most versatile of voices, has never been better on stage and also impresses with the fun Model Material, What’s That and, in duet with Kunene, the rousing For We Are Powerful.

Other highlights among many are the fun second-half opener, a jaunty and amusing Just Nuisance (performed with props), and Buxton and Ncokoane’s plaintive Second Chances, featuring great harmony. Ncokoane’s other standouts include the poignant Home and, in duet with Kunene, a jazzily sassy Moment of Joy.

The show goes out with a bang with the Perold-penned PESP Debacle, the full cast expressing horror and dismay over government cold-shouldering of the arts during the pandemic, a sentiment loudly applauded by an audience quickly moved to give the production a standing ovation.

Designed by Karabo Legoabe Mtshali, recently recognised in the “Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans 2021” as a talent to watch out for, the show boasts atmospheric lighting by Durban’s award-winning Tina le Roux and ace sound by Brandon Bunyan and Jason Bird.

Tickets are a mere R70 for Sunday performances and R100 for evening shows. Final performances are at 11am today (October 17), 7pm on Friday and Saturday (October 22 and 23) and 11am next Sunday (October 24). There is a two-for-one concession available to students. Booking is online via WebTickets.


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