Stage: Nite Fever: A ’70s Celebration – The Barnyard Theatre, Suncoast Casino, Durban (Thursdays to Sundays until May 22)
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
AFTER ever-fluctuating venue-capacity restrictions from Covid-19 restrictions, what a joy to see Durban’s Barnyard Theatre bouncing back so well, the joint jumping again with a higher-capacity audience of gleeful patrons having fun!
Sunday’s first matinee performance was “a fat jol”, as I overheard someone say. So, big congrats to show producer Duck Chowles and his 10-member cast.
The team has come up with the perfect party show to reignite the zest for which this venue has always been noted. It truly is a fun production and I, for one, am so grateful to finally see a show devoted to ’70s music again after a seemingly endless series of ’60s and ’80s tributes in this city.
As you’ve gathered from the title, Nite Fever is strongly focused on disco, with some smatterings of pop and balladry, and as such it is a wonderful entertainment. I do have to say, though, that I missed rock elements. Also, the show might have benefited from an amusing medley (or two) of some of the many cheesier hits of the earlier ’70s. So many to choose from: Tie a Yellow Ribbon, Clap Your Hands and Stamp Your Feet, Knock Three Times, Sylvia’s Mother, Brand New Key, Hey Fattie Bum Bum, Coco, Popcorn, Cracklin’ Rosie, Long Haired Lover From Liverpool… the list is endless.
That small gripe aside, Nite Fever is a colourful and lively tribute, a glittery invitation to “shake ya groove thang” from a team that is becoming a core cast for this venue. They are Calli Thomson on musical direction, keyboards and backing vocals; Bongani Sokhela on bass; Dylan van der Linde on drums; bearded singer-guitarist Jason Kylen; and vocals from the power-voiced Kerry Cherry, petite and hyper-ebullient Savanah de Beer, ever-dependable Rory Booth and cheerful show host Kyle Matthews.
The production introduces blonde saxophonist Maxine Matthews (no relation to Kyle). It also features regular Barnyard vocalist Themba January, whose Stevie Wonder medley in the show’s first half is a big highlight. Always a vibrant stage presence, Themba is from Johannesburg and the only member of the cast not based in Durban.
Opening with a bang with the funky That’s the Way I Like It and Play That Funky Music, the production’s first half has a good Donna Summer medley showcasing the vocal oomph of Kerry and Savanah. It is also of note for Rory and the women impressing in a cleverly contrived meshing of John Paul Young’s Love is in the Air and the Frankie Valli/Boys Town Gang oldie, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.
Also of note is Kyle’s fine delivery of Rod Stewart’s You’re in My Heart and Do You Think I’m Sexy?, and the women in duet for a crowd-pleasing mash-up of Eric Carmen’s All By Myself and Nilsson’s Without You. The closing Saturday Night Fever sequence is energetic and enjoyable, but a little overlong (a good spot to insert that cheesey medley I mentioned earlier?)
The second half opens with the band performing Average White Band’s 1974 instrumental, Pick Up the Pieces (great sax from Maxine), then nods to Boney M classics before Kerry’s gutsy rendition of Knocking on Heaven’s Door. This highlight leads to a too-long medley of Grease hits before Kyle raises smiles and laughter with The Rocky Horror Show’s Sweet Transvestite.
The cast and audience then have a ball with YMCA, Night Fever, Knock on Wood, Freak Out and Boogie Wonderland. Also here is the forgettable Black Betty (a minor hit for Ram Jam in 1977), performed well enough by Kylen, who also sings Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street in the show’s first half.
Nite Fever is scheduled to run Thursdays to Sundays until May 22. To book, visit the Barnyard theatre website or phone the Durban theatre at (031) 940 0500.