Elegant showcase of excellence

Lyle Buxton, Roshinda Lewis, Samantha Landers and Emkay Khanyile in CAB Festival Showcase 2023. Picture by Bash Siddiqi.

Stage: Cabaret and Beyond Festival Showcase 2023 – Seabrooke’s Theatre, Durban High School, St Thomas Road, Berea
Final performances at 7pm today, (May 20) and 2pm tomorrow (May 21)

AS I said in my review of the Cabaret and Beyond Festival’s inaugural showcase for new musical theatre songs in October 2021 – if you’re a Durban fan of this genre of music but perhaps a little wary about attending this show because it is a compilation of only new material by South African composers, do yourself an enormous favour – throw caution to the wind and book now.

There are only two more performances: 7pm today (Saturday, May 20) and 2pm tomorrow (Sunday, May 21).

I labelled the inaugural showcase “slick, sophisticated and superb” and am very happy to report that these words also apply to this year’s 65-minute showcase, presented once again, without an interval, in the intimate Seabrooke’s Theatre.

There is an enormous amount of talent behind the creation and delivery of the 16 original musical theatre songs on this programme, a varied mix representing the finest output from 20 composers who were chosen from 93 applicants for the second CAB writing mentorship programme that concluded in December.

The 20 composers from all over the country took part in a three-month writing programme, meeting twice monthly via Zoom for online discussions and feedback around works in development. CAB Festival director Roland Perold, dramatist Lesedi Job and specialist composer Jaco Griessel led the cohort through the process and devised this programme of highlights.

The very first incarnation of the CAB Festival was the brainchild of versatile Perold, who produced an independent song cycle with input from six composers across South Africa in 2020, while strong lockdown restrictions were still in place. Following that performance at the Seabrooke’s Theatre, UKZN’s Centre for the Creative Arts decided to engage Perold as project manager to start the centre’s development initiative for musical theatre composers in South Africa, now known as the CAB Festival. And long may it continue!

Kudos to this year’s four-member showcase cast – returning talents Samantha Landers and Lyle Buxton, and new cast members Roshanda Lewis and Emkay Khanyile. Also, a hearty back slap for the always exemplary efforts by musical director and on-stage pianist Evan Roberts, and director Steven Stead.

The small Seabrooke’s Theatre stage, featuring steps and black pedestals on which the vocalists sit when not performing solo, in duet or as a team, is beautifully bathed throughout in ever-changing, atmospheric lighting by Stephen Woodroffe, and sound design is by Ross Hatcher.

All dressed in black, the cast opens with the jolly and amusing We Sing the Songs, composed by Perold, then slickly moves through a variety of numbers that are by turns humorous, happy, heartbreaking, always heartfelt. Topics vary from love sought, lost or found, to the frustrations of raising a child and an unbridled display of homosexuality. Heck, even loadshedding gets a look-in.

All in the cast shine constantly and there is no weak moment at all, but among biggest highlights for me is the moving Just Wait, a song that has Landers offering an aching reflection on physical abuse.

I also loved the delightful romp that is A Demon Called Sue, a perky, zany tale of a possessed clergyman that has the whole team, but most notably Buxton and Landers, showing their comic clout. If it rings a bell, it was penned by Godfrey Johnson and featured in The Good News Cabaret that he and Perold performed at Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre in December.

Among other brighter moments are Khanyile’s camp delivery of Men, performed amid swirls of pink lighting; the fun Congrats to You, with Landers discussing the pros and cons of being a new mother while holding a ‘baby’ in her arms; and the catchy closing number Make it Stop, featuring the whole cast. I also loved Lewis’s Manifesting You, in which she discusses her ideal man, and her and Landers’s beautiful harmonies in the enchanting I Found a Man, third song on the programme.

Director Stead notes that, in contrast to songs in other genres, he and his cast are working in a dramatic artform, where music and lyrics serve the intention of the character or situation in a way that is gripping to an audience member, “and this is why audiences have taken note and have returned for each new instalment”.

Evans is great on accompaniment and with the arrangements, while Stead has done a wonderful job with all in this production, bringing out the best of their talents as both singers and performers. However, he has woven extra-special magic with Landers who, while always elegant and in great voice, here shows a versatility, notably a comic sensibility and hint of mischief, like never before.

This showcase deserves full houses. Tickets cost R150 with a pensioner discount available. Book via  www.webtickets.co.za

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