Posts tagged "Fugard Theatre"

Fabulous fabulous leads and a whole lot more

Review: West Side Story, Fugard Theatre production at Artscape opera house

Run extended until April 22

In this mad and fast-moving world appetites change constantly, attention spans narrow and it is easy to dismiss things as old or tired. That said, this fabulous pairing of a sensational Maria and a reliable and gorgeous Tony in a grand-scale production of West Side Story is anything but.

Lynelle Kenned as Maria is out of this world. Hers is an absolutely sensational voice that seems to soar ever higher and higher. Even when the whole cast of 40 is singing their hearts out her crystal clear soprano is unmistakable. US-born actor Kevin Hack as Tony, in a role he has performed almost 400 times, provides a powerful balance to her brilliance.

These two alone make the trip to Artscape worth it and you might even get tickets now that the run has been extended to April 22. But don’t muck about: it must end then.

This production of the classic inspired by Romeo and Juliet and set in New York in the Fifties, by Eric Abraham and the Fugard Theatre, blew us away in the winter of 2015.  It is back at Artscape for one final season in South Africa “due to overwhelming demand”. Well, that is what they say (and judging by the full house and standing ovation they might just be telling the truth).

The story is so well-known and borders on the cheesy but an unforgettable score that marries stirring music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (“Something’s Coming”, “Maria”, “I Feel Pretty”, “Tonight”, to name a few ) blows any cynicism away.

High octone dance-fighting scenes between two warring street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, add a helping of excitement and brash big bang thrill.

Go on, take your kids, take your Mum and Dad, take the bridge club or your drinking buddies. There really is something for everyone in this very impressive production with a few absolutely standout performances.

Other principal cast members reprising their roles are Bianca Le Grange as Anita; Stephen Jubber as Riff; Sven-Eric Müller as Diesel; Craig Urbani as Shrank; and Richard Lothian as Officer Krupke. Daniel Richards re-joins the cast as Bernardo and James Borthwick plays Doc.

Matthew Wild is director, Charl-Johan Lingenfelder is musical director and conductor, and Louisa Talbot is the choreographer, with Grant van Ster as resident choreographer.

Last time it was the set that stole my heart …

(full review from August 2015 available here)

I managed to secure some of the last seats at the Artscape Opera House for West Side Story. The balcony was all that was left. I was only a little disappointed, knowing that a seat upstairs gives such a great view of the group pieces, in this case two gangs of hot young dancers play-fighting with choreography by Louisa Talbot under the direction of Matthew Wild. What’s not to like?

Being a little way back also helps me not fall in love with one performer and follow them around the stage to the detriment of the others, in this case, so many others in a large and talented cast of 40.

Blah-di-blah … A fragile balance is upset … Cue hatred and violence … breathtaking, high tempo dance scenes. Blah blah blah (as I said, full review from August 2015 available here)

Seamless mood changes are achieved by deft set changes between cavernous, clunky, concrete landscapes and intimate love scenes on a balcony or in the sewing factory where Maria works.

About my special little stage crush for the night, I will admit to being a bit mechanical here. Lead contenders had to be Maria (Lynelle Kenned), so sweet and winsome until she opened her mouth and filled the auditorium with soaring vocals, and the sexy Anita (Bianca le Grange), who is Bernardo’s girlfriend.

Le Grange, a South African sweetheart of an order I have heard compared with the way America adored Natalie Wood, who played Maria in the original film version of West Side Story, is one of those performers who doesn’t need a spotlight, her performance is already illuminated by her own fiery red circle of hotness.

But this time the crush award went to … [add drumroll here please] … the stage itself: the mechanics of a three-story set being moved seamlessly on and off stage; the lighting – sometimes knock-out sparkly, other times delightfully subtle; the stage that seemed to go on forever. (I really did lean over the balcony to check if they had fitted in more than a few rows of seats downstairs).

Very familiar and completely vreemd

How I wished I didn’t have to read the surtitles in Moedertaal. Whenever I listened to the Afrikaans words spoken by Sandra Prinsloo I understood snatches of a beautiful, lyrical Afrikaans that cannot be translated. When I heard the Afrikaans and saw the translations in English I wanted to shout out: “That is not what she said; it is definitely not what he meant!”

That’s right, I said ‘he’. Hard as it was for me to believe, a man wrote this poignant and intimate story told in a very powerfully feminine voice by Prinsloo, that grande dame of South African theatre. Familiar and vreemd indeed.

Written and directed by Nico Scheepers, Moedertaal is the third instalment in Sandra Prinsloo’s trifecta of one-woman plays that began so beautifully with Die Naaimasjien. Scheepers, who also composed the music, has been described as “one of the most exciting young theatre-makers in this country”. He and Prinsloo make a formidable pair.

Evocative, compelling narrative (even in the translated surtitles … although less so) grabs us from the beginning. ‘Almost-poetry’ that brings to mind and body the feeling of bare, dusty feet as we explore with Nellie her dead uncle’s farm. (The family has moved here after he put a gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger in a tragically familiar narrative.)

We feel the air thick with sticky, plummy smells and a sweet conspiratorial bond as she helps her dad make moonshine from the maroela fruit.

We feel the fire on our skin and our hearts break as the orchard burns down one night. Later, our hearts repaired a little, we are overcome by awkwardness when Nellie meets her life’s love as a teenager.

Their story is three-quarters familiar, populated and coloured in by many versions and vignettes of our white South African stereotypes. The rest of it we watch from a distance, sometimes amused, often horrified. This quarter is the deeply personal, unique happiness and pain that can never be shared, the private journey between two people in love, touched occasionally by a third: a parent, another lover or, most importantly, a child.

As in life, even as each of them is uniquely quirky, there is a certain familiarity to all the misfits, the loners, the nut-jobs … in Afrikaans and in English. We think we know them and fear what they might want from us, so we back off and thank the heavens we didn’t end up like that … although we can remember more than a few moments when things looked to be heading that way.

Moedertaal gives us a tiny flash of how little we know about all the others – their lives, their loves and their losses – even if it looks so familiar that we thought those dusty bare feet were our own for a minute.

Review: Moedertaal, The Fugard Studio Theatre, November 14 to December 2. Performances are Tuesdays to Fridays at 8pm and on Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm. Tickets (R130-R165), available via 021 461 4554 and Computicket

Pop in to the one and only Dias Tavern next door for pre-theatre dinner, best chicken peri peri and calamari in town, booking essential 021 465 7547

Move over Barbs, here’s another fab Funny Girl

Not just funny girls: Ashleigh Harvey is supported by a super talented all-South African cast

If you don’t believe me when I say the Fugard Theatre’s production of Funny Girl, the musical, is better than the movie, you’ll shout ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire!’ when you hear me say Ashleigh Harvey as Fanny Brice is even more Barbra than Streisand.

What can I say … the bitter-sweet musical drama based loosely on the life of Broadway star, film actress and comedienne Fanny Brice, which had its official opening at the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town on Wednesday, exceeded expectations … even for this dyed-in-the-wool Streisand fan.

Standing on the original Funny Girl’s shoulders is one thing; filling her shoes entirely another. Try to look past the mind bending, body twisting imagery of filling someone’s shoes while standing on their shoulders and believe me when I say that Naledi nominee Harvey manages to do all of this as Fanny Brice.

Even so, for many of us, this story will forever belong to the original Funny Girl, who starred in the Broadway show that opened in March 1964 at the Winter Garden Theatre.

‘Queen Barbra’ went on to win an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in the 1968 film version. Who knows how much like the real Fanny Brice Harvey’s performance was, she was absolutely marvellous doing Barbra as Fanny.

The showgirl and the gambler: Ashleigh Harvey as Fanny Brice and Clyde Berning as Nick Arnstein

But this is not just a story about the awkwardly gorgeous Fanny’s rise from Brooklyn music hall singer to Broadway star, or even Barbra’s embedding herself in musical history and our hearts performing iconic songs such as “People” and “Don’t Rain On My Parade”.

The real drama is delivered thanks to Fanny’s tempestuous relationship with the handsomest of gamblers, Nick Arnstein, played here by Clyde Berning. He gives a more layered and passionate portrayal of the character that Omar Sharif burnt into the minds of many so effortlessly thanks to his smouldering sexiness.

Fanny and Nick are more than ably supported by an all-South African cast playing the lovable and larger-than-life characters all in rather excellent New York accents.

Just as I pondered if being so damn good at singing and dancing might be the musical equivalent of having looks and brains the six “chorus girls” came on en pointe and performed a flawless mini-ballet.

Fanny’s poker-playing, wise-cracking mother (Kate Normington, front) and her friends provide most of the gags

Fanny’s Mum and her chums seem to fill a bigger space in the stage production than in the movie, providing a large proportions of the laughs.

Kate Normington gives a standout performance as Mrs Brice. Particularly good sound and timing allows the audience to hear every word, meaning that hardly a gag is lost.

Other aspects of the production were super slick, too, with the smoothest switching between scenes and settings. This show makes nonsense of the idea that performing in real life and real time is too limited by the realities of reality.

No surprises that this production reunites the creative team behind the Fugard Theatre’s other hits The Rocky Horror Show, Cabaret and West Side Story: director Matthew Wild, musical director Charl-Johan Lingenfelder and choreographer Louisa Talbot.

Slick service at the Fugard bar

Evenings at the Fugard are ever-more slick, from warm greetings at the door by gentlemen in top hat and tails to the most friendly and efficient bar service in town before and after the show.

Funny Girl – The Musical is based on the book by Isobel Lennart, with music composed by Jule Styne and lyrics written by Bob Merrill. The new production is presented by Eric Abraham and the Fugard Theatre. It runs until June 11.