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DEATH OF MERVYN GOODMAN (article first published : 2006-12-9)

In a tragic incident on the evening of January 7, well-known Durban theatre personality Mervyn Goodman took his own life by driving his vehicle off the pier into Durban harbour. With his death, Durban loses one of the main players in its theatre history.

From his early days as a teenager when he had his own band, Mervyn’s one main passion was musical theatre. He loved performers such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Peggy Lee as well as the big band sound and the Broadway and the West End style of musicals.

He became involved in musicals as an actor and dancer eventually joining the Natal Performing Arts Council (now the Playhouse Company) on the administration side. It was while working as Front of House Manager for NAPAC that he came up with the idea of using the Cellar (now the Zulu Jazz Lounge) as a supper theatre venue rather than its intended coffee shop format.

Mervyn turned director and in 1985, The Cellar opened with Piaf: No Regrets starring Judy Page, Jo-Ann Pezzaro and Mike Huff. It had the benefit – a luxury nowadays – of a live band which incorporated such well-known musicians as Marc Duby and Joe de Leeuw. Judy Page was later to describe The Cellar as the finest venue of its kind.

With co-owner David Lloyd-Jones, who was also his life partner and colleague of 28 years, Mervyn kept the Cellar running as a busy and vibrant theatre venue. Among the many successful hundred or so productions presented were Hoagy Carmichael with Michael McGovern, Brian Hill’s Sondheim tribute, Old Time Music Hall and Jerry’s Girls which was a tribute to Jerry Herman. Singers such as Dianne Chandler and Danièle Pascale were regular performers.

One of the highlights of his involvement with the Cellar was a birthday tribute to Irving Berlin where he found as many performers as possible sharing the same birthday – May 11 – and invited them to the Cellar for the evening. Among the luminaries was the legendary Joan Brickhill.

On Monday nights – normally a night off for the theatre industry – Mervyn brought back the popular Men from the Ministry radio theatre team. David Lloyd-Jones came up with the idea of adult pantomimes along the lines of similar shows done in the UK and so Durban’s popular adult panto shows were launched with productions such as Sinderella and Snow White featuring Anthony Stonier and Peter Court. The longest running production was Eric Hutton’s Elton.

The Cellar closed its doors some years back and Mervyn went into semi-retirement but its contribution to Durban’s theatre history is incalculable.

“Mervyn was a man of the theatre and had a good instinct of what makes for good musical entertainment. As a musician he was passionate about the use of phrasing in a song but he will also be remembered for his comedy skills as an actor,” says a grieving David Lloyd-Jones. “What has happened is tragic indeed but I believe that one has to respect Mervyn’s decision to do what he did – for whatever reason. We should remember him for his contribution to theatre. While it’s a devastating personal void for me, it’s also a great loss in terms of professional theatre in Durban.”

Tributes to follow. – Caroline Smart




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