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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

SWOONERS & CROONERS 3 (article first published : 2001-10-4)

The Gee Jays’ show Swooners and Crooners has been around for close on two years now. The opening number Sentimental Journey sets the scene for an amusing and often hilarious meander down the years to pay tribute to those entertainers who became known for show-stopping ballads or powerful hit tunes. Grant Bell, John Didlick and Gary McKenzie start their journey with Nat King Cole and end with Boyzone and there’s a lot of fun and nonsense in between.

I make no excuses for drawing on old reviews because the show is as slick now as it was when I first saw it. Alarming to remember that it was all of 18 months ago when I was in a wheelchair after breaking my foot. That review remarked that “the hard-working and well-knit trio stays away from the usual risqué, fool-around party act and has chosen a more sophisticated, elegant mode“ The review went on to say that the three prove that they’re not only “knock-about comedians but can handle a tune as well as the established swooners and crooners of the title … Their interaction, tight harmonies, light banter and good stage presence is the result of their working together for 15 years. Their camaraderie is a delight to watch – almost like popping your feet into a comfortable pair of slippers at the end of a tedious day.“

I was obviously hot on the “slippers” theme because I reiterated the analogy six months or so later when Swooners and Crooners returned to the Langoustine by popular demand. This time I also noted that because they had worked together for so long, they held “no surprises for each other either in a personal or performance capacity and despite their disparate characters - mercurial Gary, robust John and tall, suave Grant.”

The show has now been re-directed by Belinda Harward for the Sneddon run and it says something for their popularity that as each member saunters onto the stage at the beginning of the show, they get individual applause – the most vigorous going to the lovable John Didlick who is the main generator of the show’s humour. When he’s not doing a wonderfully controlled drunken send-up of Dean Martin, he is still struggling to persuade the others to do a Bles Bridges number! And he’s getting so nimble at movement that he’s slowly erasing my original description of him as a choreographer’s nightmare!

You’ll hear the music of Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and The Platters not to mention Elvis Presley. Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, Roy Orbison, The Beatles, Barry Manilow, Lionel Ritchie and Wet Wet Wet. There are plenty of memorable numbers – among them It’s Not Unusual, Paper Moon, Cracklin’ Rosie, Let it Be, I Write the Songs, Wonderful World That’s Life and Everybody Loves Somebody.

I still have a problem with some of the backing tracks which tend to sound “tinny” and on opening night, the lighting was a bit erratic but I expect this will settle down. The publicity boasted “a glitzy new set” and I must admit to feeling a little bit conned when I saw the same bar and armchair that graced the Langoustine stage with no adornments other than some framed black and white photographs of real swooners and crooners. That was before the curtain went up on the second act to reveal Josef van Schalkwyk’s truly glitzy stage set with enough light-trimmed stairs to inspire the legendary South African star of musicals Joan Brickhill into action.

This is the first time that the Gee Jays have worked outside a supper theatre format and they certainly have the power and personalities to fill the Elizabeth Sneddon stage. For those who weren’t able to pay supper theatre prices before, tickets are affordable and the show’s well worth a visit. Swooners and Crooners runs until October 21. Booking at Computicket or www.computicket.com – Caroline Smart




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