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

CONCERT FEVER (article first published : 2001-12-13)

Close on four years ago, Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre manager Jackie Cunniffe and lighting expert Stephen Woodroffe staged a highly successful rock show titled Concert Fever. This year, they wisely decided to revive this production to offer perfect entertainment over the festive season. What’s more, they have managed to coax original cast member Joseph (Joe) Clarke back to Durban from his busy schedule in Johannesburg.

Texas-born Joe first came to South Africa in 1983 to join PACT Ballet as principal dancer before moving to Durban in 1987 to become a member of the Playhouse Dance Company. His American all-round training in song, drama and dance made him an extremely versatile performer and it wasn’t long before one of South Africa’s finest musical directors, the late Geoffrey Sutherland, realised his full potential. A series of excellent shows followed showcasing Joe’s extraordinary talent, culminating in Geoffrey’s ground-breaking tribute to Freddie Mercury and his music, Queen at the Opera, which arguably presented the performer at his mercurial – excuse the pun but the adjective is used advisedly - best.

While he has since been involved in many other highly successful productions, Joe represents a much-lamented era of theatre in Durban and it is good to see that he’s as energetic and versatile as ever, those nimble feet still perform their magic and the personality is still at megawatt power.

Tim Wells, another former cast member of Concert Fever is as dependable as ever, rock-solid in his musical foundations and enjoyable for his easy-going relaxed style. Last night’s performance proved that theatre companies don’t just employ top professionals so that everything goes right but rather that when anything goes wrong they can get out of trouble pretty smartly.

In a Michael Jackson number, Joe’s microphone came detached from its position and skidded across the platform eventually falling three metres down to the stage below. From the other side of the stage, Tim moved at speed, retrieved it and leapt up to place it in Joe’s hand who then synchronised with the band and continued the song as if nothing had happened. That’s professionalism – all round!

The 1998 production of Concert Fever featured Karen van Pletsen but this time Kate Bruce shares the stage with Joe and Tim - both tough acts to follow. She more than holds her own, matching their strength and dynamism and offering an individual and steely interpretation of some of the more powerful numbers.

The fourth cast member is guest artist Clive Gumede. Still at school, he presented a rendering of that made him an immediate audience favourite. This is a name to watch.

The set of Concert Fever looks like the platform of a stadium rock concert and that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. The show is based on hit numbers performed by many of the major international artists to perform in Durban since the lifting of the cultural boycott. These include Alanis Morisette, Gloria Estefan, Bread, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Cliff Richard, Roxette, Paul Simon and Bon Jovi – to name a few.

It would be difficult to single out any particular number because the standard is exceptionally high all round. However, the last one, Bryan Adams’ All for Love which includes a delightful interpretation of Pavarotti by Joe, certainly prompted the biggest audience response.

As much stars of the show as the performers, the musicians represent a fine backing band. Well, they should do – some of the best names on the circuit today are featured. Under the all-embracing musical direction of Dawn Selby are virtuoso guitarists Dave Birch (Squeal) and Barry Thomson with Mali Sewell on drums, Simon Pontin on bass and Paul Kock on saxophone

Amusing highlights are the audio-visual clips of some of the footage from the South African concerts from sorely-missed programmes such as Good Morning South Africa and KZN-2-Nite. Lighting and sound is top notch and Dean Bennewith has kept a firm hand on direction and choreography.

And last but by no means least, the theatre is looking marvellous. It’s had a revamp, the auditorium has been painted a very atmospheric dark brown and there are – praise heaven! – new and comfortable seats! All in all, an experience not to be missed!

Concert Fever runs in the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until early January with a possible extension. Book at Computicket or phone (011) 340-8000 or 083 915-8000 – Caroline Smart




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