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

WHEN BASIL MET ELVIS (article first published : 2006-03-2)

I’ve always said that Durban actor/singer Clinton Philander’s energy and enchanting stage presence should be bottled up and distributed as a tonic to anyone feeling low in spirit. Having spent some time on the Barnyard Theatre circuit, he has indicated that he would like to spend more time at home with his family and this is good news for Durban theatre-goers.

He is appearing at the Catalina Theatre in When Basil Met Elvis, a production he conceived, wrote and co-directed with Themi Venturas. It’s a delightful concept.

Ardent Elvis Presley fan, Basil (Clinton), has only one desire in life and that is to shake the hand of his idol. On his way to see Elvis perform, he erroneously offers the wrong directions to the theatre to a busload of people, only to discover afterwards that in the bus are legendary stars such as Tom Jones, Elton John, Tina Turner, Little Richard, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and the Righteous Brothers. This means that the star-studded line-up of the show he is about to see is to be severely depleted as these performers are now set on a route that will probably take them to the Drakensberg!

Frantic with guilt, he decides that he and his girlfriend Saffron Bowls (Lisa Bobbert) must step in and perform their numbers in full character and costume so that Elvis (John Didlick of the GeeJays) won’t discover his mistake. It’s a clever idea and could be explored further with news coming in throughout the programme as to the whereabouts of the lost bus, adding to the amusement of the show.

Combine the considerable talents of Clinton Philander, Lisa Bobbert (alternating with Marion Loudon) and John Didlick with added assistance from Johnathan Didlick (John’s son) and audiences can expect a good evening’s entertainment. The live band is another plus with Callie Thompson leading a tight foursome with guitar whiz husband Barry Thompson on guitar (alternating with Rowan Stuart), Shaun Peterson on drums and Nikki Lotter on bass.

While we’ve seen John Didlick do “send-up Elvis” in his shows with the GeeJays, this time he plays the real thing and the audience responds well to his engaging stage presence. Showing an impressive vocal maturity, Clinton performs songs by Tom Jones, Willie Nelson and Little Richard as well as Kenny Rogers and the Righteous Brothers – well, one Righteous Brother!

Lisa Bobbert puts in the powerhouse performance we have come to expect from her in such numbers as Tina Turner’s River Deep Mountain High and Proud Mary. Her characters are cleanly drawn and full of fun and nonsense.

Johnathan Didlick is much under-used but gets to come into his own as Elton John in Crocodile Rock, albeit with a moulting feather boa, and at the end as a young Elvis. Barry Thompson performs a powerful Eric Clapton number. The renditions of the songs are accurate all round but sometimes get clouded by too much “stage business” so we don’t really get to appreciate the skill of the singer.

When Basil Met Elvis runs until April 2 with shows Tuesday to Saturday at 20h00 (Sunday at 18h00). No shows on Monday. Tickets R70 (R60 concessions). Book at 031-305 6889. – Caroline Smart




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