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MERCURY RISING (article first published : 2006-04-7)

In 1997, Durban audiences got to notice Duncan Royce seriously for the first time in the second production of Geoffrey Sutherland’s superb Queen at the Opera!. He was the swing (a performer who fills in for the main leads on certain nights to ease their workload) for Joseph Clark, Paul Warwick-Griffin and Luciano Zuppa. I will always remember that on the final night, the three leads suggested that Duncan be part of the show and re-adjusted the entire programme to include him – a very generous gesture in true professional showbiz style!

Mercury Rising is Duncan Royce’s FNB Vita award-winning salute to Freddie Mercury. It first saw the light of day in Durban at the now-defunct supper theatre venue, Langoustine Theatre by the Sea in July 1999. Two years later, virtually to the day, it expanded into a larger format and was presented on the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre stage with Crystal Tryon, Angela Killian taking the part played originally by Bronwen Forbay and Roelof Colyn at the piano (formerly Philipp Maier).

Since then, Mercury Rising has performed sell-out seasons at The Civic Theatre in Johannesburg and the Barnyard Theatre in Cresta and Menlyn Park. In November 2005, it made its international debut at the DBS Arts Centre, in Singapore where it ran for three weeks.

The latest production is running at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. Performing to an ecstatic audience, Duncan Royce and Crystal Tryon - who have been in each production seen in Durban - appear opposite Kate Normington accompanied with much panache and flamboyance by Du Preez Strauss as musical director.

Crystal’s voice has acquired a new maturity and she is sounding simply splendid. With their clarity and power, Duncan Royce and Kate Normington do full credit to the classic Mercury hits, extending their considerable vocal range and closing the show on a powerful level with Barcelona. Quinton Ribbonaar and Tarryn MaKaab handle the dance sequences, some of which are highly amusing, like Lover Boy which they performed in classic ballet outfits.

While including some of the finest stadium rock numbers for which Queen was well-known, the programme also features some of Freddie Mercury's beautiful ballads like The World that We Created and Take My Breath Away. Highlights were I Want to Break Free, Somebody to Love, Great Pretender, Love of My Life and Bohemian Rhapsody.

A true ensemble piece, the show has lost none of its appeal and the music of Freddie Mercury is approached in the spirit of his own distinctive power and passion. The 2001 production saw a more intimate scenario which focused on the eternal triangle while the new production is presented like a concert/rock show with much robust energy, dramatic lighting and elegant staging. The set remains dominated by the heraldic emblem which Freddie Mercury designed during his art studies with rich dark red curtaining giving the stage a sophisticated style. However, I did feel that announcements broke the dramatic flow, bringing the show down to more mundane level. I was also not happy with Kate Normington’s outfit in the second half. Freddie Mercury’s music is robust, muscular and powerful. Pink chiffon doesn’t work!

That aside, Mercury Rising is an excellent production and won’t disappoint Freddie Mercury fans. I see new ones lining up at the record stores to buy his music.

Mercury Rising runs for a limited season at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until April 30 with performances from Tuesday to Friday at 20h00 (Saturdays 18h00 and 21h00 and Sundays 18h00) Book at Computicket. – Caroline Smart




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