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THE MAGNIFICENT 7 (article first published : 2007-03-25)

Music and comedy collide as The Magnificent 7, representing the greatest bands of all time (namely The Beach Boys, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Abba, Credence Clearwater Revival and Queen), all come together for an evening of belly-laughs and supreme musicianship.

This high octane collaboration between Durban-based Aaron McIlroy’s Macbob Productions and the Port Elizabeth-based entertainment company, Centrestage, hits Durban at the end of March. It’s all guns ablaze with funny-man Aaron McIlroy riding the tide of mirth in the guise of an alien social anthropologist and philosopher, who keeps the audience misinformed at all times. The music of the seven bands is recreated with painstaking precision the ace nine-piece Centrestage All-Star Band (CASB) from Port Elizabeth.

Described by McIlroy as one of the best bands he has ever seen, the CASB delivers an authentic and high-energy interpretation of each of the individual performance styles of the divergent bands. “By returning to the exact sounds and arrangements of the original songs, the created effect is very close to what one would experience if you were to see these 60s and 70s bands live on stage today,” he says.

Aaron McIlroy has specially created a whole new barrel of laughs for the show as he both links and inevitably becomes part of the less than scientific process. The social contexts which lead to the emergence of the popular bands are scrutinized - and the way in which they in turn affected the society we live in. The alien researcher does not always get the right end of the stick, however - and as with many of McIlroy’s zany inventions, things tend to go awry as the search for truth and meaning goes somewhat deeper than one is usually accustomed to find in scientific circles.

The Magnificent 7 comes to Durban with high credentials, having become a phenomenon in the Eastern Cape, where the show broke all-time box office records and sold in excess of 25,000 tickets. The show marks 10 years of collaboration between McIlroy’s Macbob Productions and Port Elizabeth’s Centrestage, adding the former’s unique comic genius to an already successful formula. The association comes out of a long-time friendship between Aaron and Centrestage owner Gary Hemmings.

“Each year we’d meet at the Grahamstown Festival, where we’d share one of the most dynamic venues on the fringe. We have staged many of our shows through Centrestage, but it was upon being invited to perform with the band two years ago that the idea of joining forces was born,” says Aaron McIlroy.

Adds Gary Hemmings: “We staged a series of shows in Port Elizabeth which we called Shake, Chuckle and Roll, in which different top South African comedians shared the stage with the Centrestage All-Star Band each night. Aaron’s evening proved to be an outrageous success, with a delightful chemistry developing between Aaron and the band.”

“There is something very special about this particular band,” continues McIlroy. “Not only are they some of the best musicians I have seen around, but their conviction, sheer enjoyment and entertainment value of what they doing is so infectious. It has been a dream of mine to perform in front of a band of this calibre – and we are looking forward to producing something remarkably different in this season.”

The Centrestage All-Star Band is so named because they originate as a group of individual entertainers who each have careers of their own in the corporate entertainment world. Donovan Hattingh acts as musical director and is lead guitarist of the band. Funnyman Gino Fabbri, who is also a popular comedy MC and cabaret entertainer, appears on drums and also gives a credible performance as Mick Jagger in the Rolling Stones segment.

Mike McAully completes the rhythm section on bass, Wayne Kallis is on second guitar, with keyboard duties split between Candy G and Rory McLaren, who recently fronted the company’s Queen tribute We Are the Champions as Freddie Mercury. Andre Strydom is the travelling musician on drums, bass and fronting vocals on the Bee Gees segment. Andre’s remarkable falsetto is a dead ringer for Barry Gibb, and he too fronted the Centrestage All-Star Band in their recent sellout Bee Gees tribute show Staying Alive. Backing vocals are handled by seasoned performer Donna Africa, who along with Lelanie Fourie, bring the music of Abba alive.

Macbob and Centrestage share a common sense of independence – as they are both entertainment creation companies who also have their own full sound and lighting technical backup. They will pool resources for the show under the guidance of Durban-based lighting designer Mike Broderick, who has also designed lighting for the Centrestage shows in Port Elizabeth. “From a production point of view, the challenge is to create a completely different look and feel for each segment of the show”, says Mike Broderick, “and at the same time to ensure that one stays true to the essence of each band”.

“What distinguishes the CASB from others”, says musical director Donovan Hattingh, “is the way in which the band excels on some of the numbers which were actually created in the studio with multiple vocal overdubs rather than regularly performed live. Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations are examples of some of the stand-out songs which the original bands seldom attempted live themselves, but which have become firm audience favourites at our shows.”

An evening of wondrous fun and great memories awaits – after all, who can forget being mesmerized by the feel-good surfing harmonies of Beach Boy classics such as Barbara-Anne, Surfing USA or California Girls. Or being moved to Bee Gees gems such as How Deep Is Your Love, To Love Somebody or Too Much Heaven, before taking to the dance-floor when the disco era took over with Saturday Night Fever, Staying Alive and Abba’s Dancing Queen and Mamma Mia? It is nearly impossible to choose a favourite Beatles song – remember Can’t Buy Me Love, She Loves You, Hey Jude and Obla Di Obla Da?!

Comedian Gino Fabbri relinquishes his drums to Andre Strydom to have fun with die-hard rocker Mick Jagger’s Satisfaction, Jumping Jack Flash and Honky Tonk Woman, while Credence Clearwater Revival is always a crowd-pleaser with iconic songs such as Bad Moon Rising, Have You Ever Seen The Rain, Proud Mary, Down on the Corner, Midnight Special and Hey Tonight, amongst others. The sweeping harmonies of Freddie Mercury and Queen in songs such as Somebody to Love, Crazy Little Thing Called Love and I Want to Break Free, in which McIlroy makes an unusual cameo, completes the line-up of popular bands portrayed in the two hour long show.

The Magnificent 7 runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from March 28 until April 22, Booking is at Computicket. See www.centrestage.co.za for more information.




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