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EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN (article first published : 2007-05-1)

Tonight, I enjoyed a special evening at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre as the Company of Theatre Arts celebrated its 21 years of existence and paid tribute to the many people who have supported and guided this organisation since its inception. From COTA have grown household names in mainstream theatre such as the Gee Jays – Grant Bell, John Didlick and Gary Mackenzie – as well as Ricky McGregor (who appeared in and produced California Dreaming) and Melanie Roberts who now lives in Dubai.

To mark its 21 years in showbiz, COTA are presenting a fast-moving variety show aptly titled Everything Old is New Again. I have never seen so many costumes – there must be at least 500 – go whizzing by as scene after scene evolves with well-known popular songs and dance routines.

COTA has come a long way since it presented its first show, Godspell, at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. The mainly musical theatre repertoire now includes Guys and Dolls, Oh Mr Porter, Jungle Book, London Calling Forth and A Twist of Lennon. In Everything Old is New Again, director and choreographer Fiona Barnes Snyder has created a delightful evening’s entertainment incorporating popular numbers from these shows. Co-director and musical director Liz Cunningham has ensured that the singing is good and she has managed to showcase the talents of as many members as possible.

One of the most delightful moments of the evening happened after the cast moved into the audience to enjoy a guest appearance from the GeeJays. During their number Greased Lightning, hands and arms spontaneously shot up in the air as the performers in the audience followed the choreography for this number that they know so well!

Long-time audience favourite John Didlick was undoubtedly the star of the show but he’s facing strong competition from his son Jonothan who is a performer to reckon with. I doubt we’ll be able to keep him in Durban for much longer with major offers beginning to come his way from up north, so catch this show if you want to see him before he becomes really famous!

There are 49 items on the programme ranging from the sassy Rhythm of Life, the hilarious Boogy Woogly Piggy and the powerful Somebody to Love in the first half to a fun jungle medley, It’s Raining Men, Horse Right Here and the sultry Cell Block Tango in the second half. My particular favourite was a send-up of a radio play, catapulting me back down memory lane to the wonderful time I spent working in Springbok Radio!

While the Company of Theatre Arts is an amateur organisation – in the sense that the performers do not get paid and many of them hold down full-time jobs as well - the standard is always consistently high. Rehearsals for a show of this size can last two months. They’re demanding and discipline is strong. Members help with the creation of sets and backdrops as well as costumes and props. They do it because they love it and, from a professional performer’s point of view, it’s humbling to be reminded that the casts work at this level simply because they enjoy theatre work and have fun in the process. This tangible and infectious energy reaches across the footlights to the audience who respond in like fashion.

All congratulations to COTA for a splendid achievement and may they be around for many more years!

Performances at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre nightly at 20h00 until May 5 with a matinee show on May 5 at 15h00. Tickets R70 booked through Computicket but for tomorrow night’s performance (May 1) tickets are R55 if booked at the door. – Caroline Smart




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