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BRYAN HILL AT TEATRO (CORRECTED STORY) (article first published : 2007-05-19)

It’s a surprisingly relaxed and laid-back Bryan Hill who greets me and my sister at the stage door of the new Teatro Theatre at Montecasino in Johannesburg to have a sneak preview of this new performance space. Bryan is the General Manager of The Teatro and responsible for its management and commercial success. My surprise at his relaxed state stems from the fact that the complex is swarming with workmen and technicians and opening is less than two months away!

Donning scarlet hard-hats, we set off on a lightning tour of this eagerly-anticipated venue which represents an investment of R100 million by Tsogo Sun and is set to make a major impact on the South African theatre industry.

Durban audiences may not be familiar with Bryan Hill in person but they will certainly have benefited on numerous occasions from his theatrical expertise over 25 years in the industry. This includes the many productions he has worked on as assistant director alongside the legendary Geoffrey Sutherland, particularly with the ground-breaking smash-hit Queen at the Opera.

In his early days, Bryan worked in Durban as performer, director and choreographer in the Department of Musical Theatre at the Natal Performing Arts Council (now the Playhouse Company). He was last in Durban as part of the creative management team of We Will Rock You which ran in the Playhouse Opera. To attain his position at The Teatro, Bryan had to undergo five interviews. Of the final 15 interviewees, only three were from South Africa. Apart from being the successful applicant, Bryan is also the youngest.“Three months ago, it was the calm before the storm. December and January were quiet and then whammo! We are now in pre-production … it’s just wonderful,” smiles Bryan. “It’s a challenge. This is what I have worked for. But the most incredible thing is the response from people in the business who are saying at least there is a theatre person running Teatro. One goes through this business (of theatre) for years and now suddenly there is an opinion about me and what I am doing. People I hadn’t even thought of having an opinion have come out in support of the theatre. Certainly everyone in the business who has come to see The Teatro has been bowled over by the vision behind it.

“Three months ago, it was the calm before the storm. December and January were quiet and then whammo! We are now in pre-production … it’s just wonderful,” smiles Bryan. “It’s a challenge. This is what I have worked for. But the most incredible thing is the response from people in the business who are saying at least there is a theatre person running Teatro. One goes through this business (of theatre) for years and now suddenly there is an opinion about me and what I am doing. People I hadn’t even thought of having an opinion have come out in support of the theatre. Certainly everyone in the business who has come to see The Teatro has been bowled over by the vision behind it.

“The Teatro is much bigger than the normal casino venue and, unlike so many other performance venues in casinos, this is a real honest-to-God theatre!” he adds with pride. “What I love about it is that it’s a tangible entity in its own right. Casino theatres are normally buried inside the complexes themselves. This has its own identity. I think The Teatro and the building itself will be a talking point, not only for the building but as an entertaining entity in its own right.”

Martin McCallum, renowned international theatre consultant and designer and president of the Society of London Theatre, was appointed by Montecasino to direct the design of the R100 million theatre. The 1,900-seater will feature as its opening production The Lion King, one of the world’s largest and most successful shows in history.

The Teatro is the only true lyric theatre in South Africa and it is acoustically designed for large scale musical productions. Despite the number of seats, the proximity of the furthest seat to the stage is no more than 30 metres. The elegant auditorium design is undeniably African without being too ethnic. The reception areas are “floating spaces” which are not designed to keep people in the theatre after shows, the obvious push being to encourage them to go back into the casino area.

We have a leisurely lunch at one of the restaurants in the Montecasino Piazza which is an impressive area the size of a rugby field and modelled on an Italian piazza. A technical crew is busy dismantling the outdoor stage and equipment used the previous night for a concert. The musical fountain is off at the moment and, looking around at the four star Sunsquare Hotel opposite and back towards the casino itself, everything is of the distinctive skilfully-aged Tuscany design. Then, mixing the traditional with hi-tech, the impressive glass wall of the Teatro rises from ground level.

The Lion King in South Africa is a Disney Production Theatricals and will be co-produced by Lebo M and Pieter Toerien. It features two strong KZN links with Bongani Tembe, CEO and Artistic Director of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, as associate producer and the KZNPO’s resident conductor Lykele Temmingh as the show’s conductor.

Bryan will shortly be visiting the UK to look for productions to present at The Teatro. “While we’re looking to source the best of the productions on the West End and Broadway, we can’t do back-to-back musicals and we have to encourage a variety of shows to bring in different audiences. So I’ll be looking at everything from children’s theatre to ice shows, to those with a specific cultural orientation such Greek dance or Bollywood musicals. We want people to come here and see things they won’t see anywhere else. We need to secure the theatre’s uniqueness. There has been a gratifying overseas interest and a desire to make the venue a huge push for tourists.”

With that, Bryan grabs his hard hat and heads off to handle the next challenge. If you can beg, borrow or steal a ticket, The Lion King promises a magical evening’s entertainment in what is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful theatre venues in South Africa. – Caroline Smart

”The Lion King” opens at the Teatro at Montecasino on May 22 and booking is open until September 9. Performance times are Tuesdays to Saturdays at 20h00 and Sundays at 18h30. Matinees will be held on Wednesdays and Fridays at 14h00 and Sundays at 13h30. The show runs for two hours and 30 minutes and is recommended for children six years and up. Ticket prices range from R150 to R425. Booking is open at Computicket or the Montecasino box office. For group bookings (20 tickets or more) please call Geraldine on 011 511 1988 or e-mail geraldine@montetheatre.co.za




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