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THE PIANO MEN (article first published : 2000-06-15)

This review of The Piano Men running at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre has three versions.

Version 1: It’s brilliant. Don’t miss it.

Version 2: It’s brilliant. Don’t miss it. Oh yes, and it’s playing at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from June 13 to 25. If you don’t book through TicketWeb or the theatre in a hurry, you won’t get in!

Version-I’d-better-earn-my-keep-3: In 1994, Jackie Cunniffe originally conceived a production to showcase piano-based chart-toppers. Wendy Watson wrote the script and Kenlynn Ashby directed and the production had a successful run at the now-defunct Billboard in Walnut Road. The cast comprised Brendan Jury, Tim Wells and Joseph Clarke, who later left the show to fulfil another commitment and was replaced by De Wet Wraight.

Six years down the line, Jackie Cunniffe decided it was time to re-stage The Piano Men - again with Brendan Jury, Tim Wells and De Wet Wraight. In association with Stephen Woodroffe of Gearhouse who designed the effective set and lighting and with choreography and re-staging by Dean Bennewith, she chose the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre where the venue’s extra space, better facilities and equipment would present the show to better advantage.

She wasn’t wrong. On opening night, it took little more than five minutes before the audience realised that they were in for an evening of top class entertainment in an elegant, dramatic and humorous style. From then on, they were sold!

Starting the ball rolling with the jazzy I Got Rhythm and A Handful of Keys, these three good-lookin’ fellas prove their musical mettle in an impressive song list which sees each one perform on the piano – sometimes all three at the same time! – while Brendan Jury brings out his familiar violin and Tim Wells displays his versatility on the harmonica and the guitar. Some of the most memorable numbers were Billy Joel’s Baby Grand, The Boomtown Rats I Don’t Like Mondays, George Gershwin’s As time Goes By, Freddy Mercury’s Love of My Life and Elton John’s Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on me.

There is much fun in this show with numbers such as a hilarious send-up of Freddie Mercury’s Seaside Rendezvous but the mood can just as easily change to poignancy as in a beautiful rendition of The Last Song sung by De Wet Wraight and Brendan Jury.

Diamonds, brass and steel sums up the three performers. With flashes of brilliance De Wet Wraight is a good song and dance showman who can become outrageously camp when the mood dictates (Patricia the Stripper). Strong and solid, Tim Wells has the power to blast a number as well as a surprising agility of movement (Great Balls of Fire). Like fine tempered steel, the quieter and more introvert Brendan Jury proves that he can belt out a chord with his right foot as well as his fingers in several Jerry Lee Lewis numbers.

The show’s real star, though, is its musical director Chris Letcher, his tall lanky frame elegantly dressed in a suit by Amanda Laird Cherry. Ably supported by bass guitarist Simon Pontin and drummer Mali Sewell, he calmly and efficiently – and with no histrionics or displays of flamboyance – controlled the music from start to finish, moving from piano to electronic keyboard effortlessly and unobtrusively. He has a fascinating way of playing, almost doubled up over the keyboard with his head at times so close to the keys one wonders whether he’s “dropped off” for a second! Don’t be fooled, this brilliant musician is totally focussed and very wide awake.

The only incongruity I found was the inclusion of two numbers: Julia written by Brendan Jury and You Will Heal by Tim Wells. Although fine pieces both, they just didn’t seem to fit the character of the show.

However, in the main The Piano Men is sheer musical magic presented by six people who are masters of their craft. Book at TicketWeb or at the theatre on (031) 260-2296




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