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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

THE GUITAR THAT ROCKED THE WORLD (article first published : 2000-07-21)

With a frontcloth that could have been designed by Chagall, The Guitar that Rocked the World has a deceptively low-key opening as the young Stevie (Rowan Stuart) sits in his room playing his guitar in the face of parental admonishments to go to bed. The piece he is “composing” was actually written by Rowan Stuart and Themi Venturas who devised and directed the show.

Stevie eventually drops off to sleep but soon finds himself in the middle of a nightmare. Or is it? He is suddenly confronted by the ghost of Leo Fender, the creator of his ultimate dream possession - the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. I found the opening relationship between Leo and Stevie a little too easily achieved. Stevie is, after all, talking not only to the creator of his icon but to a dead man – something he seems to take completely in his stride.

It’s good to see Frank Graham (Leo Fender) back on stage again, lending his considerable dramatic experience to this pivotal role. Frank also gets to prove that he’s got a pleasing singing voice. Rowan Stuart is a young performer to watch. A highly talented and mature musician, he needs to control his facial contortions which detract from his undisputed ability to play a mean guitar.

Leo Fender proceeds to explain to young Stevie the history of the Fender Strat and from there the show takes off at top speed. The cast, which includes singers Monique Hebrard, Greig Pilkington, Shanthan and Neels Boshoff, perform numbers associated with legendary Strat players such as the Shadows, George Harrison, Dire Straits's Mark Knopfler, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. The link to South African music was a little contrived but it was a move to illustrate that the Fender can be just at home in boeremusiek, township jazz or the national anthem.

Denya Maslen, Dany Green, Celeste Nel, Janine Van Wyk and Donovan Philander made up a disciplined team of dancers under the creative guidance of Coral Chamberlain. Apart from the rather odd use of a psychedelic sheet in the Jimi Hendrix number, they added zip and pizzazz to the production but I could have done without the occasional white bra straps spoiling the effect of otherwise elegant costumes.

The excellent band comprises Colin Peddie, Glen Turrell, Mali Sewell, Martin Sigamoney and Dawn Thomson but the main focus is on The Guitar Players - Barry Thomson and the tall, highly watchable and laid-back Andrew Turrell who has a thick lustrous head of hair most women would die for!

The star of the evening is undoubtedly guitarist Barry Thompson, who is also the show’s musical director. For many years a group musician who’s tended to remain in the background, he proves here that he’s also a performer to be reckoned with. Lithe and focused, he commands the audience’s attention and controls the company of musicians, singers and dancers unobtrusively yet efficiently.

This ambitious production is staged in association with East Coast Radio with Peter Court as set designer and responsible for the musical staging. Themi Venturas’s gamble has pulled off – the show’s guaranteed to pull the audiences in wherever it is staged.

If, like me. you have a very basic knowledge of the guitar – only knowing the difference between acoustic and electronic and which is the “playing” end, then you’ll find the show interesting and informative. If you don’t really care much who or what a Fender Stratocaster is, you’ll enjoy the show for its sheer ebullience, energy and fun. But if you’re one of the cognoscenti, you cannot fail to be impressed by the amount of talent that Themi Venturas has amassed in this highly enjoyable production.

The Guitar that Rocked the World has now been extended a further week at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until July 30. Advance booking is advised through Computicket. For credit cards call (031) 304-2753. Save booking costs and book at http://www.computicket.com More details from Themi Venturas Productions on (031) 201-9242.




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