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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 : 2001-02-14)

Back in Durban for a short run before it heads for Johannesburg is Themi Venturasís tribute to the celebrated Fender Stratocaster, The Guitar That Rocked the World. The show recently returned from a run in Cape Town where it didnít do as well as expected box office-wise but the Mother Cityís loss is our gain, judging by the hugely enthusiastic response of the opening night audience at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre last night.

Since Durban audiences saw the show first time around in July last year, there have been a couple of cast changes but the main characters are still in place. Eight months older but still 16 and with a voice thatís showing much potential with its added maturity and depth, Rowan Stuart (Stevie) again impresses in the role of the youngster who dreams of owning his own Fender Stratocaster guitar one day. Although I was a little concerned to see that he is still prone to producing unnecessary and contorted facial expressions.

Stevieís aspirations attract the ghost of Leo Fender who invented the instrument. Played with a comfortable warmth and casualness by Frank Graham, Fender appears to the boy in a dream to make sure he is suitably informed about his revered instrument and properly respectful of its capabilities.

He also boasts of the Stratocasterís history, detailing the pop music icons who reached the pinnacles of fame with the guitar firmly in their grasp Ö or, in Jimi Hendrixís case, thrown against the wall! The show progresses through the music of Eric Clapton, Bryan Adams, The Shadows, Rori Gallagher, The Beatles, Mark Knopfler and Jimi Hendrix, to name a few.

Sharing the solo numbers are Greig Pilkington, Shanthan Pillay (glad to see heís dropped the pretentiousness of a single name) and Neels Boshoff. This production sees the welcome inclusion of honey-toned Glenn Swart who is an asset to any show. Nothando Mbanda made an all-too-short appearance for a Bonnie Raitt number. Darryl Andrews astounds with his gymnastic ability and his attractive fellow dancers Denya Maslen, Dany Green, Celeste Nel and Candace Crowther provide glamour and charm. In one scene they are wildly upstaged by a goofy camel!

Musical director Barry Thomson has now acquired a commanding stage presence which explodes into dynamism when the action requires. As the other featured guitar player, Andrew Turrell continues to show the expertise seen when the show opened. Providing excellent support are Colin Peddie, Simon Pontin and Mali Sewell. On keyboards for the first week is Calli Housden who will be replaced by Martin Sigamoney followed by Greg Leisegang for the last week.

The show is now much tighter and less frenetic, benefiting from a certain amount of pruning. Peter Courtís set design also looks a lot leaner and more compact. It must be tough, it takes a lot of hammering particularly towards the end of the show when itís all systems go!

The changed visuals are more atmospheric and artistic, enhancing rather than distracting Ė although the final prop in the shape of the guitar that is lowered from the flys at the end of show is highly unattractive and, in my book, could be consigned to the furthest reaches of the theatre never to be seen again without a major facelift!

Even if youíve seen the show before and are hesitant to go again, Glenn Swart is a good enough excuse to head for Computicket, credit cards (031) 304-2753, or http://www.computicket.com.




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