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DANCING QUEEN (article first published : 2008-09-9)

It’s great to report that advance booking for this latest Barnyard entertainment is the most brisk the venue has experienced all year. Dancing Queen is unquestionably the finest production seen at this popular Gateway venue in many a month – and it’s well deserved of the full and appreciative house it had on Sunday. Kudos to a good cast and, in particular, musical director James Dobson and director Adrian Poulsen, who have crafted a slick show which constantly flits between Abba and Queen hits.

In so doing, it emerges as more stylish, more theatrical, more cleverly conceived and more imaginatively directed than most productions that tour the Barnyard circuit. Dobson also provides piano and some fine vocals in Dancing Queen, which is of further note for showcasing many new faces – always welcome – and a particularly exciting find in animated, Capebased lead guitarist Jason Guile, new to Durban. Guile is not only impressive on lead guitar. He also effortlessly takes over drums from Juan Smit for Queen’s Hammer To Fall (featuring Smit on vocals) and wows with his own kick-butt rocker voice on Queen’s Tie Your Mother Down and Another One Bites the Dust.

The show’s lead male vocalist is strong-voiced newcomer to Durbs, Steph Botha, while also providing vocals are Granville Michaels (seen at the Barnyard in Born To Run and Rock Me Amadeus), Lee Paver (who featured in Celtic Rock last Christmas), Monique Steyn (who was in Surfing Safari and Those Were the Days) and newcomer Tanya Duley (a 20-year-old blonde who won the Barnyard circuit’s Star Search competition last year).

Completing the team of talented musicians in the 10-member cast are 19-year-old second lead guitarist Jethro Stange and Durban-born bassist Banda Banda. Dancing Queen, with minimal recorded narration (the voice of Robert Whitehead, I believe), unfolds on a striking set in which drummer Smit is stage-centre, flanked by two metal staircases under a gigantic mirror-ball. An extensive backdrop of white fairylights fills a night sky, and the panels on each side of the stage also have long drops of twinkling lights, in blue. Most of the hits – and all the biggies are here – are performed as one would expect to hear them.

However, it’s nice that Dobson has also tinkered with some arrangements: for instance, allowing SOS more of a rock feel, incorporating Madonna’s Hung Up into Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! and, in one of the show’s finest moments, creating a well-received wedding scenario that incorporates snippets of Abba and Queen songs to tell a story of make-ups and break-ups. Very nicely done.

All in the cast have their moment to excel, Steyn with the epic, sad ballad The Winner Takes It All, Duley with a sexy Money, Money Money, Paver with I Have a Dream, Michaels with The Great Pretender (a surprise awaits the audience with this one) and Botha with a number of songs, including Love of My Life and Crazy Little Thing Called Love. There is no attempt by anyone to truly impersonate Queen’s Freddie Mercury, or the Abba quartet, but the colourful costumes echo some of both group’s most iconical outfits and it all adds up to great fun.

Lit by Michael Broderick, choreographed by Tessa Denton and with sound by Damien Murray, Dancing Queen is set to run until October 12. Tickets R105 pp for performances from Wednesday to Saturday (R70 pp discounted specials Tuesday nights and Sunday matinees). - Billy Suter




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