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

COMING OF AGE (article first published : 2006-05-24)

The popular Gee Jays celebrate 21 years of friendship and professional partnership with Coming of Age which has just opened at the Heritage Theatre in Hillcrest. Gary McKenzie, Grant Bell and John Didlick have created a special compilation show of their best material that has stood the test of time over the years. This includes productions such as Not The Full Monty, The Three Tonners, Swooners and Crooners and Stop it I Like it.

21 years ago they performed at the Hermit Supper Theatre Restaurant in Hermitage Street! Sadly now defunct, it was the forerunner of Durban’s vibrant supper theatre circuit.

21 years on - where are they now, after a period of time which has seen the introduction of the fax machine and the cell phone? Bill Gates has effectively made Microsoft as household name. Prince Charles has been married twice. Two Popes have died. South Africa became a democracy and we’ve since seen politicians come and go – some accompanied by lurid headlines in the daily press! We’ve had M-Net and DStv. We’ve also had Gateway, the Pavilion and Ushaka Marine World … and the unthinkable happened - Essenwood Road and Musgrave Road became one way streets!

The Gee Jays are 21 years older – in certain cases with a little less hair and a little more midriff but the energy and fun is still there. They stick to what they’re good at – close harmony, humour that’s risqué but never ugly and a close-knit performance style. They effectively make up their own chord – Gary’s lighter range, Grant’s baritone and John’s bass. I once dubbed John Didlick a choreographer’s nightmare, a remark I had to take back some years later when he mastered the steps. He is still adept and has become a competent mover, handling slick routines with ease!

From their original backing tracks, the Gee Jays have mastered the transition to working with live bands and they couldn’t be backed by a better outfit. Musical director Dawn Selby is on keyboard, Barry Thompson on lead guitar (who puts in some good solo numbers), Glen Turrell on bass guitar and Mali Sewell on drums.

Moving easily from corny jokes and tomfoolery to smooth ballads and hit musical numbers, they send themselves up rotten, appearing in a wide variety of costumes ranging from sequinned waistcoats, Mexican blankets, a hectic Elvis wig; khaki safari outfits, tutus and flowered pantaloons. Provided you insist on an encore, you’ll also get to see orange feather boas and laced bodices!

Highlights on the programme were Sounds of Silence (SA Style); Smoke Gets in Your Eyes; Blue Moon; He’s My Brother; Greased Lightning; Proud Mary, and One for the Road:

The set has a sophisticated silvery feel, well-lit by Tina le Roux. It looks as if there’s a howling gale behind drummer Mali Sewell which makes the curtains billow. This is irritating and whatever the cause is, it could do with toning down. The other gripe is, once again, an imbalance in sound where the band overpowers the performers (some feat with these three performers!) and this was particularly bad in the second half.

When Gary, John and Grant started the Gee Jays, they decided that when they stopped having fun, they’d stop. Looks like that day is still a long way off.

Tickets R150 including show and two-course meal (R120 Tuesday shows and Sunday matinees). It’s a good menu – starters include Tomato and Basil Soup (served with a Thai curry ice-cream, this is a great improvement from the previously highly concentrated version), Antipasto Misto and Scampi Salad (prawn tails which were delicious). For main course, I opted for the Heritage standby favourite, Braised Lamb Shank while my other half chose the Oven Baked Linefish served on roasted sweet potato which he enjoyed. Other choices are Grilled Chicken Fillet and Giant Black Mushrooms. There is an a la carte dessert menu ranging in price from R19.50 to R26.50 which includes Toffee Cheesecake, Vanilla Ice Cream, Bread and Butter Pudding and Crème Brulee.

Coming of Age runs until June 25 with performances Wednesday to Saturday at 19h00. Bookings on 031 765 4197 or at Computicket. – Caroline Smart




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