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SURFING SAFARI (article first published : 2006-11-19)

Running at Gateway’s Barnyard Theatre until January 7, Surfing Safari is a sunny, summery, bright and cheerful collage of pop, rock and Latino-tinged hits from the recent and distant past.

It's been brightly packaged into a glossy Christmas cracker which comes with the added colour and sparkle of a youthful, attractive and exuberant cast, featuring a number of welcome new faces among those more familiar to Barnyard audiences.

Labelled for fun, it's certainly your best local bet for the office outing, or any other festive season fling, being an unpretentious and enjoyable outpouring of showband virtuosity.

It certainly had a packed Sunday matinee audience enthusiastically whooping, applauding and banging beer bottles on tables for more.

Directed by Ian von Memerty, lit with customary aplomb by the award-winning Mike Broderick and attractively costumed by Tracy Gielink and Trevor McClymont, it plays out on a stage attractively dressed, with palms, sea and sunset backdrop, to resemble a Barbados beach setting.

Positioned centre-stage is a beach-shack bar, well stocked and featuring a string of party lights and four day-glo barstools.

There the four vocalists - seasoned Andrew Webster, former Idols contestant Monique Steyn and newcomers-to-Durbs, Capetonians Nigel Morkel (formerly of Afro-Z) and blonde Michelle Martini - assemble to perform in varying combinations. They present a slick show with minimal patter centred on narrator Webster as a surfer-dude-type who gets the audience to join in with his catchphrase, "Fully!" indicating his satisfaction with things.

A charmer newly beefed-up since last we saw him - he's been in the Barnyard's Glory Days (2002), The Rocky Horror Show (2002) and last year's Born To Run - Webster is good value throughout, effortlessly hopping between lead vocals and occasional lead guitar. His highlights include lead vocals on Summertime Blues (in which he also plays guitar behind his head), Summer of 69, You Can Call Me Al and Islands in the Stream (with Steyn).

The show's theme is very loose - if the word sun, sunny or sunshine is in the title, put in on the programme, seems to be the thinking - but it's a merry mix of oldies, from the opening Wipe Out and Barbados, through to rock 'n' roll medleys, a Beatles tribute and a popular reggae sequence.

The latter has muscley, amiable Morkel winning loud applause for his One Love and Gimme Hope Joanna, performed in a wig of dreadlocks. He also impresses as a dancer, showcasing slick body-poppin' moves in Sea Cruise and a during a stand-out second-half moment, Well Alright!, in which he dances and sings while Webster and Josh Thatcher get fired up on guitars.

Thatcher wows with guitar in three instrumental highlights - Sunshine Of Your Love, Samba Pati and the guitar theme from Pulp Fiction - while his bongo showcase in Samba de Janeiro is also great fun.

The show's bassist, Sian Wilkins, also takes a solo spot, handling lead vocals on Sheryl Crow's Soak Up the Sun, backed by Steyn and Martini, who please the crowd with their teamings on Conga, And Then He Kissed Me and The Tide Is High.

Steyn's other choice moments are a solo rendition of rendition of Rod Stewart's Sailing and a lively Walking on Sunshine, while Martini scores big with Ain't No Sunshine, in which trumpeter Gavin Knox-Grant and saxophonist Dave Holland do playful battle over her. Others in the fine band include Barnyard newcomer Brian Fraser, on drums; and Tory du Plessis on keyboards.

Tickets for Surfing Safari, which has been devised, compiled and cast by Duck Chowles, are R100 (two-for-one-price promos on Tuesday evenings and Sundays at 14h00. To book, or for more information, contact 031 566 3045. – Billy Suter




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