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BOOK CLUB (article first published : 2006-12-12)

Book Club is the GeeJays’ most popular show to date and therefore a good choice for the Heritage Theatre’s festive season show and to celebrate the GeeJay’s 21 years together. It asks the question: Are all those women who go to book clubs REALLY going to book clubs or is it just an excuse for a wine-soaked evening of delicious gossip where they avidly discuss the not-so-finer points of their male counterparts?

I last saw this production in August, 2001. At the time, it was a revamp of an earlier show which only featured the GeeJays and it was the first time they had introduced a member of the opposite sex into their tightly-knit performance style. Liesl Coppin provided the eye candy and slipped easily into the five whacky (mainly) characters of female book club members.

At this comfortable Hillcrest supper theatre venue, Book Club this time features the ultra-slender Angela Dodds who adds her strong sense of comedy to the parade of women.

Another introduction in the 2006 version is the support of a live band - always welcome in these times of backing tracks. On keyboard Dawn Selby leads, as always, a tight combo of lead guitarist Barry Thomson, drummer Mali Sewell and bass guitarist Mark Freel. In a refreshing new staging configuration for the Heritage, this is the first time I’ve seen Mark given the opportunity to do a strong showcase piece – and he’s really cool!

Kicking off with the energetic Party Tonight, it’s a well-constructed supper theatre piece with a storyline that takes the audience on a journey that isn’t too complicated and allows for a wide range of musical numbers. Smoothly introducing herself onto the scene and calmly sending the boys packing so they don’t hear the true story, we see Angela as herself as she explains what book clubs are really about!

After that she sashays on à la screeching Sandton kugel Beverley, frantically trying to find a cellphone signal – Grant Bell’s upheld arm provides a suitable substitute for a boosting antenna – and in a short phone conversation describes the characters we are about to see. Then comes redheaded – and more that somewhat inebriated – Paula. Next up is the lonely housewife Holly in which scene she sings a poignant You Needed Me. Then there’s Tanya, the saxophonist with combat trousers, short spiky hair and platform boots blowing up a storm in Mustang Sally and Roberta, the bossy corporate sales director.

The GeeJays are in top form, John Didlick in his amusing role of getting all his words mixed up; Gary McKenzie as the whacky show-off and Grant Bell providing suave charm. As always their harmonies are good and the audience relaxes into their comfortable presentation which comes from years of working together as close friends and colleagues.

The show includes songs such as Oh What A Night, Build Me Up Buttercup, High Upon A Pedestal, Man I Feel Like a Woman, The Lady Is A Tramp and Sex Bomb.

It was Mervyn Goodman who introduced musical theatre into the genre of supper theatre through the now-defunct Playhouse Cellar in 1985. This move spawned a chain of venues around Durban over the years including the Langoustine Theatre by the Sea, where Book Club was last performed. Watching this show, barely two days after Mervyn’s tragic death, I couldn’t help being reminded that the width of the Heritage Theatre stage is about the same as that of the Cellar. Without Mervyn Goodman and the Cellar, it is doubtful whether either Lango’s or Heritage Theatre would ever have existed. I like to think that Mervyn’s spirit will look down kindly on this production. It’s engaging, amusing, risqué – and all-round good fun.

Book Club runs until December 31 at the Heritage Theatre in Hillcrest at the Heritage Market. Tickets R165 (R140 on Tuesday nights and Sunday lunch). Heritage offers a good two-course meal with desserts being an optional extra. For starters, there’s Peri-Peri Chicken Livers, Poached Pear Salad and Calamari Tentacles. I chose the latter but they were a bit tired but I’ll give the kitchen the benefit of the doubt in that we arrived fairly late for a packed house that was already into its second course. Main attractions are Wok-Tossed Chicken, Grilled Line Fish (which my other half enjoyed), Roasted Butternut Bake and the Heritage’s popular Braised Lamb Shank which I chose and it was as tasty as always.

Shows Tuesday to Saturday at 19h00 (meal) for the show at 20h30 with Sunday lunch time specials at 12h30 (meal) and the show at 14h00. Also on offer are special festive season lunchtime performances, as well as a New Year’s Eve party. For more details or bookings, call 031 765 4197. – Caroline Smart




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