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DIVAS TO A T (article first published : 2000-08-10)

Tonya Koenderman is one of the most generous performers I know - generous of heart, generous of spirit and decidedly generous of voice.

In her show Divas to a T directed by Lisa Bobbert which runs at the Royal Hotel’s Backstage until August 19, Tonya pays tribute to divas of contemporary music. Divas whose performance power she matches with ease.

With an array of wigs and slinky outfits, she offers a show that is power-packed, classy and perfectly in keeping with the Royal Hotel’s five-star image of excellence. The only thing that stands against her performance is an unsympathetic sound desk although I believe that on opening night the sound was perfect.

It’s an unavoidable fact that while sound technology has expanded and improved, anyone using a microphone these days becomes less in control of the way in which their performance reaches their audience. This is opposed to the “unplugged” human voice, where a performer with good voice production techniques has total control to within an inch of an audible whisper.

Tonya has an extremely powerful voice which can sometimes act as a handicap if she doesn’t have a capable, experienced and sympathetic sound engineer at the controls ensuring that she does not have to compromise her performance because of overloud backing tracks. However, taking all into consideration, I’ll give Backstage the benefit of the doubt and assume that the night we went there were temporary problems which by now have been overcome.

Because this is definitely a show worth seeing. From her sensitive portrayal of the poignant Somewhere from West Side Story to the blast of New York, Tonya gives a strong and committed performance. The undulating arm and extended fingers are a dead give-away before the music becomes recognisable and we are presented with “Shirley Bassey” in her Diamonds are Forever and the other popular James Bond signature tune Goldfinger.

Then came a long dark wig and a sexy black number with split sides – believe me, there’s no outfit or hair style that doesn’t suit her – Tonya launched into an energetic Nutbush City Limits followed by a tribute to Credence Clearwater Revival and Tina Turner. Two numbers I greatly enjoyed were the Ella Fitzgerald tribute Summertime and Miriam Makeba’s Jikela Maweni. Other delights were Calypso Blues, I’ll be There and The Rose.

Tonya is always at her best with Lisa Minnelli and, dressed a la Sally Bowles in Cabaret, she looks remarkably like the movie star. I could have done with more lighting on the stage. Tonya uses her arms and hands a lot and often gestures were left in darkness. The Backstage does have the lighting equipment, it seemed odd that it wasn’t used.

As always, the Backstage serves a fine meal and the Royal uses this venue as one of its training outlets. The only quibble I have with the service is that for two shows running now, I have not been asked to taste the wine before it is served.

For starters, there’s Mixed Mushroom Ragout in puff pastry casing. While delicious – and quite a hefty portion for a starter – there should have been an alternative. There seems to be an increase in the number of people with a wheat intolerance (sinus and hay fever sufferers). The main course was a choice of creamy honey-flavoured chicken curry which was nicely balanced with apricot and ginger flavours. The other choice is Grilled Fillets of Rockcod served on caper potato mash with tomato coulis which had the nod of approval from my partner. The only dessert choice is the Royal’s delicious chocolate mousse duo.

Tickets at R110 (which includes the meal) can be booked through (031) 304-0331.




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