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

FEELIN’ GOOD (article first published : 2008-03-15; last edited : [an error occurred while processing this directive])

My usual ventures to Durban’s magical uShaka Marine World usually takes me below decks of Phantom Ship, which is a brilliant example of clever technology and theatrical presentation, either to the aquarium itself or to dine in the fascinating Cargo Hold. Last night I managed to take in the Upper Deck restaurant, now transformed by uShaka’s Entertainment & Events Manager, Wayne Scott, into a vibey and atmospheric supper theatre venue.

Durban audiences will remember Wayne Scott as a dancer in the heyday of the Geoffrey Sutherland musicals and Eric Hutton’s Billboard supper venue. Between him and designer/choreographer Kevin Ellis, they have created a sophisticated cabaret evening with Feelin’ Good which is directed by Charon Williams-Ros and runs on Thursday evenings. Last night it poured with rain, so the Upper Deck’s outdoor area was covered with a high tarpaulin but on a normal Durban balmy night, guests sit in the open air with the stars above them.

The stage runs the width of the Phantom Ship and its wooden floor allows for more lavish choreography than is normally seen in supper theatre venues. The focus is on glitz and glam and here Kevin Ellis’s inspiration and love of sparkle and elegance comes to the fore. We were sitting right next to the stage so I was able to enjoy the finer details of his costumes. I would like to see a few more stage props at the extreme sides of the stage – perhaps some potted palms or columns to give a world-cruise type feeling.

Feelin’ Good stars three fairly new faces on the mainstream theatre scene - Dominic Holmes, Frances Currie and Lyle Buxton. In a relaxing and upmarket show, they pay tribute to the unforgettable music of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Michael Bublé.

Lyle Buxton – who impressed me with his mature handling of the role of Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls - has the looks, charm and an engaging stage presence while Dominic Holmes provides a more enigmatic style. Better known as highly competent one-man band, Dominic has ventured onto the stage and it looks like he could get hooked on it! The slender Frances Currie, last seen in Aladdin, is alluring in a number of elegant outfits.

The music is rock-solid with one of Durban’s most respected jazz pianists and band leaders, Melvin Peters, creating a big band sound with Logan Byrne, Paul Kock, Bruce Baker and George Mari. The uShaka dancers - Alain Rijnvis, Denya Maslen, Melloney de Beer, Drew Mathie and Jamaine Hogg – appear in a range of attractive costumes from the elaborate to the cheeky, all sensibly created to allow the dancers to move freely.

Expect to hear much-loved numbers like It Don’t Mean a Thing; Love is Just Around the Corner; Have You Met Miss Jones; Taking a Chance on Love; Come Fly with Me; Baby, it’s Cold Outside; Fly Me to the Moon; For Once in my Life; Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby; Ain’t That a Kick in the Head, and You’re Everything. I really enjoyed Got the World on a String from all three singers. Fever needed to sizzle more and Mac the Knife should have an edge to it – the music dictates it in the former and the lyrics in the latter, both requiring more steel.

uShaka’s Upper Deck is to be commended for handling such a challenging programme with three young performers who are not yet old enough in years or maturity to do full justice to some of the torchy numbers. However, I have no doubt that by next week, they will have planted their own individual stamp in the numbers and become more inter-active when venturing into the audience during a number.

The massive mast – well, we are on the deck of a ship – commanding prime position in the audience area makes placing and lighting difficult but centre stage could do with more illumination. Up-lighting at the edges of the stage would also help, particularly as Dominic wears a hat during the first part of the show and this puts half of his face in shadow.

Feelin’ Good runs on Thursday evenings and forms part of a trilogy. Motown on Deck which features Clive Gumede, Pume Zondi, Khaya Mthethwa and the Solid Gold Band takes place on Fridays. Lauren Laing, Pume Zondi, Singers Unlimited and the uShaka Dancers appear in Divas on Deck on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Good news for early-to-bed Durbanites is that the show finishes at 21h30!

Tickets R130 include a wide-ranging buffet to suit all tastes. Drinks are extra and the service is very good. Bookings on 031 328 8068. The best way to reach the Phantom Ship is through uShaka’s Parking B. Travel along Point Road, ignoring the uShaka bus entrance and the public entrance (which also indicates Parking B), and continue until Camperdown Road. Then it’s a shortish walk across the shopping boulevard and onto the ship. – Caroline Smart




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