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MERCURY RISING (article first published : 1999-07-11)

Devised and compiled by Duncan Royce, Mercury Rising is produced by Venture Capital, the theatrical production arm of the Johannesburg-based Industrial Theatre Company. Running at the Langoustine Theatre by the Sea in Durban North, it is one of the most enjoyable and top-notch professional shows to be seen on the local circuit this year.

Musical direction is in the hands of Philipp Maier, recently seen in Piaf, Brel and Aznavour in the Playhouse Cellar. Tall, languid and in complete command of the keyboard, he worked on arrangements and links with Duncan Royce and together they have come up with a fast-moving, slick and impressive show. Mercury Rising also benefits from musical staging and clean, clear direction by Dina de Vine who has been in enough of the legendary Queen series (created by the triple genius of Geoffrey Sutherland, Graham Scott and Andrew Botha) to establish her credibility at interpreting Freddie Mercury numbers.

Stan Knightís set could be a drawing room in any upper class British or colonial home. Botticelliís Birth of Venus dominates the stage in a highly embellished frame. The burgundy crushed velvet of the elaborate drapes is repeated in a sofa which is more often used as a performance platform than a seat! There is a high-backed leather armchair and the grand piano cunningly disguises its electronic counterpart as well as providing an attractive surface on which to drape a long, sinuous body!

This classic drawing room background explodes into the electronic age with Mercury Rising, a tribute to one of the most incredible music stars of contemporary times. Freddie Mercuryís unique style was based on a serious musical training and a strong grounding in the classics. Itís only those who can match the starís musicality who can properly do justice to his work.

Fortunately the show has a cast that can do just that. Apart from Duncan Royce and Philipp Maier (who actually gets to act, albeit silently, in the show), Mercury Rising presents two of Durbanís most popular female performers. Each with completely different styles, Bronwen Forbay and Crystal Tryon lend their considerable vocal talents, good looks and acting ability to the production. Elegant in a very stylish black velvet dress, doe-eyed Bronwen has a glorious voice that soars. In the show-stopping Barcelona, I was hanging onto my wine glass in case it shattered, a la Julie Andrewsís performance in Victor Victoria! However, this is a serious singer who is opera-based and best in the upper register and some numbers would have been better handled by Crystal Tryon.

In silver leather jacket or silver organza blouse and black trousers, Crystal Tryonís deeper tones shone in numbers like Is this the World we Created?. She gave an extremely funny and controlled performance in The Great Pretender although I felt that the number itself was inappropriate and out of synch with the style of the production. The sentiments could have been incorporated into the previous number I Want to Break Free as a three-hander.

However, the star of the show is undoubtedly Duncan Royce whose flair and flourish as well as his dancing ability allows him to give a performance of tightly coiled intensity. Durban audiences may remember him from the last Queen at the Opera production in the Playhouse Opera. With his piercing gaze and roguish near-manic look, he provides most of the energy. In Under Pressure, he emerges from the piano wearing a strapped head-dress and minerís torch to join the rest of the cast. They all cover their heads with lampshades and end up looking a bit like designer squids at a fashion extravaganza.

While Bronwenís The Miracle was beautifully presented, both females need less softness and more stridency. Freddie Mercury performed his work with a controlled energy that was almost surgically precise in its delivery. Sensitivity he had by the vanload but never softness. What is needed is the pinpointed energy of laser light as opposed to that coming from a simple light bulb

Other notable numbers were Lover Boy - nice to see it done fairly straight and comparatively down-played after the Queen seriesís rendition by large ultra camp male singers in equally large pink tutus and Take my Breath Away. The latter did just that, with its intensive rendition by Duncan to an exquisitely lit Bronwen, dozing in the armchair

The sound at the Langoustine Theatre by the Sea has improved a great deal but there are still glitches which often present problems for the performers when they cannot hear the on-stage monitor and the backing tracks are louder than they are. All said and done, the venue has progressed in leaps and bounds since its first production and it can now truly offer a sophisticated and well-equipped performance venue.

The menu for this show offers a choice of pumpkin and ricotta Panzerotti on a light Parmesan cheese sauce which I had and it was pleasant and lightly seasoned. Other starter options are traditional game pie or Greek salad. If you enjoy succulent lamb, you canít go wrong with the delicious marinated lamb shank served on thyme noodles. Other options are deboned Drakensburg Trout and Chicken Milanese on Spagettini noodles. For dessert, thereís bread and butter pudding and mini eclairs. I didnít have dessert but those around me were happy with both dishes. Cost inclusive of show is R90. Bookings through 563-7324 or Computicket.


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