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

SHOWGIRLS (article first published : 2001-05-3)

It’s always good to see a production coming back second time around and this is the case with Showgirls currently running in the Royal Hotel’s Backstage and marking the 21st production in this popular venue since it opened early last year.

Showgirls is a sophisticated format of the “old-fashioned” style of cabaret directed and staged by Duncan Royce (Millennium Meltdown and Thriller) and is a comfortable and enjoyable production lasting around an hour. Well-known performers Melanie Roberts, Kate Bruce and Liesl Coppin, dressed in elegant and glitzy gowns, perform a selection of songs about life and love interspersed with light-hearted banter - mainly about their own lives and loves.

All three have rich and powerful voices which they use to full advantage. They work well together, each one taking the solo spot for numbers suited to their styles. They enjoy “sending each other up” wickedly - in numbers such as Queen’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

Melanie Roberts has been entertaining audiences for many years and is one of the prime movers in bringing style and pizzazz back into Durban supper theatre and cabaret. She is a generous performer and her many years of experience show in her complete ease of presentation. Her Diamonds are Forever was excellent as was her That Don’t Impress Me Much.

Soigné, proud and sophisticated, Liesl is the youngest member of the trio. She is almost the most controlled and focused – although there are tantalising hidden dynamics under the cool exterior which come to the fore in numbers such as Suspicious Minds and Old Devil Called Love.

Kate Bruce just gets better and better. Watching her, I thought back to earlier supper theatre productions where her considerable energies were misguidedly channelled into roles that were fairly butch and vigorous. Here now is a slim, elegant, offbeat and multi-faceted cabaret artiste. The punch and energy is still there but with it there is an tangible sensitivity.

The evening is highly enjoyable, containing some beautiful numbers extremely well sung. The only jarring factor is the fact that the backing tracks rule the roost.

Perhaps it is time to look at the challenges facing a singer in the 21st century. Gone are the days when a cabaret show such as this can afford the luxury of a small orchestra or even a backing combo. Hence the introduction of backing tracks which are created in advance of the show and arranged – in this case masterfully - by Philipp Maier.

While it is amplified by an electrically-powered microphone, the human voice is produced by the lungs and the performer’s control of breath. Each performance can alter as to the singer’s state of energy at the time and therefore sound engineers must be sensitive to this fallibility. A song produced in a recording studio can be done over and over again until it is perfect. There is no such safety net in performance which is what makes live theatre so challenging and exciting.

Too often, listening to a singer performing to backing tracks sounds like a competition. Who can be heard the loudest – the singer or the backing tracks? The human voice is a fragile component. It is not a machine. Relying on the human factor, its inner power and energy cannot be increased or decreased by the sliding of a button on a mixing desk.

Today’s sound engineer, I believe, must act like the conductor of a full-blown orchestra – keeping his musicians (in this case, his electronically-recorded backing tracks) as a support system rather than a fellow performer.

Having got that off my chest, the average member of the audience of Showgirls will probably not be aware of this complicated process. All he or she will think, is that the music is too loud. But hopefully by now, these imbalances will have been worked through. Because Showgirls is a must see, featuring as it does three of the most highly talented singers on the Durban scene.

Tickets R120 include a beautifully-presented three-course meal. For starters, there’s a delicious Asparagus, Leek and Onion Ragout or Chicken Liver Terrine. Options for the main are Grilled Cape Salmon (pronounced excellent by those who had it) or a succulent slow-roasted Lamb Shank in Rich Red Wine Gravy (although Chef made me a special gravy because red wine and I are not good friends). The dessert is a delightful Cappuccino Mousse served in a coffee cup.

Bookings through Backstage Reservations on (031) 333-6222.




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