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UPTOWN GUY (article first published : 2001-09-10)

Last seen in Durban in the smash hit Thriller, Duncan Royce has a winner all the way with his latest production which opened at the Langoustine Theatre by the Sea last night. Titled Uptown Guy, it plays on the name of one of Billy Joel’s most famous songs but also acknowledges the status of a living musical legend who may have originated “downtown” but ended up as one of the best.

Born in the Bronx in New York in 1949, Billy Joel’s early days were divided between music, street gangs and boxing. He was to become one of the world’s greatest songwriters and performers and is still going strong. Earlier this year, he undertook a tour of North America with Elton John that saw them perform in 25 cities to ecstatic receptions.

Billy Joel’s early classical music training shows in the sophisticated enhancement of his lyrics and melodies. He was much influenced by Ray Charles, Dave Brubeck, The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Otis Redding. He is best known for such numbers as New York State of Mind, Just the way you are, Honesty, She’s always a woman to me, Baby Grand, Leningrad and Piano Man.

All these and more have been incorporated in Uptown Guy which sees a welcome return to the Durban stage of bubbly Shelley McLean, dynamic Andrew Webster and the smooth-voiced Percy Smith. Also appearing is Fanie Fouche, a newcomer to Durban theatre circles and hopefully to become a regular performer here. Also good to have Joseph Clarke back, even if it’s only in voice, as he presents the upbeat and amusing narrative as the voice of Billy Joel.

This is very much an ensemble piece and musical director Roelof Colyn has made the most of his highly talented cast. Duncan Royce and co-director Belinda Harwood have focused strongly on the music with the minimum of dialogue links.

A brilliant and spirited rendition of We didn’t start the fire sets the tone at the start. Shelley’s talents as a piano player are well-known but in Uptown Guy she has a chance to show her drumming skills. Andrew is also a guitarist and Fanie no slouch on the piano. Not to be outdone, Percy handles the shaker and learnt a few phrases on the harmonica!

Mark Kleinert’s lighting is mainly cool and elegant although I was unhappy with the lack of light on faces to catch the all-important expressions in certain numbers. Portraying a simple skyscraper skyline, Greg King’s set is clever and effective. The keyboard is skilfully designed as a grand piano and the costumes are, simply, black. No fuss, no frills and not a lot of sequins.

Tickets R120 include a three-course meal. For starters there’s Thai Spicy Beef Salad or Black Mushroom with a cheese sauce. I had the latter but found it rather bland. The main course choices are Chicken & Rib combo, Salmon with Mediterranean Sauce or Vegetable Spring Rolls, all receiving approval from our table. Dessert is a pleasantly light Citrus and Passionfruit Tart.

Special discounted performances at R99 per person on Tuesday and Sunday. Early booking advised through on (031) 563-7324 or Computicket or visit www.computicket.com




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