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

BARE ESSENTIALS (article first published : 2002-02-4)

Melanie Roberts, Evan Roberts (no relation) and Shelley McLean decided to get back to the bare essentials of music with their current show Bare Essentials in the Royal Backstage. What results is the kind of cool sophisticated show that works so well in this venue. The mood is cool and languorous with jive and jazz numbers varying the pace. The three performers have never been seen to better advantage

There’s no embellishment to the dark drapes, a joyous lack of fake smoke, not a sequin in sight and the lighting is devoid of artifice. Just three highly musical people who know what they’re doing and are doing it well.

There’s a minimum of linking chat and the songs flow comfortably into each other. The opening numbers – a nice arrangement of Irving Berlin’s Happy Song and a sizzling hot Hit That Jive - seemed hard to beat but the show continues in the same vein.

Shelley – whose standard has undeniably reached the international league - shone in numbers like Honeysuckle Rose and her own Country Medley choice. One of the most musical people I know, she is a highly focused and uncontrived performer.

The highlight of the evening was seeing Evan Roberts performing away from the keyboard. Secure in the confidence that he was in the safe hands of Shelley as accompanist, he sang Your Song with a riveting honesty and guilelessness. He also gave a fun rendering with Melanie of Things.

With a stylish feel for the older numbers, Melanie is sounding good, using the lower range of her voice which is always enjoyable to listen to.

Bringing Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Frank Loesser and Cole Porter right up to date without losing the essence of the songs, the cast have handled the musical direction and arrangements themselves. The programme notes bear witness to the obvious joy they had in the process. Popular numbers include Route 66, Lady Marmalade, All the Way and I Got the Music.

Niggles? Just one which affected two numbers, particularly - Adelaide’s Lament from Guys and Dolls and Some People from Gypsy. Numbers extracted from musicals and performed on their own should retain their inherent dramatic content, i.e. in their original format they are part of a larger story.

While audiences unfamiliar with these origins obviously can’t be given a breakdown of every storyline, they will get the wider picture and appreciate the songs better if the numbers are approached in a more theatrical way, as indeed was the case with Adelaide's Lament. Also at a pace which allows the words – the part that tells the story – to be heard. The numbers mentioned were taken at too brisk a pace, sometimes risking coherence.

Tickets R120 (include a three course meal) and there are shows Wednesday to Saturday with two shows on Friday. I didn’t think I would enjoy a bowl of soup on a hot humid February night but the minestrone was very pleasant, the virgin olive oil giving it a sophisticated taste. The other choice, Smoked Snoek Pate was just as successful. Main courses were tops for presentation: the Ulundi’s lamb curry appearing with the popadam bent upright like a spinnaker on a yacht and the chicken kebabs placed like fighting swords on a bed of rice. The former offered succulent lamb but was definitely for those who like their curry to make a statement. The kebabs offered a nice mix of meat, fruit and peppers. Dessert was a Black Cherry Trifle with a crunchy base.

Bookings on 031 333-6222.




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