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PINEAPPLE VELVET (article first published : 2002-04-11)

The title itself offers an idea of what to expect from Pineapple Velvet currently running at the Royal Hotel’s Backstage supper venue. The exquisite tartness of pineapple mixed with the smooth, sophisticated feel of velvet.

The name Meryn Cadell may not mean a lot to the average Durban theatre-goer but they ought to remedy the situation by seeing this production. Think Alanis Morisette or Edie Mitchell and combine it with the strong satirical flavour of Tom Lehrer and you come up with the creative genius that is Meryn Cadell, suitably carried out in the theme of the fascinating bubbling cocktail drink served to the opening night audience.

Without being feminist, the show explores the many facets of womanhood and features the talents of Jaci Smith. On discovering Cadell’s music for the first time, she tracked the singer/songwriter down and requested the rights for her music. She threw the idea around with friends Janine Neethling and Charmaine Weir-Smith and the result was Pineapple Velvet, taking its name from a CD of Cadell’s work.

Johannesburg-based Jaci Smith is an engaging and generous performer, wisely staying clear of Canadian or American accents despite the fact that Meryn Cadell is a Toronto singer-writer born in Brooklyn. Jaci firmly makes the songs and dramatic sketches her own, injecting a South African accented flavour to certain of the numbers. Some of the wacky highlights were Flight Attendant (with accompanying Superman gestures); Bumble Bee (sung to a blown up doll); Johnny and Betty (about a gay couple), and Barbie. The latter poses the problem that as Ken is a doll he doesn’t know how to use a phone. Which is why Barbie never gets a call from him!

Thanks to director Charmaine Weir-Smith, Pineapple Velvet is a well-knit and tightly controlled production and it is very refreshing to see a show offering new material to the Durban supper theatre circuit. Charmaine is no stranger to Durban audiences, having cut her theatrical teeth with the Natal Performing Arts Council (now the Playhouse Company) in shows such as Hamlet and Story of an African Farm. She also directed Nick Boraine (currently playing Frank ‘n Furter in Rocky Horror at the Barnyard Theatre) in his highly acclaimed one man show Sic which also played the New York Festival.

Musical director Janine Neethling, on stage for the duration of the show as accompanist on piano, accordion or drums, is a pure delight – particularly in the final number Time of our Lives. Durban audiences may remember her when she accompanied Daniele Pascale in one of her seasons here - she very nearly upstaged the irrepressible French singer with her musical ability and virtuosity.

All delightful, clever and easy-going fare for an enjoyable night out. Basic ingredients? A really good singer supported by a very fine pianist with a strong flair for comedy. And if you hear a voice you think you recognise, it’s that of well-known stage, radio and TV actor Dale Cutts who is now married to Janine Neethling.

Running without an interval, Pineapple Velvet can be seen at the Royal Hotel's Backstage until April 27. Tickets include a three-course meal. For starters, there’s a mixed seafood cocktail - served in a pineapple - or Chicken Liver Pate. Main course options are Grilled Linefish or Sweet and Sour Chicken, followed by Crème Caramel. To book phone 031 333-6000.




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