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

WEST ENDERS (article first published : 2002-05-4)

Vanessa Skaer and Darren King forged their professional partnership in I Feel a Song Coming On which played the Royal Backstage and Rhumbelow theatre some months back. Drawing on their theatrical training and experience, they have put together a new show titled West Enders currently running at Lango’s Supper Theatre in Durban North. It’s a fast-moving journey through well-known numbers from musicals that came to fame on Broadway and London’s West End.

This time round, they have brought into their partnership two young KZN performers - Derrick Anderson who is just out of university and Claire Rowlett, barely out of school uniform. Both have enormous potential but as yet not the depth of experience required of the solo numbers they are given to sing. Particularly Lloyd Webber’s music - this demands a high level of breath and phrase control. But experience comes with time, thus their performances will improve with each show as they gain that precious practical knowledge and hands-on involvement no theatre school can ever teach.

The scenario is a rehearsal period of a new song and dance show. The director is the overly-camp Darling (Darren King) and the cast features the brittle show star Babe (Vanessa Skaer) who is having a relationship with Hero (Derrick Anderson) who is fast becoming attached to the younger and gentler Sweetie (Claire Rowlett). This triangle of emotions offers a good reference point for numbers such as As If We Never Said Goodbye, Last Night of the World, All I ask of You, U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D., I want to send roses/I know him so well and, of course, Memory.

Part of the stage is set aside as a dressing room and the glass-less mirror frames provide a good setting for the opening number and the show’s highlight Money from Cabaret. Continually finding his cast either snarling at each other, embracing, or in a similar lovelorn state, the long-suffering Darling tries to rehearse his production as it fast approaches opening night. This gives rise to show stopping numbers such as Hanky Panky, Dance Ten : Looks Three, Cabaret and One.

The costumes are colourful and glitzy and Nikki Kennedy has created crisp and clean choreography, perfectly suited for Darren and Vanessa’s abilities.

Three (for reasons of availability) of South Africa’s best directors have been involved in this show. These include Duncan Royce, who has the main overseeing eye, assisted by Belinda Harward and Peter Court. I think it’s a case of “too much happiness”, a line from a production which I can’t recall – fine direction but too much of it. The influence of each individual director is often clearly discernible but what the show lacks is an overall identity.

This will probably not be discernible to the average theatregoer. They might just get the feeling that something is missing but not sure what it is.

My advice is, sit back and enjoy the exuberance and considerable talents of the four individual performers. When Darren and Vanessa dance, it’s pure magic and Claire and Derrick provide good-looking new talent on the local supper theatre scene. This is not the last you’ll be seeing of them, I’m sure. If Derrick seems to be taking it easy in the dance numbers, remember that he was hospitalised at the end of April for emergency surgery on a lung. However, he’s no slouch in the high-kick sequence. Talking of which, Darren’s high kick gets impressively close to the ceiling!

You can now opt to see the show only, without dining, or eat elsewhere in the restaurant before the show. But the supper theatre menu is a good one. For starters there’s Thai spicy Beef Salad, Garlic Mussels (which I found a little overcooked) topped with Cheese sauce or Minestrone Soup. The main course was more successful with an enjoyable Swiss style Chicken Schnitzel, Pepper Steak (only order this if you really like pepper!) or Vegetable Linguini. For dessert, there’s Homemade Custard Slice but I opted for Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce.

West Enders runs throughout May. Book through Lango's Theatre on 031 563-7324, at Computicket or by calling 011 340-8000.




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