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REFLECTIONS (article first published : 2002-06-21)

In the four years during which he has been touring South Africa diminutive Rory Rootenberg has become a "national treasure." Of course, the notion that this same small person is capable of singing in a resounding bass voice as well as in a soaring soprano sounds absurd unless the viewer experiences the phenomenon for himself, or herself - as the case may be. Such vocal versatility is immediately evident in Rootenberg's opening number, In My Reflections.

Dressing "down" in a grey T-shirt and dark trousers, the engaging entertainer then endeared himself to a sympathetic audience with the quip: "If one of your cellphones goes off, you will have to spend a night with Mbongeni Ngema." Essentially, this show is a compilation of highlights of Rootenberg's earlier material. The content, therefore, is not new but those who have seen the singer/entertainer before should nevertheless find much to admire in his slick delivery and the wide scope of his vocal prowess and verbal patter.

For newcomers not hitherto exposed to the singer's expertise, there should be much to savour. He good-humouredly sends up the perceived anomaly that the only Durban people he knows come from the Berea. Unlike at least one other South African comedian, Rootenberg can make wisecracks about that type of subject without becoming offensive and insulting to the audience.

He then relates with humour and, plainly, also a certain nostalgia, his experiences as a boy chorister with the Drakensberg Boys' Choir. Rootenberg subsequently throws in some Afrikaans liedjies for good measure, coupled with a wickedly funny impersonation of "ons eie" diva Mimi Coertse performing a rendition of O, Boereplaas. He then becomes serious for a few minutes with the moving Negro spiritual Were You There?

The performer deftly analyses the hazards of everyday life in South Africa - with its high crime levels and commonplace hi-jackings. But doom and gloom does not last long on his agenda. Rootenberg quickly observes that there is so much to be grateful for in life and launches into several haunting and evocative Hebrew numbers - totally in synch with his Jewish background. His rendition of Crazy Carousel illustrates the artist's point that modern folk seem more and more desperate to have a good time. Rootenberg then cleverly simulates an artist cleverly linking his many unsuccessful auditions with appropriately-named numbers from Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals.

After interval, the singer turns serious again with Worlds Apart, demonstrating an affinity with and skilful execution of sign language. The singer/composer Barry Manilow comes in for some gentle leg-pulling and soon it is the turn of Abba to be lampooned. Inviting audience participation in Durban can be a bit dicey but on the night I attended the audience entered into his version of Thank You For The Music with good humour. Rootenberg's version of To Dream The Impossible Dream from Man Of La Mancha again illustrated the artist's flexibility and powerful vocal talent.

The performance ends with an hilarious send-up of Bizet's opera Carmen and a witty, topical re-write of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic I've Got A Little List. Rootenberg was ably assisted on the piano on the night I attended by accompanist Ann Duffy.

Reflections is a worthy vehicle with which to re-open the Playhouse Cellar. And the three-course dinner is the best I have enjoyed in this cosy venue. The show will be repeated on June 20 at 19h00, June 21 at 17h30 and 20h00, and on June 22 at 19h00. Booking through the Cellar on 031 369-9505 or Computicket. - Patrick Leeman




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