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

CLAPTON (article first published : 2003-02-2)

Producer and director Stuart Mey has impressed with his series of successful shows paying tribute to top musicians and groups. First we had Legend of Eagles, then Santana and now Clapton.

Basically choosing the same cast seen in Santana and appearing himself as the front man, he presents an enjoyable, energetic, upbeat and unpretentious tribute to the incomparable Eric Clapton. The audience responds well to his obvious love of the music he presents and his easygoing muso talk about the star and other performers’ interpretations of his music.

Apart from the charming Nicky Mey on vocals, genial Ian Webster on the drums and enigmatic Tory Cassells on keyboard, the rest of the nine-member cast are guitarists, playing nine guitars between them. They are “veterans” Bruce Boom and Dave Arnold joined by youngsters Andy Turrell and the definitely-going-places Rowan Stuart with the addition of Andy’s languid double-double-bass toned father, Glen Turrell who is no stranger to Durban theatre audiences.

There’s not a lot of space on stage with all those instruments, people and cabling so the visual aspect is generally mildly chaotic. However, it was a great move to open the second half with most of the guitarists sitting in a line, producing a nicely dramatic image.

The Cellar stage has been transformed into a kind of subway scenario – although Stuart Mey suggests to the audience that they should feel at home, as if sitting in his lounge discussing music. The pillars and walls reflect brickwork bearing graffiti. At the start of the show a dark figure appears out of the smoke, spray paint can in hand, to add to the graffiti. After that, the show explodes into the driving sound of Clapton.

Crossroads, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, I Shot the Sheriff, Lay Down Sally and Layla were obvious highlights with Glen Turrell raising the roof with Hoochie Choochie Man and Stuart Mey proving that he has a strong sensitive side in Wonderful Tonight. I couldn’t help wishing that they had explained the creative urge behind Tears in Heaven (written after Clapton’s son died) before they sang the song, rather than after it. There are bound to be many audience members unfamiliar with the story and, once known, the beautiful piece and its lyrics are better appreciated.

While there is good facial and musical interaction between the group and the energy is strong and infectious, the younger performers have not yet acquired the skill of hiding on their faces a sense of confusion or concern if things aren’t always the way they should be. This pulls unnecessary focus on a problem. A performer should be able to go through an entire show weathering the storms of missed lines, links or verses or wrong intros – and they happen all the time (we are, after all, human!) – without the audience suspecting that anything is out of place.

The Cellar has a new chef and the menu is well-chosen. For starters, there’s a tasty Seafood Chowder and the Cream of Butternut Soup was good, but both were fairly hefty portions. The other starter option is a Mediterranean Salad. On the main menu is a delicious Lamb Shank cooked as the chef promises “to perfection”, the Line Fish was much enjoyed by my critical husband and the other choice is Poached Breast of Chicken with an asparagus sauce. The vegetarian main course option changes daily. Desserts are a very rich Chocolate Mousse and a pleasant Ginger Sponge.

Clapton runs until March 8 with performances Wednesday to Saturday. Tickets R120 (includes the three course meal). Tickets R70 for the show alone. Book at Computicket or Playhouse Dial a Seat on 031 369-9555 or 083 915 8000. For discounted prices of groups (20 or more) contact Sharon on 083 486 3271.

You’d better book fast – the first two weeks were sold out before the first performance. However, if you miss it in the Cellar you can buy a ticket at R100 in the raffle for a magnificent guitar with a retail value of R25,000. The proceeds of the competition will be given to Highway Hospice in memory of Stuart Mey’s friend and fellow musician who died recently. The prize is an Eric Clapton Signature model of a Fender Stratocaster Guitar and the winner must be at the final performance in the Opera Theatre on March 8. - Caroline Smart




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