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ROCK 'N ROLL HEAVEN (article first published : 2003-10-23)

Opening last night in the Playhouse Cellar is certainly one of the better shows to come out of the Stuart Mey stable. Rock & Roll Heaven is placed on an attractively draped set with its main focus being a pair of electronically-operated metal gates kindly sponsored by a local company. These depict the gates to heaven and they soundlessly glide open and closed to allow a range of departed rock stars to move “out of heaven“ to perform to the living world, ie the audience.

It’s basically about a “whole bunch of dead guys singing live” quips Dave Arnold, who hosts the show in the guise of John Lennon. It’s like a kind of celestial Command Performance Variety Show with a line-up that includes stars such as Elvis, Freddie Mercury, Buddy Holly, Robert Palmer, Richie Valens, Marilyn Monroe and Mama Cass.

The cast take on the personalities of the various stars with a range of different wigs and costumes, although the latter are always in white - we are in heaven, remember? I had to admit that white drapes and white costumes tend to get a bit tiring to watch for two hours or so. Couldn’t the stars “borrow” items in colour from outside of the gates (strategically placed at get-attable points) – like a hat, waistcoat or scarf?

Back on the supper theatre circuit after a long absence, Dale Venter presents his usual energetic and compelling performance and is at his best with the Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace. Charming and serene, Nicky Mey presents a smoky rendition of Peggy Lee’s Fever while the soignee and leggy Belinda Dolphin did justice to Tammy Wynett’s Stand by Your Man. Continuing the potential he showed in Masters of Rock, Dereck Anderson’s best numbers were Buddy Holly’s That’ll be the day and Freddie Mercury’s Love of My Life. He leaves the show in a short while to take up the role of Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

The biggest surprise of the show was Dave Arnold who is normally seen as part of Stuart Mey’s backing combo. In this production, he takes a lead role and, with an accurate range of accents, breezes comfortably through roles such as Johnny Cash (Boy named Sue); George Harrison (My Sweet Lord) and Richie Valens (La Bamba).

Apart from Dale and Dave, the cast could do with some help in stage movement and placing but perhaps this will grow naturally as the show progresses. I also think it could do with some pruning of two or three numbers and possible restructuring. The three air crash victims – Holly, Bopper and Valens – should come very close to the end. They’re a difficult act to top!

The backing group is strong with the delightfully watchable Fiona Hebrard on keyboard. Esjay is on lead guitar, Mike McCauley on bass and Darryl Swart on drums. For once, thank you, the Cellar sound was fine and the lighting well controlled although I missed the follow spot which just gives that added touch.

Tickets R65 for the show and the three-course meal is R70. The food was excellent. Starters include a generous Greek Salad, tasty grilled or deep fried calamari or Cheese and Jalapeno Slammers. Main course options include a succulent roast sirloin with a creamy white wine and black mushroom sauce with the nicest deep-fried potato balls I’ve had in a while. Other options are Grilled Linefish which my other half pronounced as very good, as well as Sweet Chilli Chicken Kebabs or Vegetarian pasta. Dessert was either Toffee Apple Pudding (interesting and enjoyable), Peppermint Chocolate Mousse (very rich) or Dom Pedro. For some strange reason, The Cellar is not serving rolls prior to the meal.

Rock & Roll Heaven runs to December 7. Book at Computicket or the Dockyard on 031 369 9505. – Caroline Smart




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