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

SWOONERS AND CROONERS (article first published : 2000-02-10)

The setting is a well-stocked bar. Very appropriate. The Gee Jays, Gary McKenzie, John Didlick and Grant Bell are more than happy propping up any bar. Anywhere. But this time round, the hard-working and well-knit trio stays away from the usual risque, fool-around party act and has chosen a more sophisticated, elegant mode.

Sentimental Journey, the number Gary McKenzie opens the show with, says it all. Swooners and Crooners takes its audience on a nostalgic meandering trip down memory lane, proving that these three are not only knock-about comedians but can handle a tune as well as the established swooners and crooners of the title. Their interaction, tight harmonies, light banter and good stage presence is the result of their working together for 15 years. Their camaraderie is a delight to watch – almost like popping your feet into a comfortable pair of slippers at the end of a tedious day.

But Swooners and Crooners also allows the individual performers to demonstrate the various facets of their own characters. The mercurial Gary McKenzie camps it up in certain numbers to the disdain of tall, laconic, elegant Grant Bell who is the only member of the group with the body to impersonate the singers who use their sexuality such as Tom Jones’s (It’s Not Unusual). With maturity, Grant’s voice is gaining a nice lower register. The comedy usually comes from John Didlick, in this show playing a slang-talking “boet” who can’t wait to do a Bles Bridges number.

The show is highly entertaining and there is much humour. Sometimes it veers very close to tumbling into usual Gee Jay style when the language can get a little bluer than a good Gorgonzola but the trio wisely keep things under control, staying within the boundaries of sophisticated and laid back smooth entertainment.

Memorable numbers were Paper Moon, Let There be Love, San Francisco, Cracklin’ Rosie, Let it Be, Only The Lonely. That’s Life, I Write the Songs, Wonderful World and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Most of the songs have good full orchestral backing tracks but there are some that are quite “tinny” and oddly arranged, particularly My Way when I would have liked to have seen the three performers contribute more of their individual characters.

It’s not all swooning and crooning, though. There are plenty of uptempo numbers and anything that can be given a humorous focus is played to the full, like Green Door and John Didlick’s drunken rendition à la Dean Martin of Everybody Loves Somebody. I once described John Didlick as a choreographer’s nightmare but I have to say that in this production, he didn’t put a foot wrong – at least not while I was watching!

Lovell Southey’s set is well designed and the bar feature allows a good area for those not in the solo spot to present musical back-up but stay out of the way. Apart from certain numbers in the second half in which the mix favoured the backing tracks at the expense of the performers, Marc Kleinert’s sound was good. On lights were Linda Didlick and Jonathan Didlick (talented family!) while Mike Broderick’s lighting design created a sophisticated nightclub feel.

The Langoustine-Theatre-by-the-Sea hasn’t changed its supper theatre menu and is sticking to its tried and tested dishes. For starters, there’s Calamari Salad, Seafood Ragout or Greek Salad. Main courses are Grilled Linefish with Herb & Mushroom Sauce, Lamb Shank served with baby potatoes and seasonal vegetables or Chicken and Prawn Curry or Panzerotti filled with Spinach and Butternut topped with Parmesan Cheese. For dessert, there’s Bread and Butter Pudding or Tropical Fruit Salad with Ice Cream and the wine list offers a good choice. Book through the Langoustine on (031) 563-7324 and ask for Yash or via Computicket. Save half of your booking costs and book directly on the internet at http://www.computicket.com.

With one leg in plaster, after breaking a bone in my foot, I am having to get around in a wheelchair or on crutches. So for the next five weeks, I’ll report on the accessibility for the disabled of the various venues. There is a ramp into the Langoustine and, while the toilet cubicles are quite narrow, the entrance to the Ladies is wide enough to take a wheelchair.




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