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UPTOWN GUYS (article first published : 2005-02-2)

Just opened at The Barnyard Theatre at Gateway, Uptown Guys is billed as a “play off” between Billy Joel and Elton John.

While the multi-talented singer and musician Shelley McLean and the engaging Clinton Philander are long-time Durban favourites, it’s good to see two new faces on the Barnyard stage with Sean Butler (also the musical director) and James Dobson seated at the pianos interpreting with their undeniable skills the songs written by these legends of rock music.

The backing is supplied by Colin Healey (drums) and Mark Freel (bass) with Paul Kock (saxophone) and Joe van der Linden (guitar – watch him!) occasionally taking a solo spot.

Mention must be made of cameraman Jack de Klerk who captured interesting angles of live footage for the two screens placed above the stage. Clad in black, although it would be an idea for him to wear black gloves with cut-off fingers as his hands draw attention, he moves unobtrusively among the performers. I got to thinking that this could become a new performance genre, with the person handling the camera actually becoming part of the action!

Like it or not, as Ian van Memerty is the director of Uptown Guys, comparisons are bound to be made to his exhilarating and hugely entertaining smash hit A Handful of Keys.

Uptown Guys is definitely not A Handful of Keys although it has the potential to be and this is proved later in the show. With two “pianos” (keyboards in splendid white concert grand props) dominating the stage area, there’s not much space in which to move around and sometimes the staging gets a bit frenetic. I really had a problem with the pace and constant swaying of Piano Man which is at odds with the lyrics and mood of the song.

However, with a series of numbers in the second half of the show, I got what I was waiting for – sincere and unadorned renditions of songs like Honesty, Blue Eyes and Daniel which simply featured vocalists and pianos. Here the sound was clean and the singers’ words completely audible unlike the rest of the show where the diction often disappeared completely.

The cast is well-matched and their performances excellent. Numbers I particularly enjoyed were The Longest Time, New York State of Mind, Uptown Girl, Tell Her about it and That’s Why They Call It The Blues.

I think that this is one of Michael Broderick’s finest lighting designs – it’s crisp, sophisticated and moody. There is no acknowledgement for costume design which is probably just as well because there were some odd choices – particularly Sean and James’s final outfits which looked as if they were left over from the pantomime season.

However, at the end of the day, it is the memorable music of Billy Joel and Elton John that carries the show.

Uptown Guys runs until March 6. Tickets R85 pp (Buy One Get One Free on Tuesday night and Sunday matinees). Take your own food to Barnyard but there is a cash bar. The media were treated last night to samples of take-away meals from Oscar’s in Durban North. We had delicious lemon and herb chicken with chips and a large lamb shank with mashed potatoes. Well worth a try.

Bookings and enquiries on 031 566 3045, e-mail barngate@mweb.co.za or visit www.barnyardtheatre.co.za – Caroline Smart




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