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CELLULITE AND SEQUINS (article first published : 2000-04-8)

Once a household name on the cabaret circuit, having appeared regularly at the former Crazy Horse in Durban and the Copacabana in Umhlanga as well as in the long-running war tribute We’ll Meet Again, entertainer Dianne Chandler stepped out of the limelight a few years back and went to the Cape. Plans to open a small theatre venue in Franschoek backfired and instead the building, which was also the home of her and her husband, became a Bed and Breakfast outfit.

These experiences and other more personal ones made up the patter of a new show Dianne launched last year. Returning to the theatre world, now with close-cropped blonde hair, Dianne came to Durban last April with Cellulite & Sequins. What should have been a triumphant season for her many fans in this part of the world was somewhat tempered by the unsuitability of the venue in which she performed. The Crawford La Lucia College main hall is not a venue to be used for theatre purposes, except perhaps for massed choirs, orchestras or contemporary dance.

The Royal Hotel's Backstage Theatre, on the other hand, is absolutely perfect for her talents and Cellulite & Sequins runs in this charming and intimate venue until April 15. I was somewhat alarmed to discover on opening night that the venue does not supply backing drapes as a standard stage setting - and obviously Dianne Chandler was equally ignorant of this fact. Having arrived in Durban with little time to spare other than to get the show “in”, in terms of sorting out lighting and sound, etc. she was forced to perform against an ugly bare brick wall which was divided into two sections, possibly part of early renovations to the hotel.

However, singer De Wet Wraight came to the rescue and I understand has lent Dianne some velvet drapes so that her show may be performed with the tone that it deserves and her glitzy gowns shown off to better advantage. The stage setting is something The Royal management needs to look into because most touring cabaret artists travel light without curtains or backdrops, carrying only costumes and props required for the show.

While the performance ability of an entertainer like Dianne Chandler can rise above drab and unattractive surroundings, it doesn’t do the image of this five-star hotel any good for diners to enjoy their meal before the show. Seated at a table with immaculate napery, good cutlery and glassware, and served fine food by neatly dressed staff, it’s not conducive to the upmarket atmosphere to have to look at an ugly brick wall!

Stage problems aside, Cellulite & Sequins is a highly enjoyable night out. This consummate and generous performer “plays” her room well, immediately absorbing the atmosphere of the diners and comfortably adjusting her banter to suit. She chats cheerfully about any subject from the fact that she has been married four times to the day she went to a nursery to buy plants and was asked if she had her pensioner’s card!

Dianne Chandler is a generous performer who gives her all. She also has real lung power and can belt out a number to raise the roof but such is her command of her technique that she can just as easily send it up or caress it as gently as a feather. She has now reached a point in her career where she “treads a fine line” - as she says – between those who know her from the Crazy Horse Days and those seeing her for the first time.

So, the old favourites are there such as a Petula Clarke medley, New York and Big Spender and a tribute to husband Derek, The Man I Love, as well as a heartfelt tribute to Frank Sinatra (My Way). She also introduces later hits such No Matter What from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest musical Whistle Down the Wind. Self-effacingly, she confesses that there’s just one song she has to include “for fear of being lynched after the show” whereupon the audience settles back for the inevitable Jerusalem!

One of the highlights of the evening was a reworked version of Stephen Sondheim’s I’m Still Here. This is the first time – and hopefully, not the last – that Dianne has tackled the works of this exceptional composer. “He’s so difficult!” she said afterwards, ruefully. “There are so many words!” Keep with him, Dianne – your voice and personality suit his music and you have a natural affinity for his work – something not many singers can achieve.

Tickets are R100 include a good three-course meal presented in true Royal style. There is a choice main menu of Grilled Fillet of Kingklip with a Smoked Mussel and Lemon Butter Sauce or Baked Breast of Chicken with a Saffron Cheese and Asparagus Cream Sauce - neither of which I would normally choose. I’m not mad about fish and I usually find chicken breasts dry and boring. For anyone who feels the same way about the latter, you will be converted. The chicken breast was succulent and tender and the sauce just flavoured enough to give the dish some character. There are no choices for a starter which is a delicious Savoury Mushroom Terrine and the Crème Caramel with Bitter Orange Sauce is a tried and trusted Royal offering.

Bookings through the Royal Hotel reservations on (031) 304-0331.




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