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LA VIDA LATINO (article first published : 2000-04-9)

Marking the welcome return to the theatre scene after a five year absence by choreographer Denise Britz, La Vido Latino is the latest supper theatre production in the Playhouse Cellar scheduled to run until April 30.

Presented in association with the Playhouse Cellar, the cabaret is extremely fast-moving and colourful. It also has one of the most complex and visually exciting lighting designs I have seen in this venue for a long time and keeps lighting technician Kurt Frederic on his skilful toes! The design was created by Brandon Bunyan, formerly with the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre but now “gone solo” as an independent staging technician.

The show opens like the start of a sci-fi movie with dramatic lighting and smoke. There’s a lot of smoke in this production which normally irritates me but this time, it’s well placed. The dancers move onto the stage to an insistent drum beat, masked and in glamorous frilled full-length capes.

This boded well, I thought, for a production that was going to focus on the brooding and sultry languorous moods of the Latin culture as well as its up-tempo and flamboyant aspects. However, the effective opening soon made way for fast pace, glitz and razzle dazzle and this remained the main characteristic of the show.

The second half showed more changes of mood and soloists Dale Venter and Smiley Kunene appeared to better advantage. To my knowledge, neither singer has had a lot of experience in performing close duo work before. Dale has appeared in ensemble work like The Beatles, A Tribute to Phil Collins andThe Blues Brothers. Smiley has many productions to her credit such as The Wiz, Maru, Robin's A Cruise Ou, The Beatles, Mata-Mata and numerous shows with Themi Venturas. She has also appeared as a solo artist at Shunter’s. Both performers need to project their personalities more, interact and be comfortable with each other and occasionally include the audience. The Cellar is an intimate venue and audiences respond well to the personal touch.

There isn’t much room for sweeping choreography on the Cellar stage, but Denise Britz has made good use of the space. Dancers Danny-Lea Green, Denya Mazlin, Nicki Kennedy, Priscilla Watson and Byron Swart look good and generate much fun and sex appeal. They appear in a continuous and attractive array of sparkles, spangles and beads with skimpy costumes co-ordinated by Beverley Fuller and Coral Chamberlain. The backing tracks produced by De Wet Wraight and Dawn Thompson feature Philipp Maier on the keyboard.

The programme includes popular Latin music and songs associated with Ricki Martin, Enrique Inglesias, Jennifer Lopez and Lou Bega. Mambo No 5 was one of Dale Venter’s best numbers and Smiley was confident in Smooth Operator. Sharon Legassick had the sound under control and the mix was well balanced.

My main comment about this show is that it was too much on the same level. I would have welcomed more changes in mood, working on the theory that a diet of caviar makes one long for a simple and unadorned piece of bread!

Tickets at R100 include a three course meal and executive chef Anthony Stacey has kept with the hot Latin theme. Those that like their food with a tang will relish The Mexican Strip (spicy steak strips) and Cajun Chicken (grilled filleted breast of chicken coated in Cajun spices). I opted for – and enjoyed - the light and creamy Tomato and Tarragon Soup and the Latino Lamb (rolled lamb stuffed with peppers and onions). For dessert there’s Maraca Melon (slither of melon touched with Tequila) or Rococo Tourte (chocolate gateaux topped with a biscuits and cocoa cream). I had the latter but the cream topping was almost frozen so I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be cream or ice-cream.

Performances are Tuesday to Sundays at 19h00 for 19h30 with special bonus performances on Fridays (17h15) and Sundays at 18h00. Book at Computicket.




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