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ROCKING THROUGH THE 80’S (article first published : 2005-04-15)

Prompted by a suggestion from the Dockyard Theatre’s sound technician, Graham Bolt, Stuart Mey looked to the music of the 80’s for Rocking Through The 80’s, his new show currently running at The Dockyard Theatre on the Point Waterfront.

Stuart readily admits that his initial response to music of this era was that it gave rise to some of his “least favourite music” when “real musicians gave way to drum machines, electronic synthesizers and vocals with rough cockney accents”. As a working muso in the 80’s himself, he reckons he would “rather have contracted leprosy than play the music of the Pet Shop Boys, The Communards, Adam & the Ants, Culture Club (Boy George) and the other gender benders of the era,” adding that he doubted he would ever have found a suitable shade of eye shadow!

However, he persevered and did some research and came up with those 80’s music icons that truly held sway, such as Bon Jovi, Journey, Europe, Toto, INXS, Police, Queen and van Halen, not to mention the unbeatable Freddie Mercury.

Tonight’s show started unforgivably late and Paul Cassells’ opening number of Queen’s It’s Kind of Magic seemed to get off on the wrong foot. However, powerhouse Dale Venter soon turned on his infectious energy and got the audience going with Addicted to Love. Paul was back on track later with an energetic Come on Eileen.

Making one of his all-too-rare appearances on the main theatre circuit, John Stengel is a class act. He had most of the female members of the audience in the palm of his hand and some - literally - at his feet, particularly with his engagingly humorous I Need You Tonight! Stuart Mey’s considerable presence completed the vocalist line-up and I enjoyed his Through the Barricades.

Much of the 80’s music was written for high ranged tenor vocalists so Dale was a perfect casting choice as he reaches notes I’m sure only bats can hear! John accompanied his solo numbers on the guitar while guitarist Paul Cassells proved his versatility by occasionally taking over the drum kit! Making up the backing combo were musical director Bruce Boome and Gerald Knott on guitar, Musa Vincent Mtetwa on keyboards and Ian Webster on drums.

Rocking Through The 80’s features an entirely male cast which made an interesting change and they appeared smartly dressed in white suits for the first half and casual t-shirts and waistcoats in the second. The stage setting is much tighter than the Dockyard has presented of late with two attractive, dramatic and highly-coloured panels offering the only visual backdrop. I would have liked a standing black flat downstage-right to allow performers to make a more dignified entrance or exit rather than flipping through the curtains and I found the flimsy material strips on the microphones rather unnecessary.

Blind I may be (seriously, I am acutely myopic and survive only thanks to contact lenses) but deaf I certainly am not and I am despairing in trying to understand why sound technicians are not able to tell the difference when microphone adjustment favours backing musicians – or tracks, in some productions – over performers. I weep inwardly when performers like Stuart Mey and Dale Venter, who I know articulate extremely well, speak in “cotton wool”. What happens between their mouths and what we, as the audience hear, is by kind favour of microphones, amplifiers and the people who drive the sound desk. I wish they’d get it right!

Apart from this perpetual problem which can be corrected (see my review of Mamma Mia), lovers of 80’s music will enjoy the show and probably end up bobbing every night as tonight’s audience did. Expect to hear numbers like Roxanne, Rosanna, I Wanna Know What Love Is, Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Faith and Jump, not to mention the poignant Imagine.

Tickets are R60 for the show and R60 for the optional two-course meal. The items are appropriately titled, such as Rump Roxanne and Canneloni a la Rosanna. I chose the crumbed chicken breast with melted Mozzarella, Mushroom and Prawn Topping and my other half opted for the rump. This was supposed to have been stuffed with Cheddar Cheese and Jalapenos, topped with slivers of Black Mushroom but it turned out to be a plain piece of steak with a full mushroom. The other main course options are a Sweet ‘n Mild Prawn Curry and the Canneloni which was spinach and feta cheese wrapped in pasta. For desserts, there’s Dockyard’s famous Chocolate Brownies, Caramel Apple Sponge – both extremely rich and very wicked! – and Dockyard’s own Kalua Dom Pedro. Good value, considering the price, but I would suggest they don’t describe what they don’t deliver.

Rocking Through The 80’s runs until June 5. To book, phone Karen or Melissa on 031 332 1086. – Caroline Smart




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