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

JOHNNY B GOODE (article first published : 2005-06-27)

Johnny B Goode marks the Gee Jays’ 20th year together. In this new show, currently running at the Heritage Theatre at Hillcrest Heritage Market, Gary McKenzie, John Didlick and Grant Bell take a welcome leap forward by performing with a live band. Under the top notch musical direction of Dawn Selby, the musicians include Mali Sewell, Glen Turrell, Josh Beechey and Kelly Scannel. It’s an excellent combo which provides good back-up for these irrepressible performers.

Dressed in a variety of outfits, including some really ill-fitting mustard jackets (lose ‘em, guys!), the Gee Jays provide their normal banter and frolic in this line-up of close harmony 50's swing – with a very amusing send-up of Dean Martin - and rock ‘n roll favourites from the likes of Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, Elvis, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, The Platters, Bobby Darren, Little Richard and more.

As always, John Didlick commands focus and is beginning to remind me of veteran American film, musicals and stage actor, Charles Durning. On opening night, he was battling with pneumonia while Grant Bell was suffering from laryngitis. The theatre is not an industry for sissies. Where people would stay off sick in ordinary work situations, we really push ourselves under the maxim: “The show must go on!” (Noel Coward once made the pithy but sensible retort - “Why?”!) Grant’s indisposition meant that John took some of his solo numbers – an example of the strong camaraderie that exists between the threesome and the supportive spirit generally existing among theatre people.

The setting is attractive with the band placed on stage which means cutting down performing area – drum kits take up a fair whack of space alone! However, the Heritage Theatre has good depth so the singers weren’t cramped. With the band members being so close, it invites a closer relationship between singers and musicians and this wasn’t explored enough. In You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, beautifully presented and one of the highlights of the show for me, I would have liked to have seen John Didlick placed in a spotlight downstage-right singing directly to Dawn Selby on keyboards – each alone but connected.

Other numbers I particularly enjoyed were Gary’s Save the Last Dance for Me and Grant’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love as well as the Harry Lyme Theme and the Shadows’ Apache from the band. Deservedly, the Elvis medley was a strong crowd favourite!

I did have a problem with the lighting in the first half of the programme as the action cried out for more dramatic settings as well as spotlights on individual musicians in the band numbers. This did improve after interval so whether it was a technical or design problem, I can’t be sure.

However, these are all minor details and didn’t interfere with what is a highly enjoyable evening from this well-knit trio who continue to do what they do best. You’ve seen it all before, but this time, there’s a live band to take the entertainment to a higher level.

Johnny Be Good runs until July 31. Starting times Tuesday to Saturday at 19h00 (meal) for 20h30 (show). Tickets R140 include the two-course meal and show. Sunday lunchtime specials at 12h30 (lunch) for 14h00 (show) and the ticket price is R120 for the meal and show.

Suitably titled Act 1 and Act 2 (The Main Attraction), the menu offers Calamari Fingers (very pleasant), French Onion Soup, and Chourico and Cherry Tomato Salad for starters. The main course options are Braised Lamb Shank (and it’s a good size); Oven Baked Yellow Tail, Grilled Chicken Breast and Giant Mushrooms. Desserts (Curtain Call) are optional with a special pudding menu priced independently of the two–course meal, ranging from R17 to R23. They include Bread and Butter Pudding, Vanilla Ice Cream, Traditional Malva Pudding and La Crimeria (ice-cream cake)

Booking is essential on 031 765 4197. There is safe underground parking area which allows you to walk straight into the theatre. – Caroline Smart




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