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WALKING IN MEMPHIS (article first published : 2005-08-27)

Unable to attend the media night of Walking in Memphis because of last week’s hectic schedule, tonight was the first chance I had to slot in this Barnyard Theatre production at Gateway. It is always good to come to a performance with “real people” (theatre parlance for the paying public) as opposed to a night that is papered (mainly complimentary tickets) as this gives you a better idea as to how the show is being received on a wider scale.

Walking in Memphis is the title of a well-known Elvis Presley number. As August is apparently Elvis month worldwide, according to the press release, this production pays tribute to the King with a show that includes most of his songs.

If you love Elvis’s music you will certainly enjoy this show. It’s purely a music review with no linking dialogue to distract from the numbers but if you are a true Elvis fan and know his music well, you might be frustrated by the multi-layered arrangements and re-mixes that bring the music up to date but lose the sense of the period when singers’ voices were more cleanly defined.

Headlining the show is Shaky Russell who is a real crowd pleaser. He has all the Elvis actions and rubbery-legged gyrations, proving the capacity that has won him an award for his presentation of Elvis and his material. Percy Smith is always a welcome addition to a line-up with his sure presentation and engaging presence. Lois Du Plessis brought a different vocal style to certain numbers. Backing vocals were provided by Jessy Boyle and Donnagh Roberts – nice to see her coming into her own.

Musical director Dawn Selby heads a strong backing group with Barnyard regulars Barry Thomson and Mali Sewell on guitar and drums, Bongani Sokhela on bass guitar, Colin Mairs on saxophone and Michael Magner on trumpet.

The costuming was good with the women dressed elegantly and the men in a wondrous range of jackets. The set has an upmarket sophisticated feel and Michael Broderick’s lighting fits the mood.

After my consistent complaints over the last couple of productions at this venue, I am happy to say that tonight’s sound level was acceptable. Maybe it was because I was sitting in a different part of the theatre or, hopefully, perhaps the management has listened to criticism and taken time to look at the recurring sound problems. Whatever the reason, it was a great relief to sit back and enjoy the show.

One problem I had tonight, though, was a tendency that is all too often prevalent in singers of today and that is breaking a phrase and, heaven forbid, even a word. Thus you get “Wooden (breath) heart” or “Ama .. (breath) .. zing Grace”. It makes nonsense of the lyrics, singers – build up better breath control!

What really delighted me this evening was the sight of a young boy – all of 12 or so, certainly at an age where Elvis could have been his grandfather – bopping in the aisles to the manner born. Three generations down, the King and his music still live on!

Tickets R85 (Buy One Get One Free on Tuesday night and Sunday matinee shows). Bookings and enquiries on 031 566 3045, e-mail gateway@barnyardtheatre.co.za or visit www.barnyardtheatre.co.za




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