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

SHOWGIRLS (article first published : 2000-06-2)

Figuring it was time to veer away from the rock ‘n roll trend of supper theatre lately and head back to the sophisticated format of “old-fashioned cabaret”, well-known singer Melanie Roberts garnered the talents of Kate Bruce and Liesl Coppin to present Showgirls. The show is running in the Royal Hotel’s Backstage venue until June 24.

Directed and staged by Duncan Royce of Millennium Meltdown fame, Showgirls is a comfortable and enjoyable production lasting around an hour. This means that audiences can enjoy an excellent meal in the style of the Royal Hotel, take in a good show and head for home before 22h00 - something that should please most Durban theatregoers who can hardly be considered “late night owls”!

If there is any scenario, it hinges loosely on three showgirls discussing their lives backstage. Light chat and banter is woven into a selection of songs about life and love made well-known by a range of performers throughout time from the Andrews Sisters, the Righteous Brothers, Elvis Presley and Shirley Bassey to Carol King, Barbara Streisand, Liza Minnelli and Shania Twain – not to mention, Queen.

The girls are dressed in long sequinned gowns and the emphasis is on style and elegance although the moods can change from kittenish charm to raunchy sexiness. Their voices blend well together and they produce some nice close harmony. Particularly memorable was Melanie and Liesl’s Tell Him.

It was also nice to see Kate Bruce showing her sensitive and dramatic side and the show is worth seeing for this dimension alone. For too long Kate has been locked into bossy butch or funky characterisations. Her Big Spender is particularly enjoyable and her capability for strong emotion was shown in Do I Love You?.

Melanie Roberts is a consummate performer and always at ease in any song, whatever the style. A surprising tendency to be slightly off-key in her opening number was explained later when it was announced that she is carrying her second child. Most women would kill to look as she does in the midst of morning sickness and tummy expansions! In Showgirls, she uses more of her higher register, which adds another interesting dimension to the show.

But it is Liesl Coppin who steals the show. This must surely be one of the finest cabaret singers we have in South Africa and I hope it’s a long time before she gets lured away to bigger productions and distant locations. She is extremely focused, utterly in control of her performance and looks stunning to boot! Her best numbers were Suspicious Minds and the sultry Devil Called Love.

While they tend to be over-vocalised and sometimes detract from the live singers’ performances, the backing tracks are good – recorded, produced and digitally re-mastered by musical director (and Melanie’s husband) Philipp Maier. The sound, which has been under criticism of late in this venue, was well controlled – but there is still the occasional tendency to overshadow the singers. However, I do concede that I was sitting fairly well over to the side of the room.

Michael Broderick’s lighting design is coolly atmospheric and I don’t know if it was fluke or neat technical manipulation but the smoke machine produced an almost perfect cloud – on cue at the right words in the song - around Liesl as she sang the Wind Beneath My Wings.

Tickets for Showgirls are R120 and include a three-course meal. While it looks wonderful, the Vegetable Trio Timbale starter doesn’t taste as good as it looks, tending to be rather stodgy and certainly needs its tomato, garlic dressing. The two main courses are good. Baked Kingklip napped with a Chilli Brandy and Baby Prawn Sauce offers a tangy bite not normally associated with either Kingklip or prawns. The Panfired Breast of Chicken with a herbed Breadcrumb Crusting served with a Ginger Honey Cream Sauce has a sweet/sour taste offset by the herbs. The dessert, Cinnamon Flavoured Pavlova with Whipped Cream and Fresh Fruits, is a frothy delectable masterpiece and a total disaster for weight-watchers. To die for, as they say!

Showgirls runs from Tuesday to Saturday with dinner at 19h00 and the show starting at 20h30. Bookings can be made through Andre Visagie at the Royal Hotel on (031) 304-0331. Visit the Royal website on www.theroyal.co.za




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