Kat & The Kings still swingLesley Stones
Lesley Stones: The great thing about having a bad memory is that if I see a show for a second time, it still feels fresh and new.
Besides, it’s been way more than a decade since Kat & The Kings last stomped the stages of Joburg, and I had no memory of the songs, the witty lyrics or the delightful choreography, and it was a delight to discover them all anew.
Kat & The Kings was created in 1995 by David Kramer and Taliep Petersen as a tribute to the doo-wop days of the racy 1950s. It was also deep in the days of Apartheid, and the young members of an a cappella group soon find themselves needing special permits to perform in white hotels and having their records banned by racist radio stations.
On the surface the show is a feel good, all-singing all-dancing affair bubbling energy, style and charm. But the audience follows Kat and his friends into the ever-present gloom Apartheid casts over their lives, smothering their ambition and killing their freedom. Some of the most powerful, poignant moments come when the young hopefuls we’re admiring belt out songs yearning for something more.
The story starts in the present day with elderly Kat (Danny Butler) now a shoe-shine man on the pavement. As he begins to share his memories his younger self appears, played beautifully by cheeky Dean Balie. The idea works superbly well, keeping us grounded in Kat’s grim present while dancing us through his lively past in District Six.
Kat’s team of Grant Peres as Bingo, Zak Toerien as Magoo and Carlo Daniels as Ballie mesh perfectly, performing beautiful harmonies to lively, sassy choreography.
I spend the first half wondering why all the songs were performed to a recorded soundtrack, with no sign of a band. It was a disappointment, but a deception too, because a six-piece band is revealed in the second half when the story has Kat & the Kings successfully performing on the hotel circuit. The band sounds far better when you can actually see it, and makes the show much richer and more satisfying.
The script is based on a true story of a band in District Six, and the lyrics by Kramer and Petersen perfectly capture the hopes, dreams and cockiness of youth before they were shot down in the realities of the era. The songs are witty and wicked, and the acting and narrative burst with humour and resilience.
Amy Trout is the only female and plays Lucy, a wanna-be songwriter who grooms the raggle-taggle guys into slick performers, The Cavalla Kings. Trout and Toerien playing brother and sister Lucy and Magoo sing a moving duet Only If You Have A Dream, facing up to their sorrows through song, the only escape they have.
Another highlight is the Skeleton Dance, a delicious piece of frivolity before the descent into the end of their dreams, the end of the band, and an old age on the pavements shining shoes.
Kat and the Kings plays at Montecasino Theatre until November 18, then moves to Cape Town’s Fugard Theatre from December 6.
Lesley Stones is a former Brit who is now proudly South African.
She started her career by reviewing rock bands for a national UK music paper, then worked for various newspapers before spending four fun-filled years in Cairo, where she ended up editing a technology magazine.
Lesley was the Information Technology Editor for Business Day for 12 years before quitting to go freelance, specialising in travel & leisure writing and being opinionated about life in general. Her absolute passions are travel, theatre, the cinema, wining and dining.
Web site: http://www.lesleystones.co.za