Kat and the Kings is fresh and funnyJennifer de Klerk
Jennifer de Klerk: Although there are serious undertones, Kat and the Kings is a joyous romp filled with infectious enthusiasm.
I’d heard of this musical by David Kramer and Taliep Petersen for years – it won the Olivier award for best musical in 1999 and has played both London’s West End and Broadway – but never had the chance to see it.
It’s worth it. Fresh, slick, polished, it tells a tight and poignant story laced with humour, hope and an upbeat zest for life.
Danny Butler plays the older Kat Diamond with dancing feet and a twinkle in the eye, looking back affectionately through his memories to tell the story of the four 17-year-old “skollies” who diced and gambled on the stoep of the Westminster Restaurant in lively, cosmopolitan District Six in the 1950s.
They are brash, likable, hormone-raging teenagers who dream of girls (in Bingo’s case, boys), money and driving big cars - but they can sing and dance, even Ballie, cute, but definitely a couple of cigarettes short of a pack.
Put them together in tight four-part harmony, with or without the backing of the live band, give them catchy, meaningful melodies, with plenty of scope for polished acrobatic dance steps, and they are dynamite.
The music flows seamlessly as part of the narrative, racy numbers like Wild Time and Cavalla Kings, humorous ones like Mavis and Dress to Kill, touching ones like Only If You Have a Dream.
It was fascinating to see the development of the beautiful Lonely Girl from the first tentative attempt, to the hilarious audition version where the four Cavalla Kings had to skate one microphone between them with split-second timing, to the mature version used for their first recording.
Each of the boys emerges as a definite and attractive character. Dean Balie, as the young Kat Diamond, is a powerhouse of talent, meshing well with Butler, who moves in and out of the action, dancing and singing along, as he tells the story.
Carlo Daniels as the bemused Ballie handles most of the humour with engaging charm and Grant Peres has an offbeat quirkiness as Bingo. Zakariyah Toerien is a bit strident and over-the-top to be believable as the nerd Magoo, but in the context it works, adding an extra layer of humour.
Strong-voiced energetic Amy Trout plays the key role of Lucy, the girl who spotted the boys’ talent, moulded and groomed them, won them their fame and ultimately brought their downfall.
This is where the musical gets its bite. It’s the 1950s, the time of “whites only”, “nie blankes”, permits, restrictions and the Immortality Act. As coloureds, the Cavalla Kings are second-class citizens, their options are limited, their talent restricted – and it hurts.
Kat and the Kings is loosely based on the experiences of Salie Daniels, the first older Kat Diamond, and his experiences with his own vocal group The Rockets in District Six at the time.
Still, with resilience, enthusiasm and irrepressible charm, the Cavalla Kings rise above their circumstances. So, they have to use the kitchen entrance and work as bellhops during the day … at night they blow the whites only audience away.
Their hotel cabaret takes up much of the second half, slick, energetic, highly polished numbers one after the other, staged with imagination and flair. They had the audience screaming and clapping along – and, of course a standing ovation at the end.
Kat and the Kings, by David Kramer and Taliep Petersen, and directed by David Kramer, is presented by Eric Abraham and the Fugard Theatre at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre until November 18.
Jennifer de Klerk is editor of Artslink.co.za
Montecasino Complex, Fourways Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa