ArtSpoken & Reviews

Bennie's Dancing Down Broadway in PE

Bob Eveleigh
06/11/2019 11:24:26

Bob Eveleigh: The PE Gilbert and Sullivan Society describes Dancing Down Broadway as "a musical spectacular celebrating song and dance" - and it’s exactly that.

On a showcase set and with superbly colourful, glitzy costuming throughout, director and choreographer Bennie Gerber has taken the concept and given it vibrant life on the Savoy Theatre stage in Port Elizabeth.

Bennie has won Woodlands Showtime Awards as both a highly talented lead performer and choreographer of individual routines several times in the past but this brilliant sequence of Broadway songs and dances, is his first highly personal take on a genre that he obviously holds very dear to his heart.

Working mainly with a youngish team of associates and performers (I was really thrilled to see so many alumni from the past years of my Showtime revues in this line-up including three of the "stars" of this production in Maryanne Van Eyssen, Gemma Barnard and Kehly Windvogel), Bennie has fashioned a programme of numbers that any follower of Broadway musical theatre would be a fool to miss.

From the opening 42nd Street to the closing One, from A Chorus Line, both featuring the complete company, the programme was an absolute song and dance joy to witness and definitely sets a new marker down for G&S "revue"-style presentations - it is certainly the very best of its type yet seen in this theatre.

Working with co-director, Candida Merifield, and with further assistance from Maryanne (who now boasts much experience in Pieter Toerien and other productions), Kehly, and with Kasvia von Memerty as Dance Captain (a showbiz term that REALLY means something given the extent and range of this programme) and with special balletic input from current Showtime director/choreographer Suiobhan Day, as guest choreographer, who also dances in many routines, Bennie pulls it all together in an almost magical manner.

And along the way also helps several younger performers to be seen to advantage as well.

Space does obviously not permit of mention of all the highlights but Maryanne and Gemma score best in their numerous numbers.

Maryanne delights the audience in Le Jazz Hot from Julie Andrews' Victor, Victoria, and 20th Century Fox Mambo, from Bombshell, the still to be seen Broadway adaptation using the songs from the hit TV series Smash, about a Great White Way musical about Marilyn Monroe, as well as, along with Gemma and newcomer singer Anna Sliwinski, At the Ballet, from A Chorus Line.

She also partners Bennie himself in the best tap number in the show, Whenever You're Away from Me, originally seen in the film, Xanadu, done by Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton John way back in 1980 and which later went to Broadway.

For me this was one of the genuine highlights in Dancing Down Broadway, since I love this type of easy tap duo, which Kelly used extensively in his screen career and which, in its easily casual way, is not as easy to pull off is it seems.

The number, which popped up unexpectedly early in the show, was so casually great that it, in my opinion, deserved a later slot in the second half.

Gemma fares just as well with Dance 10, Looks 3, the cheeky "t" and "a" number from A Chorus Line, the Cats showstopper, Mungojerry and Rumpleteaser, with Ziki Xhotyeni, the lilting, lovely Once Upon a December, from Anastasia (with Day ballet troupe), while Kehly sings up a storm in her solo If They Could See Me Now from Sweet Charity.

Kasvia leads one item number tremendously well when she takes on Show Off, which is a showstopper from the little-known 1920s Broadway parody, The Drowsy Chaperone, in similar style to her Rent "act" last year.

It is a lengthy production number using the whole company in support and replete with a number of costume changes while belting out the vocal.

The "song" side of the show allows Anna Sliwinski to handle such rarely heard compositions songs as My Husband Makes Movies, from Nine, Maybe This TIme from Cabaret, and in At the Ballet, with Maryanne and Gemma.

The two similarly styled Hey Big Spender and Cellblock Tango are put across with verve by members of the company in suitable style - it never ceases to amaze how dancers can sing well enough to make this latter standard work.

The males are not as well served as the females in this show in general terms although singers Khuselo Gqiba and Lesego Mkwanazi have great fun with Fat & Greasy from the Fats Waller jazz revue, Ain't Misbehavin'.

The funniest item is Cabaret's Two Ladies, hilariously done by Candida (who also scores in another Nine number, Be Italian) with Bennie and David Jin, but several of the company score, such as Megan Calder, revealing a lovely singing voice with the opening 42nd Street vocal, and Charlize Visser, having fun as the nun who sings I Wanna Be a Star in Nunsense, a number paralleled immediately by Megan, Kerry-Le Jeffrey and Maryanne, with another Bombshell number, Let Me Be Your Star.

The sheer amount of work required in staging all these items - and many more I have not mentioned - allows the audience to forget about Bennie Gerber's individual role in their creation and I dofff my critical hat to him for bringing it along with G&S to PE audiences.

There is such a focus on excellence in dance in the performance of this presentation that one tends to forget the immense amount of work that must have been put in by vocal director Amanda du Plessis to attain the overall singing standards heard in the show.

There is hardly anything worthy of actual critical attention although the structure seems at fault here and there - for example, the second half solo vocal opener, Nature Boy, a hit for Nat "King" Cole, has no real place in a show mainly about dance, especially in the dull staging given here, and it might well have been deleted and replaced for far greater "wake up" audience impact by the next item, the company doing Masquerade, with its constantly inter-weaving movement.

Similarly, on occasions, a vocal solo is followed by a vocal solo, where the second song might have been better positioned elsewhere.

But that is possibly a carping criticism since it was obvious from the reactions of the capacity audience present when I saw the show - that this is very definitely a production that fully deserves standing ovations.

Very well done, Bennie - and G&S.

Dancing Down Broadway, at the Savoy Theatre, in Port Elizabeth, from Tuesday to Saturday, June 11 to 15, at 19:00, plus Saturday matinee at 13:00. Book at Computicket outlets.

Bob Eveleigh
Related Venue:
Savoy Theatre, Adcockvale Port Elizabeth Eastern Cape South Africa