By BRUCE DENNILL
One More Night – The Ultimate Phil Collins Tribute Show / Produced by Add-Life Productions / Theatre Of Marcellus, Emperors Palace, Johannesburg
There is an element of bad luck to the way this production has played at the beginning of its run. The show’s creator and central performer, Victor James Chapman, was unfortunate to lose his voice part-way through the opening night, though it’s reasonable to query what element of his preparation might have been improved to ensure the stamina needed for this production.
The decision, at the eleventh hour, to draft Pretoria-based country music singer John Masser to help share the load was no doubt made with the best intentions, but, though Masser’s voice is good, he was simply not familiar enough with the songs in his first performance, leading to very tentative singing and a surfeit of fidgeting with in-ear monitors, microphones and anything else he could divert attention on to. Again, it’s perhaps unfair to blame the vocalist, as he was put on the spot. But when the excellent backing band contains more than enough talent to fill any gaps – backing vocalist Lenor Cloete has all the range and vocal power needed (and plenty in reserve), and she was part of the preparation from the start and is intimately familiar with the arrangements – it might have been the wiser route to say “No thanks”.
To that backing band: Andries Visser as the show’s full-time stickman – Chapman only joins him for the occasional solo – is absolutely rock-solid, as is his rhythm section partner, Fuzz Senekal on bass. Guitarist Antonio Orrico is a fluid, confident player with all the chops to pull off the solos from Phil Collins’ original arrangements. Elsewhere, curiously, members of the horn section are shifted to percussion duty or to bolster the backing vocals, sometimes displacing musicians who had started in those positions – often to the detriment of the overall sound.
These slightly odd production decisions affect both the flow and the quality of the show. There is a linking narrative that suggests that the audience’s journey through Collins’ career is like a flight between two destinations, which, though obviously reflecting Emperors Palace’s situation across the road from OR Tambo International Airport, makes absolutely no sense in the context of the subject matter dealt with in the well-known lyrics.
Chapman does his best, staying on the move throughout, though too often noticeably glued to his teleprompter. He’s not the most natural frontman, his looks and dance style calling to mind the actor Geoffrey Rush playing a singer who is channelling Phil Collins. His voice, which still sometimes sounds somewhat strained despite the shared load and some re-writes to avoid the thrilling high notes, has good tone, suggesting that, at full capacity, it’d be an impressive instrument.
So yes: there was unexpected turmoil in an already stressful part of the production cycle, meaning that the current cast is not as well-rehearsed as a unit as they should be. As good as the band is, it’s noticeable when they have to pick up dropped balls. It’s unfortunate, but it’s not the audience’s fault, and Phil Collins fans expecting something close to the level of what the man himself delivers will be disappointed. Here’s hoping that the glitches will be speedily rectified, allowing for the performers to realise their full potential.