By BRUCE DENNILL
Theatre as an artform has had to get creative to make it possible to put on shows at all, so perhaps it’s fitting that the National School of the Arts, an institution designed to equip youngsters to become industry professionals, just sorted out an interim and future solution in the shape of The Dome, an outdoor, covered stage with excellent sound and lighting courtesy of Splitbeam. Seating is outdoors, on concrete stands, making COVID-19 compliance easy and, with Johannesburg into spring and summer the atmosphere created, even before the show begins, is warmly enjoyable – like-minded people, out together to enjoy live performance again.
That the show is a tribute to musicals and specifically the influence of some of the most successful and interesting Broadway productions staged since the New York theatre district rose to prominence further underlines the enduring power of live performance. The choice of songs is one of the strengths of the piece – though some of the musicals represented are almost cliches in terms of their huge popularity (Chicago, Les Miserables, West Side Story, Rent, Annie, Wicked and others), writer-director-performer Brett de Groot has picked some of the more moving or technically appealing numbers in those shows, ensuring that the playlist is never predictable.
De Groot is Simply Broadway’s narrator, delivering his own chirpy, cheeky script and covering the bases from introducing the historical background of the musical from which the following tune is drawn to pointing out how the strengths of his cast and band suit the chosen material.
De Groot is also the solo male voice in the piece, but he has versatility in both vocal range and expression that helps him to convincingly fit the roles he’s assigned himself. Louise Duhain, broadly speaking, handles the big belting female numbers and Kiruna-Lind Devar takes on everything from more operatic material to softer solos that require more sensitivity. De Groot goes from suave (Me And My Girl) to spicy (The Rocky Horror Show) and both of his co-stars step it up even further, making the most of regular costume changes to heighten both the sophistication of some of their performances and the brazen sexiness of some of the others.
An excellent band is ably led by pianist David Cousins, with the four-piece as responsible for the rise and fall of the dynamics as the singers out front.
The set-list is generous – other similar shows offer perhaps as much as a third less in terms of the amount of music – and the mix of humour and passion for musicals fills the gaps between the actual singing and dancing. There is room for a touch of polish in terms of choreography, the odd hesitation heading into a note and a couple of mic cues (more of a challenge outside) that go astray, but those are minor quibbles. These are songs and performances as good for the heart and soul as they are for the ears.