MILESTONES TO THE MILLENNIUM, by Mike McCullagh, with Jonathan Dryer, Candice Thorne, Moenier Adams, Celeste Schoeman and Christian Marais. At the GrandWest Roxy Revue Bar until January 12. TYRONE AUGUST reviews.
IT’S THAT time of the year again when family movies, musical revues and pantomimes become the main fare on the entertainment circuit. Too often, though, the festive season is little more than an excuse for mediocrity disguised as holiday fun.
So it was with some trepidation, then, that one set off to see Milestones to the Millennium – a tribute to popular music between the 1960s and the 1990s (although, strictly speaking, some material was first performed during the 1950s).
Well, it is what it is. But, even so, it is particularly accomplished at what it does. It is a well-rehearsed production, and features a group of performers obviously carefully selected for their ability to move easily across different music styles.
And the five vocalists and four-member backing band get on with it. There are no fancy technical gimmicks or laboured banter. They let the music speak for itself.
They start off with The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh), the version of the Solomon Linda composition made popular in the 1960s by The Tokens. Then it’s Elvis Presley’s Blue Suede Shoes and Tina Turner’s River Deep Mountain High. This eclectic introduction sets the scene for the evening.
The vocalists have a charming stage presence – Celeste Schoeman, in particular, is impressive. Her rendition of Aretha Franklin’s Respect was the stuff of goose bumps. And she did justice to the trio Joy’s Paradise Road all by herself.
Jonathan Dryer, who doubles up as MC, is engagingly versatile. He moves effortlessly from Johnny Nash’s mellow I Can see Clearly Now to Bob Marley’s plaintive Could You be Loved to Stevie Wonder’s seductive Superstition to James Brown’s raucous I Got You (I Feel Good).
Christian Marais appears on stage far less, but makes an impact every time. He is a remarkably convincing Presley impersonator and also delights when he prances about mischievously as Queen lead vocalist Freddie Mercury.
But it is when he disappears inside the persona of Dr Frank-N-Furter from the musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show that he is at his very best. His cheeky rendition of Sweet Transvestite is a particular highlight of the show.
Candice Thorne gets a chance to strut her stuff in River Deep Mountain High, and also teams up memorably with Moenier Adams in the Lionel Ritchie/Diana Ross duo Endless Love. Although Adams was a little more subdued than usual, he thrilled the audience as well with his recreation of Michael Jackson’s moves in Blame it on the Boogie.
The vocalists are supported by an outstanding band, which remains in the background the whole time. Denzil Thorne (keyboards), Neil Payton (bass guitar), Safwaan Goodenough (drums) and Jethro Stanger (lead guitar) make no attempt to intrude, and are all the more effective for it.
And when Stanger does step into the limelight to bravely try his hand at a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo, only the most ungenerous will refuse to acknowledge his talent. His cameo performance is certainly one way of making a point about the band’s capabilities.
Milestones to the Millennium is, all in all, a thoroughly enjoyable evening. It makes no pretensions about what it is: a showcase of popular songs from days gone by. Nor does it try to dress itself up with fancy lighting or other technical distractions.
It is, quite simply, nothing more than a fun trip down memory lane aimed at the holiday market. But the performers clearly enjoy taking the audience on that journey; the genuine pleasure they get from the music is unmistakable, and is enthusiastically conveyed to the audience.
What an unexpected treat.
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