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Jack and the Beanstalk is Janice Honeyman’s 26th pantomime and for young Timothy LeRoux, the 10th year he is there as her assistant. It’s almost impossible to contemplate how director/writer Honeyman comes up with a fresh and innovative festive pantomime every year. But she does, her audiences know she will deliver and this is arguably the one fail-safe production of the tricky Gauteng theatre season. Again she’s gathered the troops led by panto prince Tobie Cronje as the giant’s evil sidekick, as well as funnyman Desmond Dube as the Dame. Star comic Louise Saint-Claire is this year’s fairy, Felma-Fabbadabba-dozy with the emphasis on dozy, while Nandi Nyembe, (Zone 14, Soul Sister) and David Clatworthy add extra clout. The romantic leads return last year’s Prince Charming Bongi Mthombeni as Jack with Carly Graeme’s Raspberry Rose catching the young man’s eye. DIANE DE BEER chats to one of this year’s panto top dogs...
Top 10 finalist on the sixth season of Idols, Bongi Mthombeni, will play the title role of Jack in this year’s Joburg pantomime.
This is the second year running that Mthombeni has been asked to play the romantic lead after wowing audiences as Prince Charming in Janice Honeyman’s Cinderella.
And he is blown away at being invited back a second time round.
“I didn’t expect that,” he says as he recalls how out of sorts he was last year when he was invited on to the panto stage.
“I have to admit I didn’t know a thing,” says the young man who impressed many of us with his strong Idols performance.
One didn’t expect much more than a good voice, but even on his first outing and with no stage training, Mthombeni easily gave us more.
This time, he’s much more at home but perhaps also a little more aware of the huge responsibility.
As a self-taught musician, he was always out there making music, and usually this was how he was spotted and sent to auditions to try his luck.
First he found himself in the final 10 of the Idols competition and more recently he was also in the final five of Kyknet’s Die Sanger competition.
“I speak and sing in Afrikaans, too,” says the young performer, who is happy to go anywhere his talent pushes him. “It’s also about breaking barriers.”
He has his own band, Lemongrass, which has shared the stage with the likes of aKing, The Parlotones and Freshlyground, and while he has never pushed for a solo career, this is what seems to be happening.
After last year’s panto, he has been guided by many and is thrilled to be back.
The panto is often full of surprises, which extends to the casting, and Honeyman has taken an unexpected route which will delight Mthombeni fans.
Last year the young lead barely knew what a read-through was and often felt he had to busk his way through. “Everyone else looked so professional,” he says.
But he obviously showed his mettle.
“I thought last year was hard, but this time it’s 10 times harder.”
With Cinderella, he was only on stage for selected moments. However in the title role this year, he does most of the walking and talking.
He’s also more familiar with being Mthombeni on stage rather than Jack, but that will change as he gets more comfortable with the character. Having watched him in rehearsals, it seems this won’t be too tough for this entertainer.
Mthombeni believes he was born to be on stage. While kwaito and house music have never been his favourite performance genres, he has rocked, reggaed and sung Afrikaans songs. That’s the music he feels most comfortable with.
As Jack in this year’s panto, he might do any of those three. Who can guess what Honeyman has up her creative sleeve?
However, whatever the questions flung his way, Mthombeni hopes to answer them brilliantly.
If he and Honeyman have their say, another panto star has been born.
• Jack and the Beanstalk opens on the stage of The Mandela at Joburg Theatre on tomorrow and runs until December 30. Tickets are on sale at www.joburgtheatre.com, or call 0861 670 670. Discounted rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling the theatre at 011 877 6853/4.