CELEBRATING its 20th anniversary this year is the production A Handful of Keys. It’s a show that has left audiences spellbound and it returns for a run at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on UKZN Campus from April 2 to 27.
Featuring Ian von Memerty and Roelof Colyn, A Handful of Keys, has toured from South Africa to Dubai, London and New York City.
According to a press release, the show features a firecracker script and two grand pianos played with unparalleled virtuosity. It entertains with music and songs from Elton John, Richard Clayderman, Nora Jones, Alicia Keys, Billy Joel, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Liberace through to Bach, Debussy, Chopin and more.
Tonight chatted to Ian von Memerty, who conceived and has starred in the production with Bryan Schimmel since its inception in 1994.
“I suppose my experience has been much like the audience’s. The audience comes in not knowing what to expect from a two-man piano show and they leave delighted and surprised. They want more because it’s not what they expected and I am very much surprised myself and want more,” he says enthusiastically.
Having played to more than 400 000 people on five continents in 1 250 shows, with five cast combinations and with nine national awards to its name, A Handful of Keys is a local show of international standard.
Why does the show resonate so well with audiences?
“You can never can tell what makes the magic in showbiz. But it’s a combination of great music and talent working at virtually its best. Audiences like to see the best at its peak.
“And A Handful of Keys is such great entertainment, such laughter and variety, so people can say ‘I know what the show is going to be like’ and then be totally shocked by what will happen next.
“And we’re constantly reinventing the show in front of them on stage. It’s only two people on stage, but it becomes a celebration of our own delight with the audience.
“I think that’s why we had so many repeat shows. People have seen it a few times, like maybe five times, because it constantly evolves in front of you. You are uplifted and entertained.”
Von Memerty says the response he receives from the audience across the globe is overwhelming: “Musical theatre should feel like a holiday. When people go on a holiday, life is just better and they feel better after a holiday. And the show makes you feel like that. You just laugh at things and it inspires people. And that’s what theatre is about.
“Theatre is a communication between the artist and the audience.”
What’s interesting is that the show opened six weeks after democracy was born in South Africa.
Von Memerty shares: “A few weeks after April 1994, the show was released and it’s grown just as the country has grown. It’s become better and brighter and stagier.
“You just feel humble and more than proud that a show can run for 20 people and have the same appeal, if not a greater appeal, than before.”
On working with Colyn, he says they have worked together for about 12 years and it’s always an amazing partnership.
“He and I have done 660 shows together. Roelof is the most musical person I have ever met. He has the most charming personality and has funny bones. He can do a funny face and people instantly laugh at the sight of it.”
Besides A Handful of Keys, Von Memerty has a handful on his plate. Occupied with three other projects, he is directing the Fiesta Awards for kykNET, a live two-hour TV show.
Thereafter, he will direct Call Me Lee starring Jonathon Roxmouth in Cape Town and a week later, Star Light Classics featuring the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra.
Back to A Handful of Keys. I ask von Memerty if the production ever gets tedious after all these years.
“Well, I left for a long time. I had about a seven-year break from performing in it. And it’s the most challenging show I have done.
“I feel like I never get it right; to sing it, to perform it, play the piano, to get the comedy and the performance right, I feel like I’m never going to crack it. So I never get bored of it. And it’s something new every time. I keep coming back for more.”
l A Handful of Keys runs from April 2 to 27 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, UKZN Howard Campus. Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday at 3pm. R150 at Computicket.