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Nataniël is on his usual roll with the launch of his first CD in five years – a DVD of his show Factory at Emperors Palace last year with a bonus CD included – he is in the process of shooting seasonfour and five of Nataniël se Tafel, his KykNET food show, and he’s planning his August/September run at Emperors.
That all happens before a two-week tour of Australia and New Zealand in May, the launch of a new book later this year and he has a few other secret tricks up his sleeve.
For those who don’t have the chance to see his extravagant Emperors shows, the DVD is a bonus. It was shot over 10 days during his concerts with only one camera from different seats in the auditorium. “I want people to see it as the audience does,” he says. There aren’t any camera tricks. It’s simply a replica of the show and captures the essence of the creativity, the costumes, the music but most of all the performer.” He has also included a CD separately of the music, “because I liked the music for the show so much”.
He has put together a great performance team who’s been working together for a few shows now and he wanted to do a live album together. “I call it stage recording,” he says.
Titled Moodswing, when it came to the recording, he was in the right frame of mind. “It’s the strongest cast I’ve had for a long, long time,” he says. They’re young, the energy is popping and he loves the voices. “We’re a gang,” he says.
“If I’m in the closet about anything, it’s that I’m really a swing singer. I love music that sounds like jazz but I’m not a purist. It’s not really jazz but it’s inspired by jazz,” is how he explains it.
The cover of the disc – pink and green dots – reminds him of anti-depressants, hence Moodswing.
He regards this as his most representative album and declares that those who don’t like this music, won’t ever. “It’s got everything.”
If you know his songs, as prolific as he is as a composer with new songs for every show and those mini-seasons he does during the year, you will have a favourite genre. For me, he really rocks when he switches to swing – and this one is a stunning example of that.
It’s a mix of old and new songs, some his own compositions, covers by singers he admires like Sarah Vaughan or Duke Ellington and he has huge fun with Honeysuckle Rose – he does it up-tempo because that’s how he experiences a busy bee.
Tongue -in-cheek with the cover which is all about playing around with a perfect image and faking it with paper lashes, “it was rejected by a magazine because they didn’t get the point”, he says. But he loves it and while he hates the fact that he is ageing, he finds he’s much more relaxed. “The company was amazed that I didn’t fix any of my pictures (in the CD sleeve),” he explains. “I even smile in one – my most unfortunate feature!”
The album features four bonus studio tracks. Two are in Afrikaans (for those who understand the language). And two are of his sublime stories, which because of the way he speaks – the famous Nataniël voice and inflection – work as well on audio as on stage.
If you don’t know his work, Factory and Moodswing are excellent samples. And if you are a show virgin and succumb, you could go to his annual Emperors show in August titled Rainbow at Midnight.
For the past decade plus he has kicked off his year at the casino with a six-week run of his most ambitious annual show. This year it has moved to August through to September. “Each December, I do a Christmas Centurion Theatre run for a week with another in January for those who couldn’t get bookings. I put as much effort into these shows with too-short runs.” At the end of last year, because the big show wasn’t looming, he could do a six-week run – and sold out.
As we speak, he’s setting the stage for his coming extrav. For the first time the show is set in his favourite period, Victorian. “All my designs always reflect that, but now I can really go big. I’ve almost replicated everything that was done on a Victorian stage except the cardboard waves,” he says.
Because he doesn’t use 3D or any special effects, he manufactures everything on stage. “It’s about building the sets and lighting,” he says. “Life is about lighting. From sex, food, age… It’s the most magical stage tool available.”
In a world of bigger and better, he’s had to find a way to excite audiences with nothing more than 10 tons of cardboard, sequins and a smoke machine. Visually, Nataniël is the best and probably his own most demanding taskmaster.
“I’m watching an old Marilyn Monroe movie tonight to see the tricks they use.” He marvels at the way they applied draping for example to achieve certain results or lit an infinity staircase.
He is already excited to gather his troupe, his regular musicians (Charl du Plessis, Jean Oosthuizen, Werner Spies, and Hugo Radyn with Tonia Selleck on vocals and percussion) and singers (Nicolaas Swart, Lindiwe Bungane and Corlea). But before that he’s off on his Australia and New Zealand tour with shows mostly in English to attract the Aussies, Kiwis and of course, the expats.
There’s also the publication of an Omnibus of Nataniël short story books with so many of the old titles out of print. Students and scholars are constantly looking for these for drama classes and competitions.
That still leaves almost a third of the year (not to mention his one-off shows all over the country). For the most part, this is a good time. And as he has discovered, there’s a company in New York with the highest stilettos yet, so he’s all powerful. Watch the DVD and listen to the music. He’s an artist to cherish!