Diane de Beer
It was last year more or less this time when Jonathan Roxmouth and Ian von Memerty started talking seriously about Call Me Lee, a show about a man Roxmouth had long admired.
“I was introduced to Liberace by my gran,” he says and those who know his story will also know that his grandmother was the one who enveloped him in musical theatre.
But back to Von Memerty, they were together in New York doing a season of Handful of Keys which was fortunate because Roxmouth could also do some serious shopping for the show. “Like those silver boots,” he says pointing to glitter probably only someone on stage could get away with.
“It made sense to have Ian on board as director as we started out on a show with pianos. Now it’s full circle,” he says.
Because of their experience together, writing this show together and Ian directing made even more sense.
“We can say no to one another,” he says.
They also both have musical nous on their side which should all come in handy.
But the show grew even further. Roxmouth knew he wanted one actor to do all the other roles – from the brother to his manager, all the way to his mother Frances – but when they did auditions, both Samuel Hyde (his professional debut) and Weslee Lauder’s work persuaded him to make this a trio rather than a duo. “Immediately,” he says, “there’s more energy in the room.”
“We cover him from 13 to 67,” says the entertainer without even a stressful note to his voice. But then, if anyone can pull it off, Roxmouth can. He has already achieved more in his young career than many have done in a lifetime and doesn’t seem to balk at any challenge. And if anyone has the chutzpah to do Liberace on stage following the recent film Behind the Candelabra, he’s your man.
“I don’t think all that many people saw the movie and that was one man’s perspective,” pointing to the fact that the movie was based on the book by former lover Scott Thorson, “not the most reliable witness in the world”, he injects.
Roxmouth fell in love with the music long before he became aware of the man but he has always been amazed that not more has featured on stage about this showman.
“I adore him and want to show why he’s so great,” he says.
Of course, the way he performed, the fact that he was a pianoman, all play perfectly for the creation of Call Me Lee. Best described, Roxmouth says, it’s a concert biography: “It’s about the story, the concert, the costumes, the rings but also the music. You can’t share his life without the music.”
For Hyde, this is a dream come true. It started out as quite a scary prospect, working with these stage wizards, but he soon caught on and the learning curve is exciting. Lauder has been around not much longer but he has per- forming and teaching experience on his side. Both of them have delighted in the organic nature of the process of creating a new work.
“It’s a wonderful stretch from a blueprint musical,” says Roxmouth, who does at least two of these a year when available. “This is a process of discovery.”
He first went the obvious route to climb into this larger than life character – listened to the music, watched the DVDs, YouTube and read all the books. What he loves most is the discovery of who the man truly was. “He was a little boy in a man’s body.” That’s what he found most appealing.
“He never swore on stage and never used any cheap tricks. He adored his audience and it showed.”
That, he believes, is the success of the star.
Music. Glitter. Laughter. What more do you need for a great night out at the theatre? Especially in these tough times. The tougher the times, the lighter the entertain- ment, says Roxmouth. Being his own showman, he will make it the best he can. It’s almost like a match made in heaven, these two pianomen – Roxmouth and Liberace. Then you add another spoonful of sugar – Von Memerty. And showbiz junkies could hardly wish for anything more.
It’s about the quality of his performance, says Roxmouth about Liberace – and that’s what he aims to get on stage with armfuls of glitter and glitz.
lCall Me Lee opens at Theatre on the Bay tomorrow and runs until March 15 before moving to Joburg on April 2 where it takes over from The Rocky Horror Show.