BWW Interviews: Steven van Wyk on Making Broadway Songs 'BEARABLE' at the National Arts Festival this July
Steven van Wyk is a classic triple threat, whose star in the mainstream musical theatre industry is fast on the rise and whose work as a dancer and choreographer has won him great acclaim as well as Kyknet Fiesta and Standard Bank Ovation Awards. In between his busy preparations for the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, which starts this week, I sat down with Steven to chat about his brand new musical theatre comedy cabaret, BEARABLE BROADWAY.
David Fick: You've recently appeared in a string of hit musicals - like SUNSET BOULEVARD and THE SOUND OF MUSIC - on stages around the country. How did you get started in musical theatre?
Steven van Wyk: As a kid, I was very into musical theatre. I was Gavroche in LES MISERABLES when it was performed in South Africa in 1996 and in other big shows like ANNIE, so musical theatre is very much a part of my DNA. After school, I did a year of full-time studying at the Waterfront Theatre School, where I completed a Performer's Diploma in Musical Theatre, which I followed up with a Bachelor's Degree in Social Sciences, majoring in dance and anthropology.
DF: You also have a successful dance career in addition to your musical theatre work and you've been producing your own dance work for a few years now. With all of those disciplines at your fingertips, what's your favourite thing to do?
SvW: I love to dance and to perform, but the thing that really makes me happiest is making theatre, where I can explore ideas and make things happen and tick more boxes than if I was only performing.
DF: And BEARABLE BROADWAY lets you make theatre while performing , and also reaches back to your roots in musical theatre. How did the idea for the show come about?
SvW: I wanted to do a musical theatre revue that didn't take itself too seriously. Show tunes can be so camp and cheesy, and there are a lot of people who love to hate them. The idea is to play into the campiness of it all and tap into people's secret love for show tunes. The concept for singing the songs in bear suits was born when someone told me about BROADWAY BARES and I thought he was talking about bears and tried to figure out what he meant. Of course, I then found out that BROADWAY BARES was a strip show, but I took away the idea of dressing up in bear suits for BEARABLE BROADWAY.
DF: How did you begin to choose material?
SvW: There were some songs that I knew from the start that I wanted to include: "Do You Know Where You're Going To?", "Cell Block Tango" and "I've Never Been to Me". After that, we started to look for Broadway songs that we could twist to suit our "Air Bear" theme.
DF: That's the other aspect of the show. The two bears in the show are also air stewards.
SvW: Those first three songs really all had something to do with the concept of a journey and the kind of songs they are, means that the journey is going to be camp and kitsch. So the natural jump was to link travelling with the traditionally camp perceptions of air hostesses, at which point everything fell into place.
DF: Who else is involved in the show?
SvW: I started conceptualising the show with David Butlin, who then got his dream job as chorus master at Cape Town Opera, so he became unavailable for the show. When David called with the news, I was dancing in QUEEN AT THE BALLET and was with Martin Harding in the dressing room. Martin said he'd do the show and so he joined the project. Being a fantastic dancer as well as a singer, this took the show into more of a song and dance piece than we originally thought it would be. The other person that has been involved in the show is Candice van Litsenborgh. Doing so much on the show meant that I needed to have an outside eye, so I asked Candice to fill that role. She understands camp and has a musical theatre background, and I knew I could trust her with this very left of centre concept.
DF: Who should come to watch BEARABLE BROADWAY?
SvW: It's for people who have a passing interest in musical theatre and fans of Broadway shows, but it's also for people who love to hate show tunes and people with an off-the-wall, dry sense of humour.
With that, Steven had to get back into his bear suit for final rehearsals for the show, but if you fall into any one of those groups, then BROADWAY BEARS will appeal to you. The show had a special preview at the Galloway Theatre in Cape Town last Saturday that had audiences rolling in the aisles with laughter. If you would like more information on Steven's shows and performances, you can follow him on Twitter (@stevevanwyk1) and keep up with BROADWAY BEARS using the hashtags #BearableBroadway and #AirBear.
BEARABLE BROADWAY will be performed at the National Arts Festival at the Beethoven Room at the following dates and times: 7 July at 11am and 6pm; 8 July at 11am, 9 July at 9pm, 10 July at 3pm, 11 July at 11am and 9pm and 12 July at 7pm. Bookings can be made through the National Arts Festival website.
Photo credit: Jeanine Bresler/Candice van Litsenborgh