BWW Feature: The Mirth and Merit of New Musical Theatre in Cape Town
You enter a room with black, white and pink balloons bouncing off the ceiling; food tables yielding multi-colored platters; background music playing softly as a myriad of guests mingle while the sudden flash of a camera lights goes off sporadically. The Green Room (Lloyd Kandlin's Costume Department by day) has been decked out and dolled up to feel like an inner city shindig.
This isn't any ordinary Saturday night party. Under the guise of "Annie's Party", patrons are invited to take an unreserved seat and listen to short numbers that tie to each of Annie's party guests. From scorned lovers to pigeon murderers, you're not only introduced to kooky characters, but also have jumped into the world of music from New Musical Theatre (with some GREAT COMET OF 1812 thrown in for good measure).
Bonny White has been at the forefront of these musical revues for a number of years, and uses it to show off her singing students as well as give a platform to more contemporary songbooks. Her revues generally follow themes - from supporting local dog charities to end-of-year festive fun - that bring a selection of lesser-known songs from musical theatre together in one evening.
Away from the spotlights of the Artscape Opera House or formality of the Fugard Theatre, these musical revues feel almost 54 Below-esque. Each performance is stripped down to a solo or duet number, minimal lighting, a smidgen of choreography if the piece calls for it, and live piano accompaniment. What stands out from White's revues is the ability for snippets of sometimes whole musicals to tell a story; as well as a combination of vocal and acting ability to shine through in each performance (although some newer performers will have to be pardoned).
While the evenings don't boast any big names from professional musical theatre, they do sport familiar faces from community theatre. In this way, they give a glimpse into not only the players of amdram but also a few full-time performers. Standout performers I have seen over the past year include Georgia Bailey, Frances Claire, Richard White, Stuart Brown, Christine Thonissen and Erin Gemmell.
It can be debated that the world of New Musical Theatre is somewhat underappreciated in Cape Town. The reputation of New Musical Theatre should not be overlooked locally, however, just because it's not the most well-known genre. Joe Iconis' BE MORE CHILL made its Broadway debut in March of this year; finally giving the contemporary composer his proper due and paving the way for New Musical Theatre to take centre stage.
Without the prospect of a Broadway producer in the crowd at a Cape Town show, the stakes are slightly lower for off-the-wall lyrical renditions of a housewife getting a buzz from ammonia; but the performances are no less delightful. Keep an eye on local community theatre social media pages for White's upcoming revues, and make sure to get your seat at the party for an insight into the world New Musical Theatre.