James Smith and Roelof Colyn
Theatre & Reviews

“A Handful of Keys” ticks all the right boxes

It’s been done before – but the latest version of “A Handful of Keys” once again ticks all the boxes because of an infusion of young, new talent.

Director Ian Von Memerty who conceived the idea of of two pianists enjoying themselves over the keyboards some 20 years ago , has kept the winning formula intact. The fun, the musicality and the jokes still flow effortlessly – but the shining light here is the harnessing of fresh new talent in Port Elizabethan, James Smith. He is tall, thin, with expressive features, impossibly long hair, and a bent for acting and comedy. He is a mere 19-years-old  – and what a tremendous find.

Stalwart Roelof Colyn is still at the helm and the two performers create a wonderfully energetic platform for a variety of musical styles and shadings.

James Smith and Roelof Colyn

They open with the iconic McCartney-Lennon gem “Yesterday” and display how the number would be interpreted in the style of classical composers such as Bach, Beethoven and Chopin and Liszt among others They  never stop and one musical item flows into another, the two in perfect harmony.

The musicians perform the full gambit of the world’s most famous pianists, from the Debussy, Mozart era, to the Fats Domino, Billy Joel, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Barry Manilow and Liberace epochs. They don’t miss a trick – or a funny quip –  as they change costumes and attitudes and rework some timeless classics to suit their own comedic purposes. It’s clever and engaging.

Colyn emerges in full regalia as Liberace and manages to effect the same mannerisms as the late entertainer, while Smith creates an achingly funny Elton John, also in full extravagant regalia, and demolishes “Crocodile Rock.”

Billy Joel, whom I saw at the Dome some years ago, comes up trumps through Colyn’s keen interpretation of him performing “Baby Grand,” and then later winds up with the evergreen “Piano Man.”  I also liked his take on Stevie Wonder. Some Italian opera is thrown in for good measure.

The women, too, come under scrutiny and there is a nice mix here, including a version of the famous English darling, Mrs Mills.

An added attraction at each performance is to feature a guest pianist. At  Sunday’s matinee, Samuel Hertz, a 12-year-old Johannesburg  wonder kind, showed his mettle. What a great idea to bring on stage the younger brigade because the future of music lies with the youth.

Showing the audience their piano skills

The lighting is simple and the unobtrusive set is supposed to resemble a forest but this image seems only in the eye of its creator.  What I saw seemed to be a row of long tubular pipes.

As the holiday season begins to rev up, “A Handful of Keys” is well placed to attract an audience who enjoy high calibre musicianship married to fun and laughter.

“A Handful of Keys” is on at the Main Theatre, Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways until January 7.

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About the author

Peter Feldman

Peter has been a journalist and arts critic for almost 50 years and served on The Star in various capacities for 35 years, ending up as a specialist writer on films, music and theatre. During that time he travelled extensively on assignments and interviewed many international film and pop stars, both in South Africa and overseas. He also covered some of South Africa's biggest film and musical events. He was one of only two South African journalists to be invited by Steven Spielberg to the Hook film junket in LA in 1991 where he interviewed the famous director as well as Dustin Hoffman and the late Robin Williams. He attended the gala James Bond premiere in London in 1981 and did an iconic interview in a Rolls Royce with Roger Moore who played Bond. He spent a week touring England with Queen prior to their Sun City visit in 1983, interviewed a host of international stars on films sets in Hollywood and London and was the first local journalist to nail an interview with The Rolling Stones prior to their SA visit in 1995.
He is active in the freelance field and his work has appeared in a variety of South African newspapers and magazines. He has also worked on TV and radio (ChaiFM 101.9) in his specialist capacity. Over the years Feldman has been the recipient of several awards for his contribution to music journalism and the SA record industry. He is a recent recipient of the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz award in recognition for his long standing journalistic support for the arts. He wrote lyrics for some top artists, including Sipho Mabuse, and had a hit disco single, "Video Games," which was released in 1988. He coined the phrase "Local is Lekker" which he used in his columns in The Star Tonight and broadcast in the 70s on David Gresham's popular afternoon show on Springbok Radio.

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