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.
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.
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.