Review: Disco Nights

Posted: September 20, 2009 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
Tags: , ,

Director: Paul Griffiths

Starring:  Lilian Khumalo, Stella Magaba and Dorothy Engelbrecht with Take Note. Special guest: Dantanio Goodman.

Review:  Astrid Stark

 First published in The Cape Times, 15 September ‘09 

Dust the mirror ball and freshen up your afro. Disco’s back – again.

She’s poured into a black velvet cat suit which is laced with twinkling sequinned stars and which appears to be a size too small for her. Perhaps she’s a size too big. Either way it doesn’t matter; she is voluptuously sexy as she bats her ridiculously long and glittery eyelashes at the audience.  The girls of the Original Tons are camping it up in the musical tribute, Disco Nights, currently running at the NewSpace Theatre in Long Street.

Everything about Paul Griffiths’ direction for this show is big, bouncy and generously filled with riotous colours and textures. The three voluptuous disco divas; Stella, Dorothy and Lilian; are dressed in lace, velvet, satin and feathers. On their generous faces they wear layers of pastel make-up dressed up with lots of glitter. Enormous eyelashes sit like bejewelled butterflies high on their foreheads.  They look a bit like refurbished hippie hookers in drag.  Yet, somehow, a whole lot of over the top girl never looked this good.   It’s very entertaining simply watching the girls shaking their booty and playing out their big-girls-are-better act, but they also have formidable voices.

Dorothy, Stella and Lilian in Disco Nights

Dorothy, Stella and Lilian in Disco Nights

During the evening’s performance the trio belt out songs made famous by Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, the Pointer Sisters and other popular disco era singers.  You may expect foot-stomping favourites such as I will survive, We are family, Respect, Jump, and Ain’t no mountain high enough.  The girls do a bitchy rendition of Evil Woman which is at once funny and scary as they snap at snarl at each other.  

Their performance of Miriam Makeba’s Pata Pata and Strike Vilakazi’s Meadowlands is very touching and a favourite with the audience. It makes me wonder what a tribute to South African 70’s ‘disco’ musicians would sound, and look, like.

Dorothy and Stella both started their careers in choirs and Lilian first trained as a cordon bleu chef before finding her true vocation.  Between the three of them they have won multiple awards and have featured in radio, television and stage productions. The trio who started out at On Broadway joined Madame Zingara’s Theatre of Dreams for two years and performed with them both locally and abroad. 

Take Note, a live band from Cape Town accompanies the trio and this sextet of young men seems to derive a lot of joy from watching the girls grinding and gyrating on the dancefloor.  The charismatic band has performed internationally and they are a good accompaniment to the strong female voices. 

And then Michael Jackson enters the stage, or rather Dantanio Goodman, performing a medley of Jackson’s songs.   Goodman has the longest rubberlike legs that do a legendary moonwalk to the hysterically screaming of girls in the audience.  Not that he looks anything like the pop legend, and not that it makes much of a difference. His voice is uncannily similar and his mannerisms are spot on.

One complaint is that at times the sound seemed a bit unbalanced.  When the girls growled and bantered with the audience, their voices were often drowned out by the music, and it was hard to follow what they were saying.  Since it was opening night, one should expect this technicality to be smoothed out in time.   Before you go, it’s also wise to bear in mind that the music is loud, fast and relentless. If you’re a fan of disco; you’re in for a treat. If you are a bit of a square and you have been dragged out by your platform shoe wielding friend or partner, you may find it all a bit too loud and camp.  However, if you can free your mind a little, you may well find that your booty will soon follow, and you might just end up boogying with the rest of the audience under the mirror ball. 

The NewSpace Theatre has come a long way since opening last year in November.  The bare-bones décor has been replaced by decadent and dramatic touches.  These days Boo Radley, Anytime Trattoria and The Quarter restaurants are busy and cosy which makes the theatre complex a gorgeous one-stop venue for those who love wine, woman song and all things artsy.

Disco Nights runs until 26 September

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