VERY OCCASIONALLY, SOMETHING comes along which not only ticks every conceivable box in terms of a great production, but it also sets the audience on fire with delicious abandon, and has otherwise demure people dancing in the aisles like demons; people who will drive home with the CD from the show blaring as though they were teenagers and the era was the pumping 1960s. This is what may happen to you, if you come and see Jonathan Roxmouth and Weslee Swain Lauder’s impeccable and flawless Great Balls of Fire: The Tale of Jerry Lee Lewis.
With Roxmouth in the eponymous role, demonstrating the sureness of his triple threat skills – he can act, sing and play the piano with a sense of verve and electricity that will give you a clean and wholesome understanding of the complex challenges that the young Lewis faced, coming from a religious yet hillbilly context, in the shadow of Elvis Presley. It was a time when the Louisiana community from which he originated was seething with racist values and painted jazz as the progeny of Satan. It was a time of radio culture, moral restrictions and opportunities that were ripe for the taking.
But this show is far more than an historical document. With Michael Richard superbly in the role of Lewis’s father, and Ashley Butcher taking the whole stage with her voice alone, as Lewis’s teenaged second wife (and second cousin) Myra Brown, not to forget the suave Craig Urbani as producer Sam Phillips and supporting performance and narrative roles by Clive Gilson, Stephan van Huyssteen and J House, this show proves that one doesn’t need a huge cast or an overseas contingent to create something that genuinely sizzles, from beginning to end.
The staging, the set, the choreography and above all, the persona embraced by Roxmouth, in his person and also in the spirit with which he infuses that little honky tonk piano, are handled with acumen. It’s the 1960s era without artifice and apology and it will infuse your heart and soul with a remembered enthusiasm for classic Jerry Lee Lewis and his characteristic see-saw rhythms on the piano.
The only anomaly in the narrative invokes death. Lewis is still alive today. Indeed: he married his seventh wife in 2012; and while he faced several tragic losses concurrently, the story becomes a little blurred in its focus toward the end. But it is at this point that you get off your chair to jive in the aisles, leaving narrative threads that are not neatly tailed off, without consequence, because you’re too busy rattling and shaking your own booty.
Over and above the tribute nature of such a show, Great Balls of Fire is prescient. It’s about all those good values of believing in yourself and knowing you can do something astonishing, even if the world is too afraid to allow you to, but it’s also about a wild and unrestrained positive energy – that we all need rather badly. This is easily the best show of this nature hosted in the last 10 years.
- Great Balls of Fire: The Tale of Jerry Lee Lewis is written by Jonathan Roxmouth and Weslee Swain Lauder and directed by Weslee Swain Lauder. It features design by Nadine Minnaar (set), Dorianne M’Eaudisch (costumes), Oliver Hauser (lighting), Fried Wilsenach (sound) and Jonathan Roxmouth (musical direction and arrangements), is performed by Ashleigh Butcher, Clive Gilson, J House, Michael Richard, Jonathan Roxmouth, Craig Urbani and Stephan van Huyssteen until August 12 at the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino theatre complex in Fourways. Call 011 511-1818.
- Roxmouth performs The Musicals in Concert at Teatro, Montecasino for four shows only on August 17, 18 and 19.