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It’s time to shake, rattle and roll!


YOU were always on my mind … Shaky Russell is Elvis. Photograph by Gavin Buckle.

WHAT IS THE best way of celebrating a grand old dame of hospitality in this city? Should it out-lavish its already rather lavish self, and appeal only to the very wealthy, with exclusive shiny deals? Should it publish a glossy book about all the guests who have stayed in its rooms and all the deals that have sprouted from the interstices of its iconic architecture? Neither, actually: there are few things as delightful as celebrating an old milestone with a new perspective. The Balalaika, a four star hotel in the heart of Sandton, has just turned 70, and the Van Der Merwe and Visagie families at its helm have opened a pop-up theatre in one of its venues.

Named simply Live at the Balalaika, It’s a 180-seater, red carpet affair with roving lights and sound to make your dentures tremble. The opening event saw Tim Plewman MCing with the delightful Elvis impersonator, Shaky Russell and his band, doing their shtick. And the trick of this? Why, it’s almost a no-brainer – the kind that will get even the most die hard of cynics out there boogying on the floor.

Elvis is something like Shakespeare. There is so much of his lyrics, his music, his anecdotes  and his body language that have seeped into common parlance, that he’s a universal brand. Still the biggest grossing performer in the western world, his music is the ideal ice breaker for a new theatre in the heart of Joburg’s historically wealthy northern suburbs.

The show is replete with very well known standards, from not only Elvis but Neil Diamond, Peggy Lee and Bobby Darrin, to mention a few, that will keep you on your toes and get your heart wishing for more. While Shaky’s wig feels a little like a carapace, and the venue is not raked, yet, this is a starting point that’s like a shot in the arm for the theatre industry.

Going forward, it’s unlikely that Live at the Balalaika will be a venue that will host avant-garde or experimental theatre and contemporary dance. Its mandate is about entertainment with glittery cliches and capital letters, and there’s nothing wrong with that: the theatre industry in this city is bursting at the seams with talented entertainers who can do just that. Similar in model to that of Foxwood Theatre in Houghton, which sees the theatre being siphoned into hospitality packages, Live at the Balailaka will open new doors to the industry. Bravo!

  • For its opening season, the venue stages Tim Plewman in Rob Becker’s Defending the Caveman on Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday matinee until March 29; and Viva Las Vegas: The Ultimate Tribute Show by Shaky Russell and his band on Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 8pm through the month of March, including a performance on Saturday March 30 at 8pm and another on March 31 at 3pm, at Live at the Balalaika in Maude Street, Sandton. Call 011 322-5000

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