WHAT DOES IT take for a pretty love song to morph into a universal standard or an absolutely adored cover? Does it have to do with how frequently the audience may get to hear the tune? Or perhaps it has to do with its presence on the musicals circuit, internationally or at home? Maybe it’s simply about whether these particular tunes are fashionable in wedding play lists. Sharon Spiegel-Wagner has curated and performs in a charming revue and ode to St Valentine’s Day named Loving You. Directed by Drew Bakker who mans the piano, the work also features performances by Lorri Strauss, who we haven’t seen on the professional stage for some years; Musanete Sakupwanya, as versatile with this kind of revue as he is with the operatic genre; and Lance Maron, who by day is an Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon.
What they yield is something they certainly have had fun making and by and large, you in the audience get swept along with its vibes. The slight concern, while they are belting it out, however, is the popularity of the music. While something from Wicked may talk to audience members who have seen the show, it’s not necessarily the one that will get the whole audience on their feet and boogying in the aisles, or all doe-eyed and smoochy with their partner next to them, like the Bee Gees’ Night Fever does.
Many of the stage musicals from which the songs here are excerpted have not been seen in South Africa, or have had a homoeopathic-sized season, like Rent. And while beautiful harmonies, intricate medleys and sophisticated understandings of how songs speak to one another musically fill the revue’s repertoire, there are few that hit the wildly popular button, certainly in South Africa. Songs of the ilk of the Jersey Boys’s Can’t take my eyes off of you or Etta James’s At Last simply aren’t here; Rather, this song book speaks of the cast’s immersion in the specialisation of musical theatre.
Looking at the work critically, this is not a minus. What might be construed as something which occasionally tips the cringe scales, however, is the recorded voices of members of the public who speak of their experiences of love. It’s a universal, something we all know in one way or another, and sometimes the platitudes articulated in the show’s interregna jar. Having said that, it’s a 75-minutes of gentle, refined loveliness that will set the tone for celebrating St Valentine’s day and all that it implies.
- Loving You: Songs from the Musicals is conceived by Sharon Spiegel-Wagner and directed by Drew Bakker. It features design by Luke Draper (lighting), Erin Hrustinsky (set) and Henry Underhay (sound). Produced by Daphne Kuhn and stage-managed by Regina Dube, it is performed by Lance Maron, Musanete Sakupwanya, Sharon Spiegel-Wagner and Lorri Strauss, with Drew Bakker on piano, until February 15 at the Auto and General Theatre on the Square, Sandton. Call 011 883 8606.