Review – A Handful of Keys: wit, cheek and talent galore

2013-04-25 16:11

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To get away with this much clowning around, you need to be so well rehearsed you can play Rhapsody in Blue backwards (almost) and have a whole lot of talent to back you up.

Ian von Memerty put together A Handful of Keys with Bryan Schimmel (currently musical director on the just-extended Jersey Boys) way back in 1994.

The show swiftly became a fixture on the musical theatre circuit and, 19 years later, it is still as funny and irreverent as ever.

The two guys behind the piano have changed over the years, but this re-run features Von Memerty again, the original Mr Entertainment, and Jonathan Roxmouth, a talent who towers above his generation and who most recently took home a Naledi for his portrayal of The Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera.

Roxmouth first stepped behind the ivories in 2008, with Roelof Colyn. He was 21 years old and had big shoes to fill – Von Memerty’s. He did a great job, but, five years later, he’s even better.

His voice has matured, his confidence has grown and he holds his own easily with Von Memerty, a giant of the musical theatre scene, who is as nimble as he was 20 years ago.

The show – if you still haven’t seen it what rock have you been under? – is a history of the piano and the men and women who have made their mark tickling the ivories. If all history were told with as much wit, cheek and talent as this, we’d all know a lot more about stuff.

With the help of Yesterday, the Beatles’ most covered song, the pair make their way through the styles, life and trials of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy. Then the likes of Norah Jones, Adele and Nina Simone are given the Handful treatment; then it’s the turn of the men – Richard Clayderman (remember him?), Fats Domino, Billy Joel and, of course, a sequined Elton John and the original king of bling, Liberace.

There’s even a striptease, though perhaps not quite what you’d expect – but then that’s what makes this show a winner, it is never quite what you think. Perfectly paced, the pair cavort through the history of the Broadway musical and also, of course, deliver a note-perfect performance of Rhapsody in Blue, George Gershwin’s 1924 composition, rearranged for two pianists.

It’ll be up for a 20-year anniversary tour next year, so see it now so you can see it again then. Trust me, you’ll thank me for this advice.

» A Handful of Keys is at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre until May 5.

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