Yes, Sir, they can boogie

2007-11-17 00:00

Lead vocalist Karen Wood is about to go on stage for a matinee performance of Disco Fever, the Dockyard's latest festive offering.

Decked out in Disco - an era she admits is before her time - she explains that she loves the show. “The whole show is great. It is vibrant, bright. We have so much fun,” she says of the cast that delivers a sassy, professional look at the disco era that is light hearted enough to get those celebrating on their feet and the more austere music critics tapping along while the lights are down.

She's the perfect fit and undoubtedly a shining light just as she has been in other shows that she has done at the Dockyard. The last one was April's British Invasion. She says that the fact that the last two shows - Masters of Rock and Acoustic Moods - relied on male vocalists probably kept her in the wings. She also does a lot of “other stuff” including corporate performances and gigs at Cottonfields and Gateway.

Although she sings many supper theatre stalwarts - and yes, the show is pleasantly predictable - she has an uncanny knack of making them her own and giving them a special touch. Her most stunning renditions are It's Raining Men and Labelle's Lady Marmalade in the first half and the Gloria Gaynor set just after the interval.

Looking back, it is hard to say exactly when Wood began making her mark at the Dockyard. After spending three years in London, she returned to Durban in 2004 to perform the part of Agnetha Falskog in Dockyard owner Stuart Mey's extremely successful Abba show. Her other shows at the Dockyard have included Hollywood Rocks, Madonna and Rock Solid.

But does she enjoy disco? “I guess I am just a great fan of funky music,” she says.

Ironically, disco's roots are in funk and soul. The era is not only about a distinctive music sound with its characteristic harmonies, intricate percussion and complex arrangements but also about frivolous elements such as sequins, satin, platform shoes and nifty dance moves.

In his “artists notes”, producer and Dockyard owner Mey, who prides himself on backing productions with an intricate knowledge of eras featured and music selected, pointed out that because this was a festive show, he believed it needed to be vibey, up-tempo and flowing.

Hence his selection of “all-time dance hits of the late seventies and eighties” and costumes and colours that would have been familiar to the bands of the era.

The Dockyard's interpretation of disco attire came with a good lick of humour - watch out for male vocalist Andrew Jones's “designer jeans” in the Village People set as well as the trademark jump suits sported by band and vocalists alike.

“The placing of the Village People number early in the show was done to set the tone and notify the audience that this is going to be a fun show. During our preview performances, this has been achieved. Audiences loved it,” says Mey.

Over and above the village people, there's a slick rendition of Kool and the Gang's Celebration, Get Down on It and Ladies Night as well as Lionel Ritchie's All Night Long and Dancing on the Ceiling. Other memorable numbers in the first half are Wild Cherry's Play That Funky Music and Wood's version of If You Could Read My Mind.

As per Mey's tribute show to the Bees Gees, vocalist Paul Cassells takes centre stage for numbers such as Night Fever, Tragedy and You Should be Dancing in the first half and the encore, Staying Alive. His hilarious rendition of Michael Jackson's Thriller and Billy Jean during the second half was probably one of the most memorable aspects of the show.

John Paul Young's Love Is In The Air and the inevitable (Christmas) Boney M (Rasputin and Rivers of Babylon) wouldn't have been missed but Earth Wind and Fire's September and Boogie Wonderland would have been.

As with all Dockyard shows, the appeal of the show rests strongly on musical director Bruce Boome and the quality of the musicians.

This time round, the five-piece band included Kirsty Magin on sax and keyboards, Paul Cassells or Andrew Jones on drums, Musa Mtwetwa on keyboards, Lloyd de Gier for the first time on bass and Chris Brink on guitar. Together with Woods and Cassells, vocals are provided by Jones and Albert Bristow as well as compere Dave Arnold.

The small Dockyard stage offers very limited space for nine performers on stage at the same time, Mey pointed out.

“However, I have included some basic dance moves purely to create a vibe. The actual steps used are based on the disco steps and moves seen in the movies Saturday Night Fever, Thank God It's Friday and Studio 54.

“They have an area of five metres by 1,2 metres in which to move but I feel it does the job in creating a vibe - oh and also please bear in mind that my front line performers are singers first and foremost and that no one in the Russian ballet should feel threatened!”

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