Lady Gaga? Pffff. LESLEY STONES went, instead, to watch Michael de Pinna – best known for prancing about in those leopard print broekies in the Vodacom ads. And she concluded that he definitely had some talents outside the realm of spotty pants. Lady Gaga he is not, but a cabaret singer that can rock the house? Definitely.
The same weekend that Lady Gaga was in town, Michael de Pinna was also putting on a show.
Coincidence? Yes, entirely. But it demonstrates the massive variety of entertainment to be had and reminds us that despite the glitz, glamour and sheer enormity of Gaga on the go, there is still a place for the classic crooner.
De Pinna is best known – perhaps to his chagrin – as the white man awkwardly sporting leopardskin outfits in a series of Vodacom adverts.
He’s actually a very fine baritone singer, the ideal cruise ship crooner, reviving melodic songs from the olden days in a one-man cabaret.
That’s something of a rarity these days, and venues to stage that sort of show are even scarcer. The Foxwood Theatre in Houghton is a beautiful venue for such genteel entertainment, part of a glorious old manor with an air of grace and elegance.
When De Pinna begins to sing, wearing a black outfit against a black background, I’m wishing he would add a little colour to his costumes. That comes later, in an Elvis-style black and silver creation that shouts flamboyance even more loudly than its wearer.
He’s a good mimic, using a few accents to accompany his anecdotes and singing a couple of songs in the style of singers from days gone by. But he’s at his best when he takes a classic song and gives it a twist of his own, a different interpretation that often adds poignancy to a previously overplayed tune.
He reminds me of the Elkie Brooks’ classic, Pearl’s a Singer, as he does indeed sing songs for the lost and the lonely. His slow interpretation of Send in the Clowns is so heartfelt it’s almost tragic. He sings for happy people too, because this is never a maudlin show, but a charming mix of reminisces and amusing memories.
Later he dons a dreadfully camp outfit for a quick burst from the Rocky Horror Show. He’s not entirely convincing as a sweet transvestite, but he does a decent pelvic thrust. As do half the audience, by that stage.
His cover of The Great Pretender is stirring stuff, as he tells us he’s pretending that we’ll stick around. “We will, Michael,” shouts a woman from the back.
The pace and style of songs varies nicely, all interspersed with some patter in a show that’s pure old-school cabaret - one man, a backing track, his rich, melodious voice and several jokes and anecdotes.
De Pinna tells us he’s nearly 60 and coming back out of retirement, a little like John Cleese returning to the stage for his alimony tour. It’s hard work, being a singer in a world where shows like this have been muscled out by bigger venues, louder acts, far younger singers and more flash-bang productions.
Yet there’s definitely a place for the De Pinna style, and the Foxood fills that niche delightfully. Some evenings the theatre presents cabaret and some nights high-class comedy, with a drink and dinner in the beautiful gardens before you’re enveloped in a warm cocoon of sophisticated entertainment.
I’d go Gaga without it. DM
* Michael de Pinna is at the Foxwood on Saturday 8 and 15 of December and Sunday 9 and 16. Details from www.foxwood.co.za