Musical tribute shows have stepped up in sophistication with Queen at the Ballet, where dance and an element of plot are as important as the music. By LESLEY STONES.
Unlike the mindless tribute shows imported from Australia that are all style and no substance, Queen at the Ballet is a local production that puts some meat on Freddie Mercury.
The show created by Sean Bovim and his Bovim Ballet troupe makes ballet sexy and almost butch, in a rough and tumble kind of way. The dancers must have enormous fun rocking to the tunes of Queen, in flamboyant yet functional outfits designed by fashion leaders including Gavin Rajah.
These aren’t pristine and unapproachable prima ballerinas, they’re people we can relate to who just happen to have amazing talent.
Bovim has recruited two singers to try to tackle the amazing vocal range of Mercury, with well-established rock singer Cito taking the lead. He’s remarkably good, and by not trying to mimic Mercury he succeeds in giving the songs his own flair. Best among them are Bohemian Rhapsody, an emotionally epic number that Cito delivers flawlessly. Alongside him is the younger Daniel Fisher, whose reedy voice is far less dynamic.
The role of Mercury isn’t played by a singer, but by dancer Henk Opperman. He’s a lithe and luscious power-packed performer, and you just have to ignore the fact that he looks more like Robbie Williams.
The other starring role goes to Devon Marshbank as Jim Hutton, the hairdresser who became Mercury’s lover in 1985 and who was at his bedside when he died.
Together Opperman and Marshbank perform some tender pas de deux as well as athletic numbers with eye-popping prowess.
Marshbank also adds to the emotional depth as he looks on sadly or is led away in the numbers when Opperman is dancing with the leading ladies, depicting Mercury’s fluid sexuality. The brightest of them is Tanya Futter as Mary Austin, the major girlfriend in Mercury’s life who he lived with until he announced his bisexuality. Although that ended their romantic relationship she remained a close friend whom none of his male lovers could replace. He wrote Love Of My Life for Mary, and they dance it here beautifully.
The 24 Bovim Ballet members put their hearts and souls into this production to meet the bold and inventive choreography. The ballet is perfectly matched to the music, and some of the more athletic sequences take it into the realms of breakdancing and add a Tap Dogs machismo too. When the male dancers perform Another One Bites The Dust with butt-wiggling humour, I could picture Mercury himself being delighted by the performance.
It’s ballet for the masses, with some exquisite classical touches to keep the purists happy.
The louche costumes provide an ever-changing fashion parade, with Opperman and Marshbank at one stage wearing matching sleek white catsuits with brilliant red hearts. There are flimsy, floaty red gowns, tight and tiny red shorts and colourful street fashions.
Another character running around is Mastertime, a Harlequin type figure played by Steve Van Wyk. His role is apparently to show how Mercury is running out of time, reminding him he is mortal, but urging him to live life to the full. Time, of course, is the one thing Mercury didn’t have.
The music is recorded rather than played live, with the tunes are given an orchestral arrangement by Michael Hankinson. The final number is a powerful duet between Cito and Angela Killian in Barcelona, made famous by Mercury and Montserrat Caballé.
Queen at the Ballet captures the power and the glory of Queen’s songs, but thankfully doesn’t try to emulate the incomparable Mercury. Instead it augments his memory with glorious dance, delightful fashion and a layer of emotional undercurrent. DM
Queen at the Ballet runs at Joburg Theatre until April 13. Tickets from www.joburgtheatre.co.za
Photos: Bill Zurich
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