Here’s to You recreates the extensive Simon & Garfunkel songbook for a cast of eight singers and musicians.
It’s produced by VR Theatrical, which recently brought us the saucy Avenue Q and salacious Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and has now stepped back to present this clean-cut and innocuously lightweight creation.
The artists are all talented performers and most of them play a variety of instruments. Together they work through the famous numbers as well as a handful that I didn’t know, and the lesser-known numbers serve to add even more respect for the prolific singer-songwriter duo.
In between the music, there’s a little chatter, but I’d have liked to hear more. This famous couple has a relationship more volatile and antagonistic than any marriage gone sour, and additional anecdotes to remind us of their history would add much more interest to the show.
Gravitas is what it lacks the most. None of the songs carried the emotional heft of the originals, so they failed to move me. Yes, you can admire the musical skills and applaud your favourite voices from among the crew, but too few moments created a deeper connection between the lyrics and the audience. And these are lyrics that technically have the power to touch your heart.
This is also a show that’s as well-rehearsed as a play, so everyone has their lines and their movements down pat. Everything is perfectly timed, with a swing to the left, a transition from sitting to standing, or a handover from one speaker to another. That avoids fluff-ups or mistiming, but totally kills any sense of lively spontaneity that could make the concert more engaging.
The star of the show is the under-used Phindile Dube, who sings with gospel intensity. Justin Swartz on percussion also brought more effervescence to an otherwise largely flat event that takes itself too seriously.
Overall the production is polished and proficient, and the lighting by Oliver Hauser is excellent, but it lacks the fizz and energy to sparkle. At the same time, some of the songs sound too rambunctious – or at least more upbeat than the originals – so their rich veins of sad or tender nuances are lost.
Musical director and pianist Wessel Odendaal himself is often lost behind his piano, with its high back to the audience for much of the time. Swinging that round to remove the barrier would be an easy improvement.
Hanna So also plays the piano and begins the second half with an inelegantly thumpy mash-up, before more of the favourite songs are brought out. It’s a collective effort with everyone getting the chance to shine, and the other performers are light-voiced Josh Ansley on guitar, Ashleigh Butcher on banjo, guitar and ukulele, Daniel Geddes on keyboards, and Sanli Jooste on cello.
A lot of the audience loved it, but it left me feeling more like Cat Steven’s Hard Headed Woman than a convert to tribute shows. DM
Here’s To You runs at Montecasino Theatre until July 28 then moves to Cape Town’s Theatre on the Bay from July 31 to August 17. Tickets from Computicket.