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SCENE IT: Roxmouth bares his heart in KEY CHANGE at Theatre on the Bay

Barbara Loots

 

Jonathan Roxmouth is currently onstage at Theatre on the Bay with his new show, KEY CHANGE, until 8 April 2023. A light-hearted, yet heartfelt, personal exploration of his love for the piano that showcases his favourite pianists, including Elton John, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Billy Joel.

I first saw Jonathan Roxmouth onstage as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. There is a difference in onstage energy between the performer then and now (albeit always very talented); there’s a depth to his theatrical presence now that can only come with years of experience – a life lived, and all. He has gone through his personal key changes in the last few years and has embraced the creative transformative process that comes with it.


With his latest offering, Roxmouth shares the main influences, both musical and familial, that made him the pianist he is today. He talks about his relationship with his parents and grandparents, his love affair with the ivory keys that started with a darling little red piano, and why music will always trump sports in terms of appeal and logic.


This is all presented with great wit and “reliably” googled music references as he links that personal angle to the Vamps, Dreamers, Disney moments, and childhood TV-time tunes that strengthen his bond with the piano. If you want to know why Nina Simone, Sara Bareilles, and Christina Aguilera could be considered Vamps, or why Liberace is the Nostradamus of music, then you simply have to go see KEY CHANGE: Divulging those details here would rob you of the magic of the journey Roxmouth takes you on in this show.


What KEY CHANGE reveals is that his happy place, his home away from home, is the sanctity of the seat behind the piano. In the show, one is privy to truly emotive moments when Roxmouth shares songs of his musical mentors, whether they were discovered through CDs gifted by family or TV time that revealed music stadium performances around the world. One such heartfelt moment is his rendition of Freddy Mercury’s “Love Of My Life”.


He narrates that his respect for the piano (thanks to his childhood piano teacher) has taught him that time is fleeting and you must appreciate that, because as soon as you close the piano for the last time, someone else will inevitably fall in love with it and take a seat to continue the melody. As such, KEY CHANGE has a heightened level of sincerity to it that I haven’t experienced in his previous shows, which makes the title particularly apt.


This may all make the show sound emotionally heavy, but Roxmouth balances the heartwarming, honest moments with the fun and playful. He really doesn’t take himself too seriously, as is evident from his performance of the jazzed up Chopsticks. The playfulness is amplified by an array of medleys, such as The Overplayed Overtures (that will have your foot tapping and you head bopping along) and A Tinder Box of Emotion (comically delivered proof that ballads really have no place at the piano). This mixture of soulful and silly makes KEY CHANGE a delightful show.


The only time that I was not smiling was when I was unashamedly staring at his hands as he played. The level of skill is astonishing. Top tip: The finest seats in the house for this show are C20 and C19 if you want to have the best view of Roxmouth’s hands gliding over the ivory keys with insane precision. Though, if these aren’t available, don’t fret, as with many of the numbers his piano-playing hands are projected onto the back of the stage with a bit of modern artistic flair thanks to the set deign of Ben Barker and the AV operated by Progress Mphande.

Roxmouth is accompanied by a five-piece band, though I am not sure he needs them. He can make the piano keys sing (and change) without any add-ons or gimmicks, as few musicians will be able to match his performance standard.


The lighting design (by Oliver Hauser) gives the show a concert feel and Roxmouth’s various outfit changes seem to be a flashy nod to a young Liberace and Elton John; all of which is just the right amount of glitz for the show.


Roxmouth is arguably one of, if not the, best showbiz pianist in South Africa at the moment. So if you love good music and appreciate great skill presented with some tongue-in-cheek comedy too, then KEY CHANGE will offer you a truly charming night out at the theatre.


KEY CHANGE is onstage at Theatre on the Bay until 8 April 2023, with tickets available online through Webtickets.

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