Any musical theatre fan would jump at the opportunity to watch a tribute show that celebrates Leonard Bernstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim as the creatives who reshaped musicals. Add to that the fact that Jonathan Roxmouth, South Africa's favourite Phantom of the Opera, performs the music of these three legends, and one can expect to be dazzled and amazed. It is then no surprise that audiences are flocking to see Lenny Andrew Steve and Me at Theatre on the Bay.
The show delivers on the promise of amazing songs, with the inclusion of hits taken from Cats, Company, Tell Me On A Sunday, On The Town, Into The Woods, and West Side Story – so many West Side Story moments that Lenny perhaps gets shown a bit of favoritism in comparison to the still exceptional tribute to Andrew and Steve.
As for the stories behind their songs, my musical heart skipped a beat when Roxmouth started sharing anecdotes, such as that Oscar Hammerstein was one of Sondheim’s mentors (that being one of my favourite theatre facts of all time). I sat on the edge of my theatre seat waiting for that tale to be linked to the fact that Hammerstein convinced Sondheim to accept the brief of lyricist on the West Side Story project and thus worked closely with Bernstein as the composer. Alas, Roxmouth cheekily only teases with snippets of such stories., this being a creative choice, and not folly – it is but that I would have been totally enthralled instead of just entertained if more of those stories were included in the narrative. For the majority of the show he vivaciously expands on select elements of a musical with reference to some of his favourite songs – exceptionally performed in true Roxmouth style.
Pianist Louis Zurnamer is a treat to watch. He makes the ivory keys dance in his accompaniment of Roxmouth’s musical oration. I could easily watch a show just with Zurnamer and a piano – he’s a natural entertainer. It is then slightly disappointing that in the staging of this show a choice was made to place him and his piano towards the back of a predominantly bare stage, especially seeing as the stripped down vastness of the stage is accentuated with dramatic lighting. Incorporating substantive interaction between Zurnamer and Roxmouth may help the audience connect with the personalities on stage more so than just trying to follow the flow of Roxmouth’s musical analysis and enjoying his vocal virtuosities. Though, it needs to be said, there are moments when the audience collectively hold their breath, waiting in anticipation for that showstopper note.
Apart from the enjoyable vocal performance, Roxmouth also adds wit and sass aplenty to this show. This is evident from the giggles and snickers that continuously run through the theatre as he shares his interpretation of the perfect musical, including references to “the cliff-hanger” and “the candy dish” moments. Any fan of all things Sondheim will also get a kick out of comments like, “singing his music makes me lose weight”. Commentary of this nature is a key component of the design of this show.
On occasion I did catch myself wondering, “Was the sting in that comment really necessary?”. Some of the jabs are directed at the audience, as well as performers who usually share the stage with “the lead”. It seems a bit unnecessary to refer to “secondary characters”, the ensemble and co-stars who won awards in a manner that could be misconstrued as patronizing rather than said in jest. Perhaps this is a case of misplaced accent rather than intent. Insult comedy (even if unintentional) just does not sit well within this context and style of a musical theatre tribute show.
A night out at Theatre on the Bay to see Lenny Andrew Steve and Me is a must for all Roxmouth fans. The show has a very short run and ends on 21 April 2018. So be quick to book your tickets through Computicket if you want to grab the opportunity to hear Roxmouth sing his music of the night.