Kat and the Kings

David Kramer and Taliep Petersen
Tricycle Theatre

Kat and the Kings is a musical, set in the multi-racial melting pot of District Six in Cape Town in the late 1950s. In some ways, it is like the ski jumping so beloved of TV producers at this time of year. One is forced to watch the incredible tedium of men slowly doing very little before suddenly, they soar to great heights.

This show was a great success at the Tricycle last year, but during its pedestrian first-half, with the exception of some humorous moments and the lovely singing voice of Abigail Petersen it can be difficult to see why. Once things get going after the interval though, the plot, the songs and some really inventive visual humour grab the audience and take them through to a really touching denouement.

The play is narrated by Danny Butler as Kat Diamond, now an eternally optimistic shoeshine boy in his sixties. He looks back on his teenage years as a musical star and part of a four-part harmony group that wowed the Cape Coloured community. Starting off with do-wop, the four young lads only become a real group when Miss Petersen's Lucy, the older sister of the bespectacled Magoo (Elton Landrew) takes them in hand.

In no time, the five of them (named after packet of cigarettes) led by young Kat (Emraan Adams) are playing in Whites-only hotels not only in their native city but also in Durban. This is where both the band and the show really take-off as they get into rock and roll highlighted by The Claridges Hotel Medley.

Not only does the second half of Kat and the Kings have the best of the music and increasingly lively performances, it also begins to get beneath the surface of a country still riven by Apartheid. First, the band is banned by the radio, then the hotel that has hired them forces them to work as bellboys during the day.

Things go from bad to worse as Lucy is forced to emigrate after being arrested under the Immorality laws. Sadly, the happy-go-lucky group falls apart and it is easy to see why their leader drifted into a nothingness all too familiar with performers of every type, who have made good too young.

By the end, with its combination of four-part harmony, jazz, rock and roll and even a bit of "Tribal Rock", Kat and the Kings has its audience going wild.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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