Performed by Cat Simoni with Original Orchestration by Johan Laas
Devised and directed by Paul Spence
Presented by Daphne Kuhn at Auto & General Theatre on the Square
Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s (especially if you grew up Jewish), Barbra Streisand was a standard feature in just about all of our parents’ music collections. Whether they loved her or hated her (and really, how could one every really ‘hate’ Barbra?), she just couldn’t be ignored. After all, who could ignore the only artist ever to receive Oscar, Tony, Emmy, Grammy, Directors Guild of America, Golden Globe, National Medal of Arts and Peabody Awards and France’s Légion d’Honneur as well as the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award? Okay, so she hadn’t won all of those quite yet back then, but she was well on her way from the very minute she started performing in the late ‘50’s.
So one would expect, as tribute shows gain increasing popularity, that vocalists of every ilk would be clamouring to mimic the award winning Diva. However it seems this isn’t the case. It would take a very unique voice and a very bold performer to be able to execute Barbra’s timeless classics in a style anywhere close to those of the original.
And here we have Cat Simoni, who arrives with the voice, elegance, poise, and just the right amount of chutzpah to tell Barbra’s story and sing her songs with the precise measure of passion and intensity that they were composed for. This is a treat for true music lovers; the combination of a voice that understands the notes, together with musical arrangements created by Johan Laas, who South African muso’s appreciate for the maestro he is.
Simoni is so comfortable, both on stage and with her audience. From the minute we hear the first strains of ‘Something’s Coming’ (Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim), and she appears on stage it’s clear that she is at home. She jokes easily with Laas (“a man of few words”), hams it up in a Bronx accent, and gives a blazing rendition of ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ (Jule Styne, Bob Merrill) from Funny Girl, the story of the life of comedienne Fanny Brice, and the film that truly launched Barbra’s career (I have to admit, I can’t hear that song and not think of Lea Michele’s version in the TV show Glee).
But then, as you’re sitting there, nodding to yourself and admitting just how good Cat Simoni really is … she ups the ante. Her haunting version of ‘Memory’( Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Back, Tim Rice) from Cats, gave me goosebumps, and as if that wasn’t enough, she really came into her own when she sat down and played her own solo piano accompaniment to ‘Pappa can you Hear Me?’ (Michel Legrand, Alan & Marilyn Bergman) from Yentl followed by ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ – a version of the Jewish prayer that Barbra had sung at Shimon Perez’s 90th birthday in Israel, and that Daphne Kuhn had asked to be added into the show. Simoni’s intonation and timing are pure perfection. Once again in the second half, she plays the piano for her own perfectly comic version of ‘Second Hand Rose’ (James Hanley, Grant Clarke) and this is where she truly shines.
The favourites are there, sung with such faultless clarity, and accompanied by short snippets about Barbra’s life: ‘Evergreen’ (Barbra Streisand, Paul Williams), ‘The Way We Were’ (Marvin Hamlish, Alan & Marilyn Bergman), ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ (Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg), ‘Send in the Clowns’ (Stephen Sondheim) and more.
The intricate musical arrangements by Johan Laas are a sheer labour of love. He doesn’t say much, he gives a wry smile here and there, but when his fingers hit those keys, he can transport you into a musical wonderland!
There’s not much in the way of a set, just a couple of leather chairs, some flowers and some velvet draping on the keyboard. But you’re not there for the scenery … this is all about the music, and boy … does it deliver!
Beautiful Barbra is on at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square in Sandton until the 30th of July. Book your tickets at www.StrictlyTickets.com or call the theatre on 011 883-8606.