It’s preview week for Panto 2017! Janice Honeyman’s 30th Pantomime, Pinocchio officially opens over the weekend but this coming week sees the first audiences filling the Joburg Theatre to see what this year’s festive season pantomime has in store. Mostly these previews will be made up of schoolchildren, some of whom have never even set foot inside a theatre before, so this experience will be brand new for them.
Audiences will be thrilled to see favourites like Tobie Cronje (a firm panto favourite), André Schwartz and Garth Collins (Granite of TV’s Gladiators fame) in the cast. But this is will also be a brand new experience for the 3 Panto stars that I chatted to recently, who I christened my ‘Panto Virgins’. Although they’re each highly skilled industry professionals with years of experience under their belts, they’ve never participated in a Janice Honeyman pantomime before so for all of them, this has all been very new and different.
Ilse Klink is no stranger to South African followers of stage and TV, one of her most notable roles being in Isidingo, for which she received an Avanti award in 2000. She’s appeared in a number of TV series, and stage shows, far too numerous to mention, and she’s a much sought after performer due to her versatility and genuine warmth. In fact, Ilse had been about to accept a role in a different project, when the offer to play Bella Bouboulina, The Blue Fairy in Pinocchio, was extended to her! She explains, “I didn’t hesitate in choosing the panto role because of the sheer history of the Janice Honeyman Pantomime!” She had worked briefly with Janice back in 2006, and ever since then she’s wanted what she describes as ‘the full experience’.
For Grant Towers, this year’s Dame, this is a dream role. In his opinion, despite what many may think about open minds and progressive advances having been made, both within the theatre industry and universally, the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community is still frowned upon. He laughs, “But every year, people still pay to come and see a man dressed up as the dame, and they all love her and want photo’s with her!” Yes, it’s theatrical irony at its sardonic best. Grant describes the dame this year as an ‘insane, menopausal, Italian woman’ and says that he intends to do that description justice!
And what would Pinocchio be without his alter ego, Jiminy Cricket? Mark Tatham takes on the high energy role of Pinocchio’s conscience, and tells me that he loves the combination of physicality and wisdom that his character manages to encompass. We’re lucky to have Mark with the panto cast as directly from here, he moves on to play Ed the Hyena in the touring company of The Lion King! It’s a 3-year stint where he’ll also understudy Timon and Zazu! An incredible opportunity for this amazingly talented and amiable actor.
So, as we’re chatting, the actors taking advantage of the brief break in their busy rehearsal schedule, one thing becomes distinctly apparent – the magic of the pantomime is safe and sound in the most capable and loving hands of one very unique, special person:
- Janice Honeyman is an extremely highly revered director, not only because of her obvious years of experience which give her gravitas in her field, but as Grant clarifies, “Janice is to be admired for her directness because she gives you a sense of accomplishment in yourself … and she’s not mean!”
- Mark goes on to say, “I love that Janice is so open to any suggestions that the cast offer.”
- Ilse concludes by adding, “You get permission to be a performer with panto, especially with Janice at the helm. Every year you drive past that billboard and you hope, ‘one day, one day’… and then, that call comes and it’s THAT day!”
The excitement that these three performers feel at their upcoming appearance is obvious! They talk about concepts such as vision, belief and putting your dreams out to the universe in order to manifest them into reality, and that’s surely something they’ve all put into practice. Don’t think they’re sitting back after completing their Panto sting. As we’ve already said, Mark’s off to join The Lion King. Grant will be appearing as Brian in Avenue Q from April, and Ilse has not 1, but 2 movies that she’ll be filming, the first on the Orange River from March, and then straight after that another one in Cape Town.
But for now, they can’t wait for that vibrancy that only interaction with a live audience can bring, especially when that audience is made up of such a high percentage of children, who truly allow the enchantment and delight of the onstage wonder to captivate them.
Do yourself a favour: regardless of your age, take a walk away from the ordinary, suspend belief just for a little while and immerse yourself in the fairy-tale world of the Pantomime this festive season!
It’s just a step away … the Blue Fairy, the Dame and Jiminy Cricket await.
Pinocchio opens on The Mandela stage of Joburg Theatre on November 12th and runs until December 30th.
Pinocchio is written and directed by Janice Honeyman, with musical direction by Coenraad Rall and choreography by Nicol Sheraton. Timothy Le Roux is resident director and Dale Scheepers is band leader. The pantomime is produced by Joburg Theatre and Bernard Jay, in association with MNet, Jacaranda FM and Your Family Magazine.
Tickets for Pinocchio are on sale from R185: telephone 0861 670 670, go online at www.joburgtheatre.com, or book in person at the Joburg Theatre box office. Patrons can also book and pay via the Nedbank app or walk-in at selected Pick ‘n Pay stores (a full list is available at www.webtickets.co.za/pnpoutlets.aspx) – or book on-line and then pay at any Pick ‘n Pay store.
Every Thursday evening at 19h30, since the end of August, the charismatic Sharon Spiegel Wagner has had South Africans glued to their TV’s watching SABC3’s BEDFORD WIVES, as the local comedy-drama unfolds with her character, the feisty Despina Giannopolous, taking centre stage.
Set in the lavish but seedy Johannesburg east suburb of Bedfordview, Bedford Wives follows the lives of four women and a somewhat sordid community of Bedfordview criminals who, on the surface, live pristine and perfect lives but, behind closed doors, have skeletons in their closets and secrets aplenty.
When her charming restaurateur husband, Marco Giannopoulos, is found dead under a side of lamb and dripping in gourmet olive oil, Bedfordview housewife and Mrs South Africa entrant, Despina, vows to keep the family businesses going – but then learns the real family business is crime…
Nothing is at it seems…
I’m not ashamed to say I’m completely hooked, and won’t miss an episode! It’s completely addictive, and ticks all the boxes for unmissable TV!
I recently sat down for coffee and a chat with Sharon to find out what life’s been like for her since Bedford Wives hit our TV screens – and if you haven’t caught on yet (we’re already 9 episodes in with just 5 left), you can catch up on YouTube where you’ll find all past episodes.
And indeed, nothing is as it seems, because Sharon is quite delightful; modest and unassuming and not at all like her onscreen persona, Despina, who is very much the typical ‘Bedford Wife’ and wouldn’t be caught outside of the house (or probably inside, for that matter) without her full armour of make up, designer clothing and killer heels!
Although Sharon’s first love is definitely musical theatre, her experience on Bedford Wives has been so positive that it’s quite encouraged her to explore the possibility of further TV roles in the future. She wasn’t initially asked to audition for the role of Despina, and in fact, was the very last person to audition for the part. Just an hour later, she got a call from her agent to say she’d got the job. Sharon describes her complete shock at hearing the news, but once she realised that it was actually true, she was (I quote) “sublimely excited”. And it’s proved to be a dream from beginning to end with the entire cast and crew being not only amazing to work with, but also completely understanding and flexible around Sharon’s other role: that of being mom to her 2 young daughters, one of who was just a few months old at the time of filming the series.
It was this that made Sharon realise that she might quite like to pursue more TV work in the future as it’s more adaptable to family life. She loves the art of acting and has grown enough within it to know what’s right for her and what isn’t. When she knows a role’s not for her, she’s excited to see who will play it. This is the mark of a true professional, or as Sharon so aptly describes it: “There’s an actor that loves the art, and there’s the actor that loves himself in the art.” That individual who purely loves himself in the role, and who cannot bring himself to rejoice in the success of a colleague is not quite there yet, regardless of whatever talents may have been bestowed on them.
When asked if she’d be happy for her kids to work in a similar or related industry to the one she’s currently in, knowing what she knows about all of the demands and drawbacks as well as the constant struggles and one-upmanship that the business is notorious for, Sharon’s immediate reaction is “Preferably not!”
But then … on reflection … she reconsiders. She feels that no matter what career they decide to follow (even if they want to become actors), there has to be understanding, appreciation and love for what one does, and they need to feel a true purpose for what they’re doing. When it comes to sensitivity they need to know how the business works. She reiterates, “… especially this business.”
For now, Sharon is taking a break, spending time with her kids and thoroughly enjoying watching them grow. She’d love to do more TV work, and is thrilled that Bedford Wives has opened up new horizons for her. We shared our strong views on how absolutely crucial it is for women to support each other and encourage each other. So often though, you find the opposite happening – we tear each other apart, instead of building each other up! Here once again, Sharon returns to the Bedford Wives set, speaking admiringly of her female director who allowed her the freedom to add her own interpretation into her role of Despina, or as she describes it, “a bit of quirk,” and who put her at complete ease with some scenes that she might otherwise have felt quite uncomfortable performing.
So, what’s next after this break? “Something BIG … I hope,” laughs Sharon, explaining that this is usually the work pattern that she follows. Whether it’s back on stage, where she feels most at home, or on our TV screens playing another feisty, go-getting, glitzy leading lady, Sharon puts heart and soul into everything she does, so whatever it is, we know it’s going to be fabulously fantastic!!
(But … no pressure, or anything!)
SUPREME DIVAS – Celebrating Fabulous Women of Song
Can you believe it’s August already?! Finally, that month where we celebrate strong, dynamic, successful, wonderful women! Well, we really should be honouring them all the time, and we do, but in August we really make a song and dance about it and where better to do that than on The Mandela stage at Joburg Theatre, where they’ll be doing it in spectacular fashion with Supreme Divas.
The show will run from Thursday 11 August to Sunday 14 August for four performances only.
Supreme Divas will delight audiences old and young as they celebrate the powerhouse female singers that have become legends through their music over the past few decades.
Homage is paid to “old school” divas including Etta James, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Donna Summer and many others while younger audiences will relish the celebration of hits from “new school” divas including Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, Adele and others. A fitting tribute will also be made to a few of South Africa’s own divas including Brenda Fassie, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Miriam Makeba and Claire Johnston.
Taking centre stage will be the insanely talented vocalists Tia Herman, Lelo Ramasimong, Tracey-Lee Oliver and Elizca Coetzer, with Born To Perform teenage sensation Marianthe Panas joining them as she makes her professional theatre debut.
Teen sensation Marianthe Panas has represented KwaZulu Natal in The SA Championships of the Performing Arts (twice), competed in The World Championships of the Performing Arts in Los Angeles and Hollywood, winning numerous awards in both championships – and all before she was her current age of 15.
In her hometown of Durban, she has performed at a number of events including The Durban Theatre Awards, Night of 100 Stars, The Durban Chamber of Commerce Gala Dinner, as well as with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra at The KZN Young Performers 2016 event.
In Johannesburg, she caught everyone’s attention with her showtopping performance in Born To Perform’s Gala Concert in July 2015 and again recently when she was one of the vocalists in the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra’s concert A Night With The Stars.
Supreme Divas marks her professional theatre debut.
I was particularly taken with the notion of a 15-year-old performer taking to the stage with such experienced artistes, and instantly wanted to chat to her, convinced that this absolutely had to be a Diva in the making; would she be over-confident, precocious and petulant? Surely you’d have to be to hold your own, taking to the stage with the combined experience of your fellow performers?
Unfortunately, due to time and distance constraints, we haven’t yet been able to meet, and had to manage with an email interview. I was immediately completely charmed by Marianthe’s evident maturity and level-headedness, 2 things that will most definitely stand her in good stead for the career that she clearly wishes to pursue.
Here’s my Q & A with Marianthe, and you’ll see what I mean (I’m the ‘J’, she’s the ‘M’ and some of my comments are added in her answers in brackets):
I’m really looking forward to meeting you, and to seeing the show, but in the meantime … a few questions (and no pressure J).
J: Take me through what would be a ‘normal’ day for you, when you’re not rehearsing for a show or a competition.
M: Well, I would be at school until 14h30. After that, I would either be attending hockey practice, dance, acting or singing classes. I’m part of the KZN Youth Choir & rehearsals are from 5 to 9pm every Friday.
J: So you’d already won numerous awards and performed and participated in competitions overseas before you were 15; do you feel like you’ve had to grow up a lot quicker than others who are the same age as you?
M: I haven’t actually thought about that. Well, I haven’t felt like that before. I’ve been singing from a very young age so I’ve grown up performing. I do feel as though I’ve matured faster than some girls in my grade, but I love doing what I do so there isn’t a case of feeling as though I need to grow up a lot quicker. I turned 15 in May & trust me… I act itJ
J: Who’s your biggest Diva inspiration and why?
M: Idina Menzel. She was the lead in the original cast of many musicals I grew up watching. She performs with so much passion & has an amazing vocal range. She has also stayed so humble. [In case you don’t know, Idina Menzel is the voice behind Frozen’s Queen Elsa. That’s right … Let It Go! And she’s just been cast as Bette Midler’s character CC Bloom in the TV remake of Beaches.]
J: And who inspires you most in the non-performing world?
M: My twin brother. He got a virus in his spine, which paralysed him from his waist down for about 3 months when we were 12 years old. Although, he can now walk – he is not 100% recovered. He has a dropped foot & needs to wear a brace on both feet. To this day, he has never complained or given up. That takes a lot of guts to do so I always look up to him for inspiration.
J: Give us a playlist of your all-time favourite top 5 songs/pieces of music – any and all genres?
M: Don’t Rain on my Parade – Barbara Streisand [One of my all-time favourites too!]
I knew you were trouble – Taylor Swift
Stone Cold – Demi Lavato
Bound to You – Christina Agulera
The Story of Us – Taylor Swift
J: Do you read? If so, what do you read?
M: I love reading mystery & fantasy. My all time favourite book series is Pretty Little Liars & the Mortal Intruments. (I’m kind of obsessed)
J: You’ve been given the opportunity to play the leading role in the movie of your choice … which movie do you choose, and which role? And (most important) who do you choose as your leading man and why?
M: I would pick The 5th Wave. I would play the role Cassie as she tries to find her missing brother in an alien apocalypse. [Yes, it’s Sci-Fi!] She is as a strong willpower and the love she has for her brother is never-ending. I would choose Chris Hemsworth – duh! [Like she said … a typical 15 year old!]
J: What do you have to say to our world leaders right now? (Don’t be shy!)
M: I’m not so clued up in politics, but I would say all leaders seem to think of themselves instead of their people. They get richer and the poor get poorer. [Darling, you think you’re not so clued up in politics, but you seem to have summed it all up in a nutshell right there … spot on!]
J: What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned so far from fellow performers?
M: STAY HUMBLE! Don’t act like a Diva or a know all. There’s always something to learn from someone else more experienced than you.
J: And finally … where would you like to be in 5 years’ time? (Sorry, I know it’s a really boring, clichéd question, but it has to be asked – there’s such a vast ocean of difference between 15 and 20!)
M: Hopefully studying Musical Theatre. My biggest dream in life is to perform on Broadway.
Isn’t she just so lovely and grounded? I can’t wait to meet Marianthe in person, and I really appreciate her taking some time out to answer my questions.
The Supreme Divas will be onstage along with a dynamic 9-piece band led by Music Director Llewellyn George. Audiences will thrill to instantly recognisable hits including R.E.S.P.E.C.T., Somewhere, If I could turn back time, I’m every woman, Hot Stuff, Stop in the Name of Love, Vulindlela, Valerie, Unqombothi, Do You Know where you’re going to, If I were a boy and many more.
This is the ultimate concert experience, honouring a selection of the many women who’ve made an indelible mark on the local and international music industry.
Joburg City Theatres will be producing the show. “We want to portray South African talent at its best,” says Claire Pacariz, Executive Producer for Joburg City Theatres. “And with Women’s Day on August 9th, we thought it would be an ideal time to honour legendary women in song.”
Performances for Supreme Divas run from Thursday to Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm on The Mandela Stage at Joburg Theatre.
For group bookings of 10 or more, please contact the theatre directly on (011) 877 6853/6815.
Supreme Divas is proudly brought to you by Joburg City Theatres in association with The CoLab Network and directed by Timothy Le Roux. Vocalists will be dressed by Hollywood Costumes.