REVIEW: A Handful of Keys still hits a high note

A Handful of Keys
Pieter Toerien Main Theatre, Montecasino
Until January 7
R100 to R200 at
4 stars

Created and performed for the first time in 1994 by co-creators Ian von Memerty and Bryan Schimmel, A Handful of Keys returns for another season, with another cast. Schimmel was replaced by Roelof Colyn, who returns here, this time with James Smith – another impressive young talent. Smith is a mere 19 years old and what a voice!

A Handful of Keys once featured another great young talent – Jonathan Roxmouth – who is currently starring as Che in the critically acclaimed Evita. Since his early days in this show, Roxmouth has gone on to star in pretty much every big musical South Africa has staged.

I admit to having seen this show with every single cast that has ever been a part of the phenomenon that is two guys, two pianos and at least a couple of centuries of piano-playing characters and compositions.

This time I went with the express purpose of inspiring my eight-year-old to practice her piano. It worked. As the two-man cast flew over the keys and around the pianos while changing outfits and musical styles, she sat dumbfounded by the wonder of it. When this season’s special guest star, 12-year-old Samuel, stepped up to the keyboard, it cemented the case for piano practice.

The brilliantly constructed show – full of fun and deceptively easy playing – takes on the grand masters’ styles with reference to their love lives, covers a century and a bit of musical theatre in 12 minutes and reminds us all why Liberace and Elton John are great and Richard Clayderman isn’t. From Stevie Wonder to Adele, from Billy Joel to Alicia Keys, via Nina Simone and Jerry Lewis – this is a show you can see time after time.

If you are a return visitor, don’t be put off by the new talent; you’d like to see Smith, he does the tradition proud and I expect will be seen a lot more around musical theatre haunts. Also, it is a treat to see Colyn return to this role that he made his own about two decades ago – this time as the old-hand, not the newcomer. The perfect holiday season treat, and an inspiring one for young musicians.