The perennial hit, Ian Von Memerty’s A Handful of Keys is back! Clocking in over 1,450 performances for some 420,000 fans over it’s 23 years lifespan there seems no doubt that this virtuoso celebration of the piano is still picking up momentum like a musical juggernaut.
The show first opened in 1994 under the direction of Alan Swerdlow, with a script by Malcolm Terrey and costumes by Margo Fleisch. Originally the show saw Ian Von Memerty and Bryan Schimmel take to the keys.
The show has since had many incarnations, totaling six cast changes over all. Stars such as Jonathan Roxmouth, Roelof Colyn, Jeremy Quickfall have joined the ranks over the years. Constant but small changes have ensured that this show has remained a firm favorite at theatres and festivals alike. Four costume designers have since then offered their talents to the show’s aesthetics, with the current show now boasting Von Memerty on both direction and script.
Having toured as far afield as Australia, London and Dubai this proudly South African show has entertained local audiences in Johannesburg, Durban, Hilton, Springs and Cape Town. “But we’ve never done Bloemfontein”, schemes Von Memerty. Showbiz legend Ian Von Memerty recalls some anecdotal fun along the way, having played in an Australian gambling club for an Orthodox Jewish audience, playing on Perspex pianos in Dubai and, of course, the time a certain cast member nearly became concussed leaping under the piano.
Never one to sit on his laurels, Von Memerty has been hard at work auditioning a surprise third Handful at each of the upcoming tour destinations. “It’s about evolution and reinvention, but it is the talent involved which determines the feel of this show”. Giving fresh new talent the opportunity to join A Handful of Keys echoes Von Memerty’s lifelong goal of providing the best talent available to the legions of Keys fans. “The range of talent (seen) has been delightful”, enthuses Von Memerty. “So far our youngest guest star is a child prodigy. We’ve had, among many others, a lawyer, a property developer, a school leaver… it is just fascinating”. Finding those very rare individuals who have the right combination of talents is never an easy task. Von Memerty insists that the performers must first and foremost be “very good and versatile pianists”. The magic of the A Handful of Keys winning formula is clearly a combination of skill, chemistry, and bravado.
This season at Theatre On The Bay will see Roelof Colyn, no longer the newbie to the show; take on the role of anchor to the piece. Von Memerty affectionately refers to Colyn as the best pianist he knows, a “charming, ultra dexterous and very funny anchor”. Joining Colyn is Port Elizabeth local, 19-year-old James Smith. “James is a 6ft 6” giant, with a huge mouth, a super human vocal range, mad hair and a very quirky wit”, explains Von Memerty. When questioned as to why fans of the show should experience this year sparkling new incarnation, Von Memerty states adamantly that fans will love the new material and this new combination of talent.
With a fresh new cast comes a slick new veneer to the show. ”The set has been simplified because the material has got stronger,” says Von Memerty. “Initially our costumes were very ‘sweet’, now they are POW. We used to use real pianos back in the day, now we have the very best Yamaha electric grand pianos with the best ‘feel’ and sound imaginable. About 50 percent of the material has changed,” boasts Von Memerty, “but the winning format hasn’t changed. It is still everything that two men can do with two pianos in two hours”. This constant roller coaster of surprise and delight runs at Pieter Toerien’s Theatre On The Bay from 30 August until 8 October and at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Main Theatre from 22 November until 14 January next year.
(L – R) James Smith, (Director) Ian Von Memerty & Roelof Colyn.
“It is a concert, a comedy, a firework display of musicality. You will hold your breath at times and then you will be gasping for after laughing as hard as you have done in ages,” promises Von Memerty.
Tickets can be bought through the Theatre On The Bay box-office on (021) 438-3301, the Montecasino Theatre box-office on (011) 511-1818, through computicket.com or simply click on the BOOK NOW feature.
See you at the theatre!