MUSIC: More than a handful
Review by MIKE LOEWE, The Critter
Bryan Schimmel, 57, feels utterly unphased by his stutter on stage, so I will have no issue with bawling my eyes out.
This was more than my emotions over his life journey as a gay, Jewish Pretoria pianist, composer director, the klaps he took from his patriarchal father – physically and emotionally, or the gut-wrenching base he is pulling from the lower register of that piano.
No. I am tjanking because he is standing there on the boards right before me! An actor, at the National Arts Festival, in Denis Hutchinson’s gorgeous simple stage light, a set of simple props, family portraits, a coffee cup from Rent.
I am watching the dead come alive! It is surprising, shattering, actually.
Where did this upwelling come from? A sense of deprivation, even suffering, the aftershock of lockdown “annihilation”, in the words of Bryan.
The axe of Covid, which fell twice on thousands of artists and us, your followers, must have left an imperceptibly deep wound.
This is a cry-fest.
It is so intimate to the ideal of grand, scorching, witty, cocky, feisty, f__you artistic courage, which runs like a bleeding, yet refreshing aquifer deep in the basement of this arts movement.
More Than a Handful is a lay back and languish experience. You are on a great ride of memoir performance, excellent pacing, and then that wild and tender swinging on the piano.
The actor, the very person, the musical maestro, co-creator of Handful of Keys, is performing Jesus Christ Superstar with nuance once forgotten roaring back into my life.
It is magical and mesmerising to hear a composer take us through the language and story of music.
Alan Swerdlow’s directing is gimlet-eyed gritty yet does an extraordinary job of bringing out a swashbuckling, gleaming performance leading us to a brutal self-acknowledgement and a humbling, glorious homecoming.
We travel through his teen life to fame in SA – we actually jorled to his Rocky Horror Show in Norwood in 1993 or so. In fishnets and garters.
And on to the poesklap, which is New York. It’s a gruelling, glittering tale of hustling tables and bars, professional creative murder and some incredible advice to artists about getting out there a getting a heel in the door.
Then the drugs, and sex and suicidal thoughts. And making it. And directing and playing on Broadway!
Be warned. There is a second half and it gets profound and in-your-visage personal but not to worry it’s all spectacular. So real it’s surreal.
This is an awesome festival offering. So many recognisable elements woven in tightly and richly.
And that stuttering is incredible, intended improvisation because the lines thereafter flow seamlessly, like those ripples in a stream.
Bryan Schimmel: More than a Handful is on at 2.30 pm and 8 pm on Sunday, 26 June at the National Arts Festival.
Credits: Written by: Bryan Schimmel and Alan Swerdlow, directed by Alan Swerdlow, set and lighting by Denis Hutchinson.
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