Von Memerty returns to a show that spawned 350000 fans

Von Memerty returns to a show that spawned 350000 fans

IAN VON MEMERTY is back on a stage in Cape Town. The producer and entertainer du jour will appear in ‘A Handful of Keys’ alongside Jonathan Roxmouth, one of the musical theatre world’s hottest properties, at Theatre At The Bay from March 27 to April 13. PETER TROMP exchanged emails with him.

‘A Handful of Keys’ has been around for a while now and has been seen by over 350000 people. As its original creator, how do you feel about the phenomenal success of the show?
Blessed, delighted, surprised, grateful. When we opened in 1994 in a tiny theatre, we were hoping for a five week run and here we are after 19 years, on cast number five, and no end in sight.

What would you say makes the show so special and has caused it to resonate with so many people?
No one knows when the magic will strike with a show, but I think it is a combination of things. The surprise that two men and two pianos can be so hugely entertaining and funny I think is definitely a factor. The show also continuously reinvents itself in front of the audience. Just when they think they have worked out what it is, it morphs into something better. It is a show that is greater than the sum of its parts, featuring virtuoso piano playing, high wit, low comedy, huge vocals, impersonation, irreverence, inventiveness. These elements somehow coalesce into something that leaves audiences with a sense of huge delight.

Tell us about the latest incarnation of ‘A Handful of Keys’ and what audiences can look forward to with your performances at Theatre On The Bay.
Well it is the first time that there is a 22 year age gap between the two performers, which alters the whole balance of the relationship on stage. And the fact that our young wunderkind genius Jonathan Roxmouth just happens to be my sort-of-adopted son, gives it a fresh joy.

You’re mostly operational in Gauteng, I believe. What’s it like for you performing for your Cape Town fans?
I actually live on a small plot outside PE, since I perform all over the country. I don’t think you can define a “Cape Town” audience or “Gauteng audience”. For instance, the audience at Theatre on the Bay is different from Grand West or the Good Hope Centre. Everywhere audiences are made up of the same thing – people who are there to have a good night out.

You do a lot of behind the scenes work these days and as a result we don’t get to see you on stage as much, especially in Cape Town. Does performing live on stage still hold the same allure for you?
I actually do a lot of performing – I just don’t do theatre runs, which do not hold that much allure for me. Only a show like ‘Handful’, which is impossible to get 100% right, because it is so complex and multi-levelled and can hold my attention for six weeks. A long run just does not fit into my life as father, husband, creator, entertainer and “earner”.

Tell us about your partner for the show, the previously mentioned Jonathan Roxmouth. What do you make of this phenomenally precocious talent?
I gave Jono his first professional role in 1995 and have been his mentor for the last seven years or so. He is gifted in so many ways, but so are other people. What puts him so far ahead is an extraordinary work ethic and single minded focus, a “stage” instinct and intelligence, and that special “connection” with an audience.

What about the chemistry between you on stage? How long did that take to cultivate?
We had to put this cast together in a great hurry when Roelof Colyn, who has done such fantastic work in ‘Handful’, suddenly had a clash of dates. Three days of rehearsals and Jono and I were performing on stage. I was nervous because it was the first time that two “leading men” had done the show together and the chemistry was instant and electrifying. A combination of our long history together, our individual experience, and a shared awful sense of humour seemed to instantly click.

Complete the following: Favourite movie; book; music album; song; midnight snack; cold beverage; hot beverage; holiday destination; lunch spot.
Favourite movie: this year – ‘Life of Pi. Book: ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ by Bill Bryson. Music album: The shuffle on my iPhone. Song: Delilah’s aria from Camille Saint-Saëns’s ‘Samson and Delilah’. Midnight snack: ice-cream followed by muesli. Cold beverage: glass of white wine. Hot beverage: Earl Grey Tea. Holiday destination: Anywhere quiet near the Mediterranean (though not in summer). Lunch spot: My veranda, where I can see no one except my family and hear only silence and wind, and laughter.

Finally, what can we expect from you next?
Four different projects about which I cannot speak, except ‘SA’s Got Talent’, which I am passionate about and is almost confirmed with e-TV for season 4. And ‘Handful’ may have found its international legs – more of that anon.

* Tickets are R100 to R160. Book at Computicket or the theatre box office on 021 438 3300.