Luxurama: songs of defiant diva
THE LUXURAMA Theatre, Wynberg, fondly known as the Lux, was legendary. It opened in 1964: the first apartheid-era theatre complex to host mixed audiences. World stars like Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, Percy Sledge, Jose Feliciano and Lovelace Watkins performed there. Big names signed on for the Lux because it was an integrated venue.
Veteran performer/musical director Alistair Izobell, who performed at the Lux as a child and the Baxter’s CEO Lara Foot, have teamed up to write Remembering the Lux, a homage to the theatre and a celebration of the talent that it has nurtured.
The show runs from December 3 to January 9 featuring Izobell, Terry Fortune, Terry Hector, Loukmaan Adams, Niesha Abrahams, Leslie Kleinsmith, Giempie Vardien, Nur Abrahams and Kashiefa Blaauw, accompanied by a sixpiece band led by Donveno Prins.
The roll call of South African star performers who launched their careers at the Lux includes Taliep Petersen, Zayn Adam, Jonathan Butler and Richard Jon Smith. Bands like The Rockets, The Bats, Rabbit and Ballyhoo cut their musical teeth there. As the cultural boycott crested, local artists sang cover versions of the songs by boycotting artists.
“Cape Town had its own Shirley Bassey. Its own Nat King Cole. They were stars,” said Foot. “I am sort of a scribe on this show, rather than a writer. It’s very much Alistair’s piece. We deal with the history and the people who sang there: it’s a historical musical revue.”
Izobell adds, “Besides being entertaining, it’s going to be educational and remind people about a place that they have perhaps forgotten.”
“Most ‘mature’ performers in this show started their careers at the Lux – like Terry Fortune and Terry Smith, Niesha, Giempie, Leslie,” explains Foot. “And then there’s the next generation – Alistair and Loukmaan (Adams) who were there as kids, and a younger generation who weren’t there but continue in the tradition of the Lux.
“Inviting people to post their memories on the Baxter’s Lux Facebook page has been an important part of the process of putting the show together. We are reflecting their memories. The show mostly features cover versions but Alistair is also writing songs… kick-arse.”
Fortune who strutted in high heels as a drag queen for the bulk of his career, remarks: “Alistair has written some stunning songs. He wrote me one – It Takes a Man to be a Woman.”
Fortune was in the audience at the Lux on opening night to watch Cinderella.
“I was 17. I remember walking into the Lux and the opulence. If you look at photos of District Six in 1963, 1964, 1965 – it was looking decrepit, tired. So you can imagine the contrast walking into Lux: plush carpets, marble floors, fountains on the walls, cerise string curtains.”
“Lux had 1 444 seats and a revolving stage. I think that it had the biggest movie screen in South Africa,” says Izobell.
The Lux limped along until about four or five years ago, hosting community events, but its heyday was the 1960s and 1970s. The building is now a school.
“Audiences that went to the Lux moved to the Baxter (built in 1976). Somehow, I feel a connection – that the Baxter is the right place to do this play,” said Foot.
● Tickets are R135-R155 at Computicket on 0861 915 8000 or www.computicket.co.za
MUSIC’S MILITANT MAMA:
cast is raring to take audiences on a lyrical tour of Wynberg’s Luxurama Theatre that became the home not only of local and global artists but also of generations of activists.