Mile High With Cathy Specific - The Jumbo Package
By Nantie Steyn
Brendan van Rhyn's previous blockbuster performance was the one as Frank'n Furter in the Rocky Horror Show, also at the Victory Theatre and also directed by Maralin Vanrenen. As Cathy Specific in Mile High The Jumbo Package, Brendan slips into 6-inch stilettos once more. It made sense for me to ask him if he likes performing in heels when I interviewed him after the show.
"I love it," he said. "I was BORN in high heels."
It must be true, I thought, glancing despondently at my Birkenstocks, he did look very comfortable in them. We were sitting in his private dressing room (a great privilege I suspect) because the crew and cast were having dinner in the green room after the matinee.
There is something about being in a dressing room, backstage at a theatre, that smacks wonderfully of illicit glamour. The clothing rails were covered in spangled satin and other things that glittered and shone. Brendan was still in his false lashes and big eye make-up, and had long red nails that would win the Best Manicure competition in Sandton City any day of the week. A dressing room is a different planet, but it is in the same universe as the one where Brendan places Cathy Specific.
"Once upon a time air travel was very glamorous," he said, "and that is what I tried to give her." As a result, Cathy Specific manifests immaculately turned out in a powder-blue suit with a pillbox hat nattily balanced on a big, flawlessly coiffed blonde wig. Her styling is American Airlines 1950's: snug and sexy with a fabulous smile that almost never leaves her face.
Mile High with Cathy Specific The Jumbo Package is an ass-kicking, raunchily comic cabaret, loosely structured around the fantastic life journey of its main character. From a tender age Cathy dreams of "every girl's dream job" to be an air hostess, and a Broadway star. Encouraged by their domestic worker, Tryphina, young Cathy rushes home from school every day to find her mother's shoes neatly lined up for her to try on.
"The the whole show is largely about my own experiences."
"...So the maid really did line up your mother's..." I started.
"Yes! Except her name was not Tryphina, but Selina...." he continues whistfully, "There were these gold-sprayed ones with open toes that I just loved."
"...And your mother actually did...?"
"Yes. But she did not mind, much." Which I found very progressive of her.
Brendan also became a real, live air hostess (in a manner of speaking), as it seemed to be the more realistic of the two job options. After six years of flying internationally, however, he decided that there was more to him than "chicken or beef".
Much more. The original version of Mile High was a few years in the making and Brendan ended up co-writing the text and reworking the song lyrics with director Maralin Vanrenen. Both the Sexual Innuendo and the Double Entendre feature prominently in their work, sometimes unfortunately to the detriment of the writing: "come" and "blow" as saucy allusions are only funny so many times.
But the song lyrics are genuinely witty: from Strangers on a Flight (taking the Mile High metaphor to its logical conclusion) to The Lady has a Cramp (ever seen the flight attendants eat?), the writers have done an excellent job in integrating a collection of great songs into the show.
The music punctuates a brilliant variety of air-travel stories. Cathy Specific reflects on all aspect of flying. The pre-flight narrative includes the sleepless nights, worrying about missing a red-eye, losing your passport, getting stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the airport and not finding parking once you arrive.
And then, once the hapless travellers board Cathy's flight, they become the archetypes that give the show its meat. It is very funny to see oneself through a flight crew's eyes. It's even funnier to see the average Cape Town traveller through their eyes. "Capetonians always think they are on a long-haul transatlantic flight", which makes the journey between Jozi and Cape Town, in Cathy's opinion, "two hours too long". (I appreciate that this may not be funny for folk from the mother city.)
The passenger with Tourettes, the one with the "special meal" and "every Tom, Dick and fucking Harriet" who are exercising up and down the aisles to avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) are enough to drive a girl into suspenders.
And she does not look half bad in them either. Cathy has legs up to heaven (literally: she towers over her fellow actors, but spirited, committed performances keep them well in the picture) and a voice to match. No-one could accuse her of dreaming too big when she dreams of Broadway.
Originally written as a four-hander, the show had a sold-out run at the Liberty Life Theatre on the Square last year. Now playing at the revamped Victory Theatre in Orange Grove, it is a larger, better version of itself. There is a live band, and the chorus line has been increased to six. The stage design is clever, the musical direction and choreography top-notch and the costumes a delight. All these things cost a lot of money.
I asked Brendan if they had sponsorship... "Other than the head rest covers on the seats and adverts in the programme, no cash sponsorship", he said.
Joe Theron, who owns the Victory Theatre and was responsible for the R28-million upgrade of the venue, financed the show. It seems that upgrades are what Joe does.
Brendan is ambitious when it comes to the future of the production. A country-wide tour is being planned for major cities and smaller towns from Secunda to Sasolburg. This does not have to be an expensive exercise. "One can do many versions of the show," Brendan points out. "One can reduce the chorus line again and keep the band, or lose the band.... it can be done as a one-woman show."
Not only does Brendan "love being her", he also has "big plans" for Cathy. She has been asked to host a travel show on radio, and is setting her sights on her own TV travel programme.
So, Cathy is a girl with a bright future. If you catch her now, you can say you knew her when she was an air hostess. Find her at the Victory Theatre until 15 November.
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