Review: Jonathan Roxmouth’s Key Change – My Favourite Pianists- magnificent, marvellous, magical stunning show underpinned by a multi-dimensional and innovative conceptual arc

Key Change – Jonathan Roxmouth’s Key Change – My Favourite Pianists

Where and when: Theatre on the Bay, Camps Bay – March 15 to April 8, 2023 (8pm and two shows on Saturdays – 3pm and 8pm- no shows on Sundays and Mondays). Returns to Pieter Toerien Montecasino Main Theatre, from October 11, 2023.
Bookings: Webtickets

Featuring: Jonathan Roxmouth  
Band:   Kelsey Brookes (keys 2), Cole Matthews (bass), Beric Symes (guitar), Jarryd West (drums) and Jessica west (keys 1)
Sound designer: Mark Malherbe
Set designer: Ben Barker
Lighting designer: Oliver Hauser
Lighting & AV Operator and stage manager: Progress Mphande  

At the start of Key Change – My Favourite Pianists, Jonathan Roxmouth tells us that he loves the piano. Well, we love Jonathan Roxmouth. I love, love, loved his show, Key Change – My Favourite Pianists. Key Change is not only a homage to his favourite pianists; it is a rousing love-letter to his family and how his family has supported him in his career,  from his early years, as fledgling piano player, tinkering on his red toy piano. It is a love-letter to his fans who have been with him on his journey as a musical theatre star (such as the big musicals as Phantom of the Opera) and his parallel career in shows like A Handful of Keys and in the shows/revues, which he has conceived and conceptualised such as Key Change – his new show. After sold-out houses in Johannesburg at Pieter Toerien Montecasino, Key Change is selling out in Cape Town. Unfortunately I was not able to be at the opening. I saw it on the weekend (March 25) and it was sold out, with people, pleading at the box office, for tickets. It also sold out at the matinee performance on Saturday. Is Key Change that good? Yes, it is beyond that good. Key Change: My Favourite Pianists is magnificent, marvellous and magical. It goes way beyond showcase of beautiful music, strung together by the talented Roxmouth. Keep reading.

I have said this before and will say it again: Jonathan Roxmouth is incomparable. Not only has he excelled in big musicals but he is a virtuoso piano player, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of music from the classics – the Beethovens,  Bachs to popular music- to musicals- to TV soundtracks (piano themes, of course, for Roxmouth). He has brought his passion for piano to Key Change and bundled his dazzling artistry with stories which are filled with insight into his trajectory as a piano player. Key Change is funny, immensely entertaining, poignant and moving. I loved the stories about his family and his wonder years as a pre-pubescent piano player, performing at his school’s valedictory, with his mom as fan club, keying him in, from the back of the hall.

Key Change is much more than Roxmouth making his way through a list of piano songs that he loves. It conjures up a potent portrait as the artist as a story teller, as troubadour, his zeal for his craft and to his connection; always with his audience. It is the audience who puts him where he is. I have to say, that in this regard, I don’t think that I have ever seen an artist to get out of the theatre, into the foyer as fast as Roxmouth did on Saturday night. It is a quick-change of note – a dash from the auditorium into the foyer. As we vacated the foyer, Roxmouth teleported himself, ready to shake hands with fans, pose for photos and chat. This is Johnathan Roxmouth – showman extraordinaire and an individual who cares deeply as an entertainer for those that attend his shows. He is accessible and present and totally removed from the concept of a star who is aloof and who stays in the wings.

Okay, so after that rave, I need to write about the show.  Roxmouth is accompanied by a terrific five-piece band and that layers the show, with texture and nuance. It would have lowered production costs to have him solo on stage but the band heightens his piano playing and singing. It is a big show-musically, visually and aurally. The lighting by Oliver Hauser is extraordinary (he wowed me recently with us lighting at Maynardville Open-Air Theatre Festival, Cape Town, for A Midsummer Night’s Dream). The lighting plot is synched with the set design by Ben Barker- piano strings. Roxmouth quips at the beginning, self-deprecatingly, that it (the set -strings) is like a bar-code. The strings are emblematic of his love of piano. The movement of the strings, charged with Hauser’s lighting, animates the set design. This is perhaps a nod to Roxmouth’s love of animation in musicals- a singing and dancing tea-cup makes sense and captivates us. For me the set and lighting design animates the stage and it riffs off Roxmouth and his key changes as he takes us the audience through his favourite piano moments. There is also the use of a G0-Pro, perched on the piano lid, which beams up a live-feed of his hands (and rings) onto the screen, spliced against and interwoven with the piano strings. This imbues the show with the buzz of an arena show, when the action on stage is relayed onto screens so that those at the back can see what is on stage. This is another nod to Roxmouth’s affinity and understanding of the performance space and how the audience interacts with what is on stage.

While writing this review, I asked Roxmouth about the use of the live-feed of his hands and he told me that the inclusion in Key Change, was inspired by Billy Joel’s concerts in Madison Square Gardens in the USA. Yes, many musos use live-feeds in their arena and stadium shows, but the focus in Key Change, is on the hands, with some archival footage of Roxmouth as a tot (very cute). The Piano Man, Billy Joel, is saluted in a big way in Key Change, by Roxmouth.

The design (lighting, set) in Key Change, is clever and adroit in building and amplifying the shifts in the key changes across genres, medleys and the way that the songs are strung together, throughout the show. A shout-out to Progress Mphande for operating the AV and live-feed on the screen.

I have been asked what my favourite is from Key Change and I can say- so many favourite moments which made me smile and go – ‘wow’. I love his Carole King: Beautiful. I love his ode to piano song TV themes. I was enchanted by his sequence: Of Mice and Menken– an ode to Alan Menken – the musical theatre genius and prolific composer of music for Disney animated films. I could imagine a young child watching Key Change – and thinking – ‘Yes, I want to be a piano player. I want to learn how to do THAT.’ Mention must be made that Roxmouth (36 as of March 2023) skipped out training at a musical theatre institution. He went directly from school (sure, all the piano exams and musicals at his school) and whoosh onto the boards, on the professional musical theatre circuit. He is inspirational in every way. Key Change is a must see. If you missed Key Change in Johannesburg (it was sold out), there will be a return season at Pieter Toerien Montecasino Main Theatre, from October 11, 2023. Beyond the suave and captivating Roxmouth, charming us in Key Change with his favourite pianists in a polished and stylish revue, the stunning show is underpinned by a multi-dimensional innovative conceptual arc which has been impeccably articulated and crafted. Encore – for a Key Change – part 2 – more please.

Songs in the key of the piano: Jonathan Roxmouth performs
Key Change – My Favourite Pianists. Images by Jaco Botha. Supplied.