By Debbie Reynolds
You’d expect there to be fireworks when a New York Broadway star collides with the Karkloof Farmers’ Market. Instead, the moment went almost unnoticed, except for a quick showgirl pose on a hay bail and some sharp stallholders.
Quietly slipping into the market on a sunny Saturday morning in her understated jeans and checked shirt was Amra-Faye Wright, one of South Africa’s most famous showbiz exports, whose face – and legs – have adorned billboards not only in Times Square, but around the world.
Picture, top: Amra-Faye Wright with Bebe Neuwirth in Chicago in January 2014. Picture: National Public Radio
And yet, here she was shopping for lekker home-grown pampoen, free-range beef, gluten-free cookies and botanical hand cream; queuing for coffee and tucking into a good old greasy “with-the-works-breakfast”.
Except for the tri-colour pesto man asking if she was Roxette’s sister, the breakfast man thinking he should have her autograph (although not clear why) and a dear old lady asking me if she was a famous dancer, Amra-Faye blended perfectly into the eclectic mix of market shoppers.
Underneath the glitz she puts on for her coveted role as Velma Kelly in the sassy musical, Chicago, Amra-Faye is a farmgirl at heart and, while she’s now a US citizen, South Africa still tugs at her heart strings.
Having performed in Durban many moons ago, she managed a few escapes to the Midlands, but especially the magical Mbona Private Nature Reserve, which always soothes her soul.
She says it’s communing with nature at its very best … walking with zebras and wildebeest, listening to the calls of fish eagles, lying in a bed of crunchy autumn leaves, soaking up warm summer rains and watching the mist roll down over the hills.
It’s spring days marvelling at the azaleas blooming, winter nights curled up in front of the fire and the particular colours of changing seasons all rolled into a stillness that is impossible to find in big cities.
But for her – and the rest of us who are blessed to share a part of this wonderful world – it’s also about the people, their friendliness, quirkiness and a welcome naivete that comes with living from the soil.
She says New Yorkers are too busy to care about what anyone else is doing, Londoners can be particularly insular and in Japan she has to contend with stalkers.
Now living in New York City and having toured much of the world in her star-studded career as first a Sun City dancer, then singer and actress, Amra-Faye grabs every opportunity to visit South Africa, particularly her home-town of East London and Joburg and Durban, where she honed her skills before heading abroad.
She is, however, as homegrown and down-to-earth as they come, with none of the diva quality one would expect from a person who has worked alongside the likes of Usher, Brooke Shields, Melanie Griffiths, Huey Lewis and Christie Brinkley.
It could be because she worked so hard and sacrificed so much to live her dream, but it’s more like her heart is in the right place. She’s never forgotten where she comes from or the people who shared her journey.
I’ve never known someone who takes such pleasure in the small things in life. Looking at a Midlands sunrise through her eyes turned the mundane into the magnificent.