SARAFINA! IN BLACK AND WHITE
DIRECTOR: Josias Moleele
CAST: Suzaan Helberg (Sarafina), Tshepo Ncokoane, Joanna Abatzoglou, Simphiwe Ndlovu, Zolani Shangase, Matsimela Mogotlane, Msizi Njapha, Hugo Madelyen, Palesa Makhalima, Tumelo Kope-Baloyi and other students; and soloists Louise Dunhain, Nwabisa, Vanessa Kgoale, Phenyo Maganedisa, Slindile Mthembu, Zama Ngubane, Reitumetse Thipe, Kyra Green
BAND: Phindile Nqana (guitar), Mudsa Mazibuko (bass guitar), Bongani Dibela (drums), Tumelo Moloto (keyboard/horns), Daniel Tiro (keyboard/piano), Mpho Masina (keyboard/organ)
CONDUCTOR: Michael Riff Themba
CHOREOGRAPHERS: Sidney Agnew, Letshego Seekoe
VENUE: Breytenbach Theatre, Sunnyside
UNTIL: October 20 at 8pm with matinee performances on October 20 at 3pm and at 4pm today and Thursday
What a stroke of genius to select Sarafina! as the annual musical production of the Tshwane University of Technology’s musical theatre department, stating with obvious clarity the intentions of the new staff. Moleele, a former student, bravely tackled this iconic local musical with his students in a manner that was both audacious and cunning.
If you think the “black and white” in the title refers to a rewriting or reimagining of the musical, think again. It could point to the skin colour of the cast, but then the director has chosen that they play the different roles in the musical as was intended – and they pull it off magnificently.
As the student cast pull together in similar fashion as the Soweto students of the story, the audience are pulled into the story which reminds us and those on stage of the horrors of the past. But look where we are, they seem to say, as they tell the story as if from one race. And they are all very proudly South African.
Most of the time, students in the past have performed – often brilliantly, earning the department a well-deserved reputation – Broadway musicals such as Cabaret or Into the Woods with the black students adopting the Western musical style as if to the manner born.
Well, ditto here for the white students. They played their compatriots with the same exuberance, energetic and passionate fist-pumping and riotous rhythms as if it all comes naturally. Zulu might not have slipped easily off the tongue for half of the cast, but no one noticed. As in any of their previous productions, the characters were adopted and the performances spot on. That includes the accents.
Mbongeni Ngema, the creator of this landmark musical, was there on opening night and at interval he was smiling. “One forgets colour and sees them for what they were, just children,” he said proudly.
It was a gamble for Moleele, choosing Sarafina! as his debut production, but it paid off magnificently, setting the tone for the future. The audience had as much fun as the cast and embraced the different characters – even a white Sarafina who was playing black.
If you want transformation, this is it in one fell swoop. No dilly-dallying here. Take the musical that has put us on the international musical map and give it to the students to tell the story in a refreshingly novel way. Allow all the students to benefit from different South African styles, accents, music and dancing. They gave it their everything and the results are invigorating.
When the audience was invited at the conclusion to join the cast in singing the anthem, everyone in the intimate auditorium was singing from the heart. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika raised the roof as it should. It was glorious and inspired singing following a Sarafina! that celebrates today’s young generation who staged and embraced such an amazing show.
It should be seen by many to both reflect on the past while racing into a future where colour is pushed to the back.