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THE AFRICAN PASSION
DIRECTOR/LIBRETTIST: Themi Venturas
MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Anthony Govender
CHOREOGRAPHER: Daisy Spencer
CAST: A cast of 21, supplemented by Umlazi Oasis Church Choir and Clermont Community Choir
VENUE: National Tour
TAKE a bow Catalina UnLtd for the original African telling of the Passion of Christ through The African Passion.
The gospel opera, which has been two years in the making, had its world premiere at the Umlazi Oasis Fellowship Centre Church on Thursday.
That a production of its magnitude premiered in a township is historical, with the rest of the national tour set to stage in other townships around the country too.
Let’s start with the originally composed music for The African Passion – libretto written by Themi Venturas, with music composed by award-winning gospel choral composer Phelelani Mnomiya, Antony Govender (of Destiny Music) and the Young Mbazo (the grandchildren of Ladysmith Black Mambazo).
It is important, however, that a show such as this is not all about entertaining. The African Passion is a telling of the story of the Passion of Christ, in a uniquely South African way, and the team have ensured they stay true to the biblical-based content – as is evident from the libretto and the songs’ lyrics. A cast of 21, supplemented by Umlazi Oasis Church Choir and Clermont Community Choir, shine on stage.
The show features Bonginkosi “Faca” Kulu as Jesus, Natalia da Rocha as his mother Mary, Sharon Dee as Mary Magdalene, Grant Jacobs as Simon Peter, Dewaldt von Solms as Pontius Pilate, Caitlin Kilburn as Pilate’s wife, Blessing Xaba as Caiaphas, Aubrey Lodewyk as Annas and a host of other superb singers, featuring Young Mbazo.
From start to finish the audience is kept engaged and entertained through the manner in which the production rolls out. An emotional portrayal of characters by the cast, the programme is swift but accurate in its account of Jesus Christ’s journey to and through Crucifixion and the Resurrection, with splashes of humour in between.
That said, there was one section, Party Tricks (a hip-hop themed segment), that I was unsure of how it fit into the story. However, the audience on opening night seemed very entertained by it.
Kudos to Nompumelelo Mkhize (costume design) for really complementing the show with an African feel. A clever set design and use of modern AV technology (Venturas, Clinton Stevenson, Wired Media) ensures quick scene changes, which helps keep the momentum of the piece. The sound adjustments do, however, need to be tweaked – there were a few instances on opening night where the transition between characters (lowering some mics and increasing others) was too slow and at times too loud for performers with higher-pitched vocals.
The African Passion celebrates our African identity within the story of The Passion of Christ and should not be missed.
• The African Passion wrapped up its Durban run on Sunday. It now moves to the Port Elizabeth Opera House, March 21-24; the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town, March 28-31; the Soweto Theatre in Joburg, April 5-7; Joburg Theatre, April 11-14; Mmabatho Civic Centre in Mafikeng, April 18-21; City Hall, Durban, April 26-28 (to be confirmed). Bookings are at Computicket throughout the country, except for the Joburg Theatre run, where booking is through its call centre at 0861 670 670.