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The first half of this year in The Mandela at Joburg Theatre is all about entertainment. That is what this theatre has claimed as their niche, and it works. But what differs from previous years is that dance dominates.
The curtain is already down on Elvis: The Show, which has had rave reviews, with Tango Fire: Flames of Desire opening tonight.
The company has visited the country before, but this is an all-new production exclusively for Joburg Theatre that runs until February 23.
It traces the tango’s roots from the barrios of Buenos Aires to cabaret, before moving through the decades to showcase the dance’s growing popularity as a contemporary dance form.
Sliding into classical storytelling mode, Joburg Ballet stages Coppélia from March 7 to 23, presenting one of the world’s most loved ballets.
It’s the story of the old toymaker who believes he’s breathed life into his beautiful mechanical doll. It’s one of those classical tales that engages the whole family.
Still on the dance theme, after two sold-out seasons in Cape Town, Sean Bovim’s Queen at the Ballet has a run from March 26 to April 13.
The production is all about the athleticism of rock ballet en pointe in a high-impact production packed with innovative, original choreography and powerful performances from the strong cast of dancers.
Of course, Freddy Mercury is at the centre of the story, which unfolds through dance. Set to over 20 of his greatest hits (including Who Wants to Live Forever, Another One Bites the Dust, Barcelona and many more), expect to see tender pas de deux interspersed with exciting rocking group numbers performed by over 20 of South Africa’s top dancers.
Michael Hankinson’s recorded orchestral arrangements of Queen’s music are enhanced by the powerful live vocals of rocker Cito (WONDERboom and Jesus Christ Superstar fame), Daniel Fisher (Fiddler on the Roof) and Angela Kilian (Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard and Eva Perón in Evita).
Breaking into the dance with two date-specific interludes, Daughters of the King, an Easter gospel extravaganza presented in association with Thabo Pitso and Andrew Timm, plays from April 17 to 21.
It’s a retelling of the Easter story with a multimedia stage production featuring live music, song, drama and dance, and utilising a LED-based set and innovative stage effects.
There’s another interesting twist – the story is told through the eyes of the women in Jesus’ life.
The cast includes the cream of gospel talent, including Rebecca Malope, Gloria Bosman, Ntokozo Mbambo and Malie Kelly.
Backing them up is Afrikaans gospel star Freddie Wessels and a fabulous gospel choir, accompanied by an eight-piece live band under the baton of Nqubeko Mbata.
The country celebrates 20 years of democracy this year, which The Mandela will honour with Anthems of Democracy. The show will run from April 22 to 27, and will feature legendary artists who stood against apartheid by writing songs protesting against the regime.
Back to dance, following their season at The Market, Vuyani Dance Theatre’s Full Moon is described as stretching from galaxies in outer space to the canyons of the oceans, mountains and rivers with the haunting music of a live orchestra and 25 of the most exciting dancers.
It runs from April 30 to May 11.
Then it’s something completely different. Superstar stand-up comedian and film actor Vir Das returns with History of India: VIRitten from May 30 to June 1 for three shows only.
Vir Das says: “History is hugely funny. We just haven’t read it right. Come and see a history so twisted, so funny, so out-of-the-box, so completely unbelievable, you won’t be sure it even actually happened.”
A couple of highlights from July to December this year: In a coup for Joburg Theatre, the South African premier production of one of the funniest musicals of all time, Monty Python’s Spamalot, will be staged in The Mandela from July 11 to August 10.
If you know that hilarious bunch, this one is a rip-off of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, again retelling the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, and featuring a bevy of beautiful show girls.
The timing of this production is great, with original Python members John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Eric Idle having just announced that they will be re-uniting for five massive (already sold-out) shows in London’s O2 Arena next July. It will be directed by Simon James and choreographed by Timothy Le Roux, with a local cast still to be announced.
And, to conclude, it’s Ms Honeyman to the rescue with her annual pantomime, which this year is the much-loved Peter Pan, which will run from November 5 to December 28.
Based on the classic tale by JM Barrie, this brand-new production – as always, created by director Janice Honeyman, who probably already has her pen poised – has a series of surprises in store.
One of the big revelations each year is the villain of the piece.
In a novel move, Craig Urbani has been cast as the menacing Captain Hook, so it will be fun to see how he slithers into those slimy boots.
Smee, Captain Hook’s bumbling sidekick, will be played by Bongi Mthombeni, who seems to have booked his place as a panto showstopper.
Michael Riff Themba (currently wowing audiences in The Market’s The Colored Museum) will play the gutsy hero Peter Pan, and every little girl’s dream, Tinkerbell, will be portrayed by Thembsie Matu, best known to South Africans for her hilarious role as Prudence in the DStv adverts.
All’s well that ends well, they say, and the Joburg Theatre have that perfectly sewn up!