Actors Khaya Dladla, Phindile Gwala and Sanele Gwala promise to be on top of their game for their upcoming performances in How Long?

A celebrity cast and crew, a six-piece band, 13-piece orchestra and one of SA's fiercest musical dramas ever will make for Africa Month’s most ‘woke’ performance yet, writes Omeshnie Naidoo.

Gibson Kente’s musical drama How Long? will run at the Playhouse Opera Theatre from May 5 to 27, and it promises to be entertaining.
The playwright, considered to be the father of South African theatre, was among the first to locate his work in the gritty township reality. 

He went to prison for How Long?, which was last performed in 1973. It is based on the death of Khulu in the face of brutal police action under apartheid bureaucracy.

Kente’s melodrama will be directed by drama doyen Duma Ndlovu, with musical direction by popular gospel composer Phelelani Mnomiya.

From cultural luminaries to pop culture icons, the choreography is by entertainment “A-lister” Somizi Mhlongo and the star cast includes household names such as Thembi Mtshali, Khaya Dladla, Mondli Makhoba, Nqobile Ndlovu and Phindile Gwala.

Linda Bukhosini, the Playhouse Company’s chief executive and artistic director, said the star ensemble would be backed by a six-piece band and 13-piece orchestra, ensuring a musical collaboration among artists of various race groups for a true Africa Month celebration.

Gwala, who has more than 100 000 followers on Instagram and most notably rose to fame on soap Muvhango, chatted to The Mercury about the powerhouse production.

“When I first saw the orchestra in rehearsal I was completely moved by the discipline and the grandeur.

“The performers themselves have shown such dedication to a work that has so much gravity. I’m convinced this is going to be fresh.”

Gwala reveals: “I’m a Christian and I visited Israel in February. I’m like that, I do my research. I’m not from Soweto but I dived into this. It’s huge.

Gwala, who has more than 100 000 followers on Instagram and most notably rose to fame on soap Muvhango.

“Discovering the role of Nompi turned my life around and, in many ways, I feel an affinity to the characters and their struggle.”

The Eshowe-born actress, who began her career in theatre, notably Money Maker, and moved on to radio and television is a multi-faceted star, mother, cook and businesswoman.

In fact, Gwala and her model fiancé, Armando Ngandu, are busy launching their own production company.

She said Muvhango definitely opened doors for her and helped make her well known.

“I remember when I first got onto the show. It was just one week. I still didn’t have money and was taking a taxi to work. People recognised me. At first I thought I was going to be robbed, I didn’t realise the attention was instant fame.”Gwala said she was young and inexperienced when she joined the soapie, but with a child and love in her life, she has moved on as she has come to value her time.

“Theatre is seasonal and allows me far more family time. I’m in a very happy place with all my current ventures.”

Gwala is also happy to be recognised as a role model but says she hasn’t done much. “I’ve just grown into my body. I don’t gym. I eat what I like and I dance. But I’m so comfortable in my own skin. I’m thick and I’m happy with it.

She is but one of a stellar cast, and whether you turn out to see your favourite celeb, an important piece of theatre or its execution, you’re bound to be intoxicated by the power of theatre.

* Show times for this not-to-be-missed production are 7pm Tuesdays to Fridays, 2pm and 7pm Saturdays and 2pm Sundays. Tickets range from R100 to R150. Public bookings are through Computicket. Special school performances are available at R30 per learner. Bookings for these performances are through phone on 0313699460/07 or e-mail [email protected]