Contrary to what has become somewhat hackneyed scepticism about the future of local theatre and habitual talk about theatre dying out, musical theatre in South Africa appears to be the one theatre genre that is going from strength to strength.
“People will always want to be entertained,” says Bryan Hill, theatre manager of the Teatro at Montecasino. Hill says that South Africans may not be that big on art, but they are huge on entertainment.
This year audiences have been treated to The Colour Purple, The Sound of Music, West Side Story, Camelot, and theatre producer Jaco Van Rensburg’s two marvellous productions, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Avenue Q.
Hill says that audiences enjoy seeing what they relate to. The Colour Purple is a perfect example. The musical’s theme and message, while not South African, resonated with South Africans and audiences flocked to the theatre, making it an enormous success.
Van Rensburg does not shy away from introducing audiences to new international musicals that are less known to South Africans. He selects productions that may be less familiar, but have something unique to offer theatre goers. Besides entertainment, Van Rensburg believes in giving his audiences something reflective to leave the theatre with.
Both Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Avenue Q were extremely popular and received rave reviews. Avenue Q can still be seen until this weekend at the Pieter Toerien Theatre at Montecasino. It is a production that no theatre lover can afford to miss, and the perfect opportunity to introduce newbies to the magic of good theatre.
At the State Theatre Aubrey Sekhabi’s African musicals, Marikana - the Musical, and Freedom have been runaway successes. Sekhabi’s genre can best be described as a musical theatre for the people about the people.
They are locally created musicals with real social significance in which Sekhabi uses current and historic affairs to stimulate social awareness in a creative and entertaining fashion. His musicals tell stories about people who live through significant socio-political happenings that shape history and alter lives.
Both Hill and Van Rensburg comment on the progress that has been made in providing training of excellence to young performers wanting to specialise in musical theatre. In Pretoria, the Tshwane University of Technology and Oakfields College offer qualifications in Musical Theatre.
Other private institutions offering training include the Johannesburg Academy for Theatre Arts, and the Waterfront Theatre School and the Cape Academy of Performing Arts in Cape Town. Starting next year, also in Cape Town, Luitingh Alexander Musical Theatre Academy will open its doors at Pieter Toerien’s Theatre On The Bay.
Partners Cameron Botha and Charmain Botha, both seasoned professionals in staging musical theatre productions, founded the OAK Youth Theatre in Pretoria in 2014.
Having identified a niche for pooling talent of young students from various dance schools, music schools and drama schools, they provide a platform on which these performers can hone their talents in full-scale musical theatre productions under the expert eyes of professionals.
In the last few years, OAK Youth Theatre successfully produced Alice in Wonderland, Thumbelina and Cinderella and received great feedback, not only on the standard of their work, but also on their vision of preparing young performers for the industry.
This year the company presents Beauty and the Beast, which will be staged at the Atterbury Theatre this month. This production is jam packed with talented artists from the greater Gauteng region as well as artists from the East Rand, Krugersdorp and Mpumalanga.
The story of Belle is a classic story of true love that prevails in the end.
We get to know Belle as a young woman from a small town where everybody thinks she is odd as she loves to read books.
The gregarious Gaston sets his eyes on the beautiful Belle and decides that she will be his future bride, much to the delight of Gaston’s side kick, Le Fou. The Beast captures Belle’s father, Maurice when he tries to pick Belle a beautiful rose in a garden, not knowing that he is in fact on the Beast’s property.
While on a quest to find her father, Belle happens to discover the Beast’s castle. What Belle encounters at the castle is somewhat confusing, as she has never before met a talking teapot, a grumpy clock, a boisterous feather duster and a charming candlestick.
However, with a very nifty plan, she swops places with her father and finds herself to be the grumpy and discontented Beast’s prisoner.
The production has a cast of zealous young performers and an exquisite set.
The production runs from July 11 to 21. Bookings at Computicket.