A musical that’s almost the same age as its performers, that’s Sarafina! for you. But what makes Sarafina! even more endearing is that it was adapted into a well-loved, critically acclaimed film that created stars, and featured international superstars.
It was at the time, a story black South Africans could identify with after going through years where what was on screen was not necessarily representative of them.
While there are many similarities between the film and the production, the two are not identical, which keeps the element of surprise alive and well. The compositions of Dr Ngema, and the late Hugh Masekela, are rich and showcase the musical versatility of the pair, but also of South Africans who were the inspiration of the music.
The choreography of the production is high energy and quick-footed, which makes for excellent viewing when executed with precision. This was achieved, mostly. However, some scenes just did not quite work out.
Tshegofatso Mafojane as Sarafina is comfortable on stage and while there were moments were she was occasionally flustered, she pulled off a solid performance.
Performing Mistress It’s A Pity for the educator featured in the production, was a highlight for me with her solid, old school vocals. She has about her a regalness that you can mostly only find in singers from the ’60s and ’70s. The wardrobe choices for her also worked out, flattering.
The performance of Ngema’s Stimela sase Zola got the audience really going, which was a testimony to how well the song was executed. The band also deserves to be acknowledged for the stellar performance they rendered. They anchored the show.
The set design was very simple, with scaffolding erected on the stage, as well as a fence.
While I would have liked to see more props, the scene where some students needed to be buried was done creatively with the cast having to use their bodies to illustrate the carrying of the coffins.
They moved as though they were carrying a coffin. It was very convincing, and it forced the viewer to get involved by using their imagination. With only their placement on stage illustrating this, and how they collectively moved their bodies to convey their message, it was great acting.
Hearing different versions of the songs played in the film was also a pleasure, because it felt as though the real political meaning of the production was inserted into the story.
I could hear the palatable anger of the people from the time could appreciate how difficult life was for people of colour under apartheid.
The story also repositions 1976 student leaders Tsietsi Mashinini and Khotso Seahlolo in their rightful place in history. Commemorating the bravery and strength of Victoria Mxenge also left me feeling warm and inspired.
Even though dialogue lost me at times, I was happy to see the diversity in age and race in the theatre, of people who came to pay homage to the generation of ’76.
This re-staging of this Broadway hit musical couldn’t have come at a better time, and we’re so lucky to be able to call it our own.