In 2015, Cape Town Opera acquired the rights from Fugard to stage the novel, which pivots around the harrowing story of a township tsotsi whose life shifts dramatically after a carjacking and he ends up looking after a baby found in the car.
Khayelihle Dominique Gumede (who is fondly referred to by those in the industry as Dom), who is co-directing the production with Neil Coppen, said: “It is exciting to be working on a piece that allows us to fully explore the black experience that is true to the majority of our people. It is also exciting to explore this at an exciting theatrical scale and within the idiom of musical theatre, which has a great deal of pull in our theatres but not a lot of new original work that explores these subjectivities in this manner.
“It feels good to be a black creative and have the latitude and support to make a work like this. It is enriching and deeply gratifying. Yes, there is a historical paradox in having Tsotsi written in the first instance by a white man, then adapted into a film by another white man. However, I do believe in both instances the makers were attempting to understand the psychology of a complex figure rather than cast aspersions or paint broad stereotypes.
“So to be working in a mostly black, multi-racial, creative team that is attempting to push the envelope forward on the dialogue, started by these extraordinary works - the novel and the film - feels deeply gratifying and important in our time. It also feels good to be able to break up some of the gender dynamics by having the exceptional talents of Sonia Radebe (choreographer) and Noluthando Lobese (costume designer) as part of the creative team.
“That being said, I think it’s precisely because of the complexity with which we have approached the work that it hold such universal truths for any race - any audience member walking into the theatre - much like you get a particular ethnic experience from pieces such as Grease, West Side Story or any globally renowned musical.
"Tsotsi uses an unmistakably distinct, contemporary Joburg township experience to deliver a narrative about morality, society, community, masculinity, family, femininity and self actualisation and realisation - which are themes we can all identify with as individuals of every creed and race.”
About the cast, Gumede said: “It’s wonderful to put together such a diversely talented ensemble. We have TV stars, musicians and musical theatre and opera trained performers all in the room sharing their talents and experience.
“It’s wonderful to be able to put together a Bianca La Grange who is prolific in the musical theatre form, next to the hip hop and TV star Mxolisi Majozi - aka Zuluboy - who is making his musical theatre debut in this piece as the title character; and also pairing theatre stalwarts such as Lindani Nkosi and Roysten Stoffels, next to first time, commercial theatre performers such as Tembalethu Zwele or Thembisile Ntaka who is a highly accomplished musician but new to the world of theatre performance.
“We have gone beyond conventional or obvious choices because nothing about Tsotsi is safe or conventional. There are also theatre gems such as Momo Matunyane and Nhlanhla Mahlangu who have a deep history of collaborating with much of the creative team.
“Every one of the individuals present in this work is exploring themselves in a surprising and dynamic manner and that will give audiences an absolute creative feast to chew on.
“One must commend Cape Town Opera for its vision in not only initiating the project but also giving us the space and latitude to explore this work so deeply.
“The easier thing to do as producers is to make the textbook decisions that would be expected in the musical theatre realm but they want to truly honour the creative vision of the work,” he said.
* Tickets cost between R125 and R280. Book at Computicket.