BY BILLY SUTER
TWO singer-actors originally from Durban are among the star-studded cast of an ambitious new South African musical which, while it will sadly sidestep KwaZulu-Natal, is soon to open in Johannesburg before visiting Cape Town next year.
Negotiations are also underway for an international tour of the production, Calling Me Home, which has its world premiere in Johannesburg on August 17 on the Mandela stage at the Joburg Theatre, where it will run until September 3.
Starring Lynelle Kenned (star of the 2016 Playhouse Company production of The Sound of Music, and also the touring West Side Story), as well as Zolani Mahola, lead vocalist with hit band Freshlyground, the show tells a powerful love story of hope, courage, longing and compassion.
The story focuses on three women – one being Grace (Kenned), a young African woman who flees her war-torn homeland to try to survive in a country of concrete cityscapes, crime and danger.
With her is her new friend, Lindiwe (Mahola), who has also fled her home… but in Lindiwe’s case it is a flight from abuse and pain.
Then there is the beautiful but deeply troubled Isabella (Samantha Peo, star of Chicago and Thoroughly Modern Millie), who finds the strength and courage to conquer almost insurmountable challenges when she overcomes addiction, both chemical and emotional, to take the moral lead in her community.
The two principals with KwaZulu-Natal links are Anthony Downing and Michael McMeeking, both from Durban.
Downing, who will play a main character called Rafael, won good reviews in South Africa as Raoul in Phantom of the Opera, in 2012. He relocated to London, where he been part of the UK touring company of Phantom for four years.
“What grabbed my initial interest was the opportunity to work with the phenomenally talented Magdalene Minnaar again, having worked with her on Phantom of the Opera,” says Downing of being signed up for Calling Me Home.
“As a creative person myself, to have the chance to be part of the creative process of a show right from inception is such an incredible opportunity, one I couldn’t pass up,” he adds.
“Thespians don’t often get that chance to be part of something brand new, so it’s daunting, but I’m excited at the same time. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into the character of Rafael.”
McMeeking, who plays Ben in the new musical, is from Westville, but is now based in Gauteng. He recently starring in the touring hit, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. He says he is looking forward to honing his craft while working with established and experienced professionals, and showcasing something original on such a large scale.
The book, score and libretto for Calling Me Home were written by composer and producer Alice Gillham, who is signed with EMI Music Publishing / Sony/ATV. She lives and works in South Africa.
“Gillham effortlessly fuses the genres of classical music, African hybrid, jazz and traditional folk song to create bewitching and evocative music that brings the story to life, providing her audience with a deeply human and emotional experience,” says a spokesman.
According to director Minnaar, the production has the potential to have a profound impact on the world.
“The content is current and we have incredibly talented people in Africa. You rarely get a chance to be part of a brand new local production of this calibre.”
She adds: “We have carefully chosen hugely talented singers who bring storytelling energy, creativity and a spirit of adventure to this journey. Their energy is amazing and their talent world-class”.
Others among the musical’s cast include jazz singer Musanete Sakupwanya, Carly Graeme, Christiaan Snyman, Tankiso Mamabolo, Pierre van Heerden, Luigia Casaleggio, Clint Lesch, Isabella Jane, Sebastian Zokoza and Saxola Ketshengane.
The large ensemble includes Annemarie Steenkamp, Richard Gau, Zion Zuke, Len-Barry Simons, Vasti Knoesen, Given Nkosi, Sarah-Anne van der Merwe, Conroy Scott, Yollandi Nortjie, Manda Ndimande, Thiart Li, Laura-Lee Pitout, Anja van den Berg, Kgomotso Makwela, Dihan Schoeman, Tannah Levick, Michaela Preston and Shaun Thomas.
With a strong emphasis on the music being new and original, composed specifically for the production, Calling Me Home will be releasing a selection of the songs to the public throughout the season.
Performances of Calling Me Home will be Tuesdays to Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm.
Ticket prices range from R180 to R420. Book online at www.joburgtheatre.com or call the box-office at 0861 670 670. Or book via Webtickets. For group bookings of 10 or more tickets, contact Joburg Theatre’s ticketing office at (011) 877 6853/4.