Stage: Dolphins by Starlight: Under the African Skies – Dolphin Arena, uShaka Marine World, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
HATS off to Durban’s uShaka Marine World for producing what must surely rate as the best to date of the annual festive season arena shows it produces with local singers, actors, musicians and, of course, the theme park’s main attractions, the dolphins.
Karen van Pletsen, writer and director of the hour-or-so-long show, has concocted a loose tale about Mama Africa (the regal and sweet Mpume Mthombeni) enlisting the aid of the lively Theodora Twinkleton (Daisy Spencer, in elf ears and a blue dress festooned with twinkling fairylights).
It is up to Theodora to manage the arrival of large jewels at the theme park. They are to be hung from the giant, golden baobab tree located, above giant wrapped gifts, to the side of the arena stage.
According to a news report from a trio of teen entertainment reporters, however, things might not go to plan as a Bad Bunny is hellbent on sabotaging Christmas and plans to steal the jewels.
When this happens, Mama Africa calls on a posse of 16 traditional Zulu warriors, who run through the arena with shields and flags, to the strains of Margaret Singana’s recording of We Are Growing, in a bid to right the wrong.
In between there’s much singing and dancing, with intermittent appearances by the park’s enchanting dolphins which, solo and in combinations, swim, twirl, leap, wave, jump over sprays of water and squeak – and, for doing so, are rewarded with tasty titbits by their caring trainers, all of whom wear Santa hats.
The story also involves Santa (Rowan Bartlett) arriving on a riksha to spread a good message and sing a song after touring the city (shown on the giant screen flanking the stage).
The annual show has always made use of a smaller extra stage mounted in the centre of the arena seating area, but a good idea this year is the use of an additional two smaller stages on both sides of the arena, where dancers come and go.
This year’s show is a real treat, highlights including performances by the white-gloved Young Mbazo isicathimaya group, pop artist Lusandra Majola and an operatic prodigy, as well as the impressive Durban Gospel Choir, a dance troupe, the Kangaroo Zulu Warriors and a band under the baton of Burton Naidoo.
Contributing to the show’s big highlight – a rendition of The Greatest Showman hit, A Million Stars – is the Glenwood Junior Primary School Choir which joins most of the cast to present a spectacle including all stages filled with singers, dancers, flag-waving warriors and the spraying of snowflakes thoughout the arena. See my Facebook page (Billy Suter) for a short video of this scene.
Another highpoint is a stirring rendition of Mango Groove’s infectious Special Star and the rousing My African Dream in which one of the dolphins joins in for an operatic finale.
The show also features World in Union, Can You Feel the Love Tonight?, assorted carols and even a singalong to the infuriating Baby Shark novelty ditty that has taken the internet by storm and delights the smallest members of the audience.
The production is a slick, colourful celebration of the Christmas spirit and earns extra kudos for its emphasis, needed now more than ever, on togetherness among South Africans, while also offering subtle lessons on conservation, litter, kindness, forgiveness, love and joy.
The show runs only until December 13. Gates open at 6.30pm for a prompt 7pm start and the performance runs just over an hour without an interval. Tickets cost R199 for adults and R160 for children. Book via www.ushakamarineworld.co.za
PS: Two gripes. One – it was disappointing that only one of the two trumpeting angels on the main stage proscenium arch was illuminated on opening night (let’s hope it has been rectified now). And two: R27 per car for parking in the uncovered, sandy area outside uShaka Marine Park is daylight robbery!