Fest winners making new musicals

Durban’s Leah Mari is one of two winners of the inaugural Cabaret and Beyond Festival that taps and fosters new compositions for musical theatre.

.…..BY BILLY SUTER…..

DURBAN’S hugely successful, inaugural Cabaret and Beyond Festival, a collaborative project between Durban and Gqeberha that seeks to develop new songwriters for musical theatre, has selected two women entrants to create one-act musicals developed from songs they presented at the festival showcase production.

Both winning composers will receive financial assistance and dramaturgical support to finish their one-act musicals. These will then receive a professional staging with a Durban-based cast and creative team that plans to start rehearsals in February.The productions will then premiere at the Mandela Bay Theatre Complex in March and then return to Durban for a short season. A national tour is also being considered.

One of the festival’s winning composers is Durban singer-actress-musician Leah Mari. Her impressive song of gay acceptance, Mason, and a powerful ballad, Play By the Book, were both among the 20 best songs selected from entrants and showcased in a festival highlights production that enjoyed a sell-out short season at Durban’s Seabrooke’s Theatre.

The other festival prize-winner is Gqeberha multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger Ntlantla Swana, whose melodic and moving ballad, I Choose Me, was on the festival showcase.

Gqeberha multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger Ntlantla Swana, whose melodic and moving ballad, I Choose Me, was on the festival showcase. She is one of the two festival winners chosen to further develop her work.

The showcase production, which had its final performance yesterday, featured the best songs from the festival, performed by exemplary singers Amanda Kunene, Samantha Landers, Lyle Buxton and Tshepo Ncokoane. They were under the superb musical direction of Wessel Odendaal, who also accompanied the singers on piano, under Steven Stead’s fine direction.

The festival showcase adjudicating panel comprised artistic director Xabiso Zweni from Gqeberha, international opera singer Nozuko Teto from Durban, theatre director Lesedi Job from Johannesburg, ‘Fleur de Cap’ recipient for new writing development Paul Griffiths from Cape Town, and Durban musical director and event specialist Evan Roberts.
 
“We congratulate Ntlantla Swana and Leah Mari as the winners identified to receive grants for further development. As partners with the Nelson Mandela Bay Theatre complex, we believe that we have an ideal product that will grow the capacity of new composers and attract audiences to return to live theatre after 18 months of a national lockdown,:” said Ismail Mahomed, director of the Centre for Creative Arts.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts, in collaboration with the Mandela Bay Theatre Complex, arranged the festival and today announced the event’s winners.
 
Twenty-one composers recently ended a four-month new musical theatre writing initiative culminating in the live showcase at Seabrooke’s Theatre at Durban High School. The second week run of the show sold out after an extra performance date was added.

In a statement, Roland Perold, curator and project manager of the Cabaret and Beyond Festival, said: “What a pleasure to see this new writing project come to fruition with such overwhelming success. New musical theatre is a ‘hard sell’ for local audiences who are unfamiliar with this aspect of the genre, but they fell hook, line and sinker.” 

The festival judges assembled in Durban to select the winning composers of the showcase and they came to a unanimous decision, in discussion with Perold, after attending the showcase gala event on October 16.

“We congratulate Ntlantla Swana and Leah Mari as the winners identified to receive grants for further development. As partners with the Nelson Mandela Bay Theatre complex, we believe that we have an ideal product that will grow the capacity of new composers and attract audiences to return to live theatre after 18 months of a national lockdown,:” said Ismail Mahomed, director of the Centre for Creative Arts.

He added: “We are confident that the curation and artistic direction led by Roland Perold is vital for the future growth of South African musical theatre”.

Leah Mari is a student at LAMTA in Cape Town. The Durban-born singer, pianist and musical theatre performer is also an emerging composer, who recorded her first EP in 2016.

Mari performed regularly in Durban’s annual Young Performers musicals and as a former member of the KZN Youth Choir. A  DALRO ACT Scholarship recipient, she recently played Little Red in the Durban adult panto of the same name, and composed and performed for the inaugural music theatre piece, Song Cycle Stories 2020.
 
Ntlantla Swana started music in primary school and had passed her ABRSM Grade 8 practical exams for recorder and saxophone as a matriculant. In 2013, she represented South Africa in the International Teen Talent Competition in the US, in the keyboard section, and took the runner-up position.

She has completed her Bachelor of Music degree at the Nelson Mandela University, where she took Composition as one of her majors (distinction).


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