Shimmering talent in new musicals

Kaylee McIlroy and Roshanda Lewis in Call Me a Fool, one of the musicals in the Cabaret and Beyond double bill. Picture by Val Adamson.

STAGE: Cabaret and Beyond Double Bill: “Call Me a Fool” and “La Familia”
– Seabrooke’s Theatre, Durban High School, Durban
* Final performances are at 7pm today and tomorrow (April 1 and 2), then 11am on Sunday (April 3).

IN THESE seemingly never-ending times of unprecedented stress in the world of theatre, all thanks to Covid-19 chaos and its consequences, what a bright beacon of light, what a massive treat, last year’s inaugural Cabaret and Beyond Festival proved, resulting now in two mini musicals with such rich possibility.

The festival, held last year in Durban to discover and nurture new composers for original musical theatre, produced some superb results. A project of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts in association with the Mandela Bay Theatre Complex, the event showcased the best of the new composing talent at Durban’s Seabrooke’s Theatre last year. It was a superb showcase that attracted full houses.

Having been judged the two finest of the festival participants, Durban’s Leah Mari and the partnership of Gqebera’s Ntlantla Swana (music) and Khanyisa Sigwanda (book), were given the opportunity to develop their compositions into a chamber musical.

The result, after months under the wings of various theatre professionals, is a double bill of musicals which was first presented in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) and is now at Durban’s Seabrooke’s Theatre, but only until Sunday.

Even if you have only a passing interest in musical theatre, do yourself a favour and give these works your support. Both have wonderful moments, both have huge potential, and there is the added bonus of some shimmering talent in each production.

Presented with a 20-minute interval, the double bill begins with young Leah Mari’s Call Me a Fool, a tale of a developing lesbian relationship in Durban that starts to crumble. It’s directed by KickstArt’s Steven Stead and has musical direction and side-of-stage keyboard accompaniment by Durban’s Evan Roberts.

Unfolding on an all-white set highlighting sheer curtaining and wooden cubes which are often moved around the stage to suggest props, this two-hander reintroduces Durban to a very exciting talent. She is young Roshanda Lewis, who seemed to have faded from the local spotlight since playing the title character in KickstArt’s 2018 revival of the Cinderella panto.

Boy, is she now back with a bang! Pretty as a picture and with a new maturity in her beautiful vocals, she is a recent AFDA graduate, a captivating stage presence and, like her co-star – confident Kaylee McIlroy, a recent UCT Drama graduate – gives a fine, very credible performance.

Mari’s impressive compositions are laced with nuance, have a strong furthering-the-plot quality, and the showstopper remains a poignant ballad about reflecting on a romance (sung here by Lewis) that took Mari to the festival finale.

Kaylee McIlroy and Minenhle Sikhosana in La Familia. Picture by Val Adamson.

La Familia is perhaps not quite as musically strong as Call Me a Fool, but it has a fuller, better storyline – even more remarkable when one learns that the work had to be urgently revised hours before its Durban opening.

According to Cabaret and Beyond Festival project manager Roland Perold, who is this production’s musical director and provides live keyboard accompaniment, La Familia had to be quickly restructured – “a stressful day,” adds Perold – when it lost its sole male cast member, due to unforeseen circumstances. Pats on the back for the restructure. Most in the audience had no reason to suspect this was not how the production was meant to unfold.

Directed by Philisiwe Twijnstra, La Familia, in spite of its changes, remains an engaging tale of self-discovery; of a bright teenager, Sihle, facing peer and parental pressures and being steadfast in her reach for a dream.

Special mention has to be made of a young actress I have not had the pleasure of seeing on stage before. She is Minenhle Sikhosana, playing Sihle, and she is a strong-voiced delight, an endearing actress who is a constant joy here and whose tears on stage towards the end of the play pack a big emotional punch.

She is teamed with more seasoned actress Sam Hlophe as her highly expressive, no-nonsense mother, while a bubbly Kaylee McIlroy makes her second appearance, in a showy role, as Lisa, Sihle’s sassy schoolfriend and a bad influence.

The set is fun – a patterned-linoleum floor, and a table and chairs in front of a suspended window frame; the stage sides edged with dangling stainless-steel pots and pans. Lighting is by Tina le Roux and sound by Jason Bird.

Please support this exemplary double bill. Final performances are at 7pm today and tomorrow (April 1 and 2), then 11am on Sunday (April 3). Booking is at WebTickets. Tickets cost R100 each.

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