……BY BILLY SUTER……
THEATRE is alive and well in KwaZulu-Natal schools, a number of which are readying for student productions this and next month – shows including Matilda The Musical Jr, West Side Story, Animal Farm, 13 The Musical and Urinetown The Musical.
The first KwaZulu-Natal production of the quirky Matilda the Musical is to run in Durban from March 22 to 24. Matilda The Musical Jr, a shorter and punchy adaptation of the West End and Broadway musical, featuring a book by Dennis Kelly with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, will be staged at Maris Stella School in Essenwood, Berea. It will feature 42 pupils, including male performers from five other local schools.
Based on the beloved Roald Dahl book, Matilda, and adapted from the award-winning, full-length musical, this new production follows the journey of an extraordinary girl with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind. She is a child who dares to take a stand and change her own destiny.
The original musical earned seven Olivier Awards, including that for best new musical, and five Tony awards, including that for best book of a musical. The show opened on the West End in 2011 and made its Broadway premiere in 2013. A South African touring production, which sadly sidestepped KwaZulu-Natal, was a huge success and, more recently, a Netflix film of the musical attracted good reviews.
The last Maris Stella musical, Sister Act, was staged pre-pandemic in 2019 when the current Grade 12 cast members were in Grade 8. Sadly, the planned 2020 production of the metatheatrical Women Playing Hamlet, by William Missouri Downs, was cancelled due to lockdown imposed in opening week.
Following last year’s tech-age quirky comedy, The Internet is Distract- Oh Look a Kitten!, by Ian McWethy, it became clear that the time for a musical at Maris Stella was ripe, says Matilda the Musical Jr director, Tess Tjasink.
It has been a personal dream of Tjasink to bring Matilda The Musical to life.
“The song Revolting Children was the first musical theatre number I was part of when I studied musical theatre in 2014. I loved the cheeky choreography and the way it allows the cast to rebelliously lean into the idea of fighting for what is right.
“This musical really captures the magic of childhood and the idea that anything is possible if we are brave enough to try. With a strong and intelligent female protagonist, I knew we had to bring this inspiring and fun-filled story to the Maris Stella stage.”
Also among the creative team of Matilda the Musical Jr are Lerushca Smit (assistant director), Amy Hilliar (choreographer), Kristen Blessie (vocal director), Susan van Blerk (rehearsal pianist) and Julie Oosthuizen (set designer). Award-winning theatre practitioner, Peter Court, is a guest consultant for special effects and stunt co-ordination.
More than 100 students auditioned between Term 3 and 4 of 2022 for the show, which has double casting of Matilda Wormwood and nasty headmistress Agatha Trunchbull.
“This dedicated group of young thespians kicked off 2023 with holiday rehearsals before school even opened. The Art Club is already hard at work painting and constructing set pieces, and the technical and backstage crew will be joining in soon as we start to weave together the various parts of our story,” says assistant director Lerushca Smit.
“This is a family-friendly production with fantastical elements, and we suggest age six and older, but younger guests are welcome. The show is approximately 100 minutes long (including interval), quite loud at times and can be a bit scary in parts. Parental guidance is advised for younger guests as this musical does address themes of neglect and bullying.”
Matilda the Musical Jr will start at 6.30pm on all three evenings of its run, in the Maris Stella Centenary Hall. Doors open at 5.45pm.
Seating options each night include: Reserved Supper Theatre – R100 (bring your own food and drinks or enjoy goodies available at the Tuck Shop) or Reserved Normal Theatre Seating – R100. There is also Unreserved Gallery Seating at R70 a ticket.
West Side Story is the musical choice of Reddham House Umhlanga, where new drama teacher and show director, Helet Postma, previously a teacher at Curro Hillcrest, has been rehearsing her young cast since January 16.
The show runs from March 12 to 15 in the Muir Auditorium at Reddam House Umhlanga. Accompanied by a professional orchestra, West Side Story promises to be an immersive and unforgettable theatre experience. Tickets are available via Quicket.co.za.
“West Side Story is an iconic and timeless musical that will never lose its relevance. Even decades since its debut, the themes – romance, violence, integration, justice – still hit very close to home. Audiences of all ages and nationalities will find plenty to relate to in a story primarily founded in the framework of Romeo & Juliet,” says Postma.
“For a 2023 audience, West Side Story offers a unique opportunity to look at the world with modern perspective. Despite the many differences between the turbulent 1950s of the original play and today, audiences will be able to learn from the characters’ experiences that many of our struggles remain unchanged. We can also look at the play with a knowledge of history, and find lessons in it that are just as valuable today as they were when the original production premiered in 1957.”
13 The Musical is a collaborative production between Eden College and Glenwood High School. It’s a work with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn.
The school production will run from March 30 to April 2 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. Tickets, available at Computicket, cost R90 (R60 for pensioners and under-13s).
This musical, a US production of which is currently to be seen on Netflix, follows an outgoing boy called Evan Goldman (played by Glenwood High student Aaron Fields) and his move from New York City to small-town Indiana.
Evan grapples with his parents’ divorce while preparing for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah. He tries to befriend Brett Sampson (played by Nelson Bachiga of Glenwood High), the most popular kid in the school… because if Brett comes to Evan’s Bar Mitzvah, everyone else will come.
Featuring a cast of high-energy dancers and singers, this teen musical promises to delight audiences, as Evan and his friend Patrice (played by Bailey Williams of Eden College) navigate the complicated social circles at school, and Evan faces the impossible task of bringing everyone happily together in time for his party, or risk social ruin.
Performances of 13 The Musical are scheduled for 7.30pm on March 30 and April 1 and 2. There is a noon performance on Friday, March 31. Booking is at Computicket.
St Anne’s Diocesan College in Hilton is performing Animal Farm (Hall) at 7pm nightly from March 20 to 23 in the school’s theatre. The work is by George Orwell, adapted by Peter Hall, with lyrics by Adrian Mitchell and music by Richard Peaslee.
Orwell’s classic Animal Farm is a compelling exploration of the dangers of power and authority, and how these can corrupt even the most well-intentioned individuals. Through the story of the animals’ revolution, the play delves into the psychology of mass formation, examining the ways in which propaganda, manipulation and fear can be used to control a population and subjugate others.
Drawing on ideas presented in Mattias Desmet’s book, The Psychology of Totalitarianism (2022, Chelsea Green Publishing), the play examines the psychological factors that contribute to the emergence of authoritarian regimes and offers a thought-provoking exploration of the dangers of groupthink and the importance of individual agency.
The St Anne’s production promises to be visually interesting and emotionally resonant, incorporating acted performance with songs, audio visual elements, a live soundscape and live video.
The production is directed by Lynn Chemaly, with technical design by Marcus Henning and musical direction by Andri Potgieter.
Urinetown: The Musical – a tale of greed, corruption, love and revolution – is to be staged by Michaelhouse and St John’s DSG, at Michaelouse’s Schlesinger Theatre. Performances are scheduled for 7pm on March 15, 16 and 17, and at 2pm on March 19. Tickets cost R120 (R100 concessions) and more info is available from (033) 234 1238 between 8am and 1pm weekdays.
“This is a satirical show with an awful title and a fabulously entertaining and hilarious script”, says Michaelhouse theatre head and director of the show, William Ler Cordeur, who adds that the professional production of the show ran for 965 shows on Broadway.
Written in 2001, the musical has music and lyrics by Marc Hollmann, and book and lyrics by Greg Kotis, who conceived the idea for the shpw after encountering pay-per-use toilets in Paris. He was perplexed about how big corporations made money by exploiting the basic human needs of society.
The musical was the first show to open on Broadway after the 9/11 terror attacks in New York and it became a metaphor for the growing global divide between rich and poor. Urinetown: The Musical was nominated for 10 Tony awards and won three in 2002. One should not rely on its title to sell tickets.
The show is set in a town where a 20-year drought has crippled its water supply and the authorities enforce a ban on all private toilets to control water consumption. These pay-per-use amenities are controlled by the private, malevolent Urine Good Company (UGC) which charges exorbitant rates for the privilege to do one’s private business. Citizens who try to circumvent the peeing-fee, are escorted to the mythical Urinetown by the quirky and corrupt policemen, never to return.
Influenced heavily by Brechtian theatre and the music of Kurt Weil (Threepenny Opera and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogany), Urinetown: The Musical honours the sophisticated structure of a book musical while achieving anarchic comic hilarity.
It boasts an amazing score, played by a live orchestra, brilliant songs and dance routines that will entertain and raise questions about the reality of climate change, privatisation of state resources and even the musical genre itself.
This Michaelhouse and St John’s DSG production is directed by William le Cordeur, with musical direction by Carika de Swardt, choreography by Bonwa Mbontsi and Nadja Bartel, and vocal coaching by Jaco Dippenaar and Johan Grobler. The cast consist of students from both Michaelhouse and St John’s DSG.
To book visit: Quicket: https://www.quicket.co.za/events/206692-urinetown-the-musical/