So good you might see it twice

Exciting the crowd … Khwezi Msimang, Nkanyezi Kunene, Mogau Tladi, Sethu Magubane, Tjama Keta and Mpande Luhlongwane in Kearsney College’s vibrant Kat and the Kings. (Pictures by Tanya Olsen).

Stage: Kat and the Kings – Kearsney College’s Henderson Hall
Performances at 7pm nightly from May 9 to 12 (book via Quicket)

IN MY 30-odd years of reviewing theatre I have written about countless school musicals and admired much about so many of them. However, this Kearsney College production of the vibrant South African classic, Kat and the Kings, is on another level and knocked my socks off. It officially opens tonight (May 9).

I attended a preview performance last night (May 8) and found the show so very good, so slick and electric, so bristling with talent, that it could quite easily slot in at a commercial theatre for a professional run. I was so taken by it that I have booked to see it again.

Interestingly, it marks the first time permission has been given for a school production of the musical which, created by David Kramer and the late Taliep Peterson, went on to take London’s Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical in the late ’90s and also scooped an Olivier for Best Actor – for the entire cast! The show was also nominated for a Tony Award for Best New Musical during its run on Broadway.

The Kearsney College production is directed with panache and is also delightfully, often playfully, choreographed by versatile Daisy Spencer. It features excellent musical direction by Bernard Kruger, who also leads a tight, nine-member, on-stage band that includes ace guitarist Seb Goldswain and popular keyboard player David Langley.

I have loved Kat and the Kings since reviewing the original production for The Mercury newspaper all those years ago, and was delighted to relive it again through a magical cast of five Kearsney pupils and the only female cast member, Westville Girls’ High’s Nkanyezi Kunene.

Kunene, who will be remembered for her standout lead role as Ti Moune in Westville Girl’s High School’s fine production of Once on This Island last October, is cast as Lucy Dixon.

Fun fellows… Tjama Keta, Khwezi Msimang, Mogau Tladi and Mpande Luhlongwane in Kat and the Kings.

Lucy is the older sister of the stammering Magoo (a versatile Mpande Luhlongwane), a member of a group of teenage friends that forms a vocal group in Cape Town’s District Six in 1957. With Lucy’s guidance as well as her choreography and vocal and songwriting input, the team, in ensuing years, finds increasing success… and also increasing problems in the claws of apartheid.

The group calls itself The Cavella Kings, named after the old cigarette brand, and also features Bingo (Khwezi Msimang) and wild-haired Ballie (Tjama Keta). It’s headed by the colourful, sharp Kat Diamond, a good-mover who rates himself as a talent to reckon with.

We first meet Kat (played by Sethu Magubane) when he is an older man in the ’90s, making ends meet shining shoes and looking forward to vote for Nelson Mandela in the first democratic elections, in the hope of better days.

Throughout the show we have the older Kat coming and going to narrate or pass comment, often in song, but most of the spotlight falls on the hugely energetic younger version of Kat, played with gusto and oodles of charm by rubber-limbed Mohau Tladi.

This entire cast is terrific and one is often left open-mouthed at the slickness with which they effortlessly morph from one intricately choreographed and harmony-heavy song to the next, in a show that has them constantly on the hop.

The music mostly comprises very catchy toe-tappers, but there are also moments of poignancy in this crowd-pleaser.

Featuring effective lighting by Brandon Bunyan, the musical is packed with humour, some pathos and a few fun surprises which, respectively, involve fire, powder, fluorescent light and red handkerchiefs. To say more would spoil the fun!

A hearty hats-off to the whole team for a sterling job!

Don’t miss this one – it rates as the best school musical I have seen. Performances are from today until Friday, May 9 to 12, at 7pm nightly. Booking is via Quicket.

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