King Kong SET TO KNOCK JOBURG OUT

The fa­mous mu­si­cal fea­tures a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion with new is­sues, but looks set to thrill

CityPress - - News - CHARL BLIGNAUT charl.blignaut@city­press.co.za King Kong is on at the Joburg The­atre un­til Oc­to­ber 8

The re­vival of the most iconic mu­si­cal in South African the­atre ar­rived from Cape Town bask­ing in the glow of warm re­views and packed houses, but King Kong’s cast are keep­ing on their toes as they face a tougher Joburg au­di­ence. “There was an amaz­ing re­sponse at our first preview on Tues­day,” said Andile Gumbi, the star of the show, which is on at the Joburg The­atre, this week.

“The re­sponse from younger peo­ple in the au­di­ence is in­ter­est­ing be­cause the new ver­sion is more of a reimag­in­ing than a retelling.”

Only Sara­fina! and The Lion King are as fa­mous as 1959’s King Kong. Gumbi made his Broad­way de­but as Simba in The Lion King in 2004, be­fore tour­ing the world in the role. Af­ter a stint on TV drama Isi­baya, he’s play­ing Ezekiel “King Kong” Dlamini, the trou­bled heavy­weight box­ing star from KwaZulu-Na­tal who ar­rives in Soweto to make his for­tune, but ends up in a gang and then in prison.

The jazz mu­si­cal, with mu­sic by Todd Mat­shik­iza and lyrics by Pat Wil­liams, broke at­ten­dance records last time around. It toured the coun­try for two years and was seen by more than 200 000 South Africans be­fore a stint in Lon­don.

The male lead then was Nathan Mdle­dle. A pi­o­neer­ing all-black cast fea­tured mostly un­trained ac­tors and ris­ing names in mu­sic that are now leg­endary – Cai­phus Se­menya, So­phie Mgcina, Letta Mbulu, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Kip­pie Moeketsi, Thandi Klaasen and Miriam Makeba, who fa­mously played the queen of the Back of the Moon she­been.

“Most of the ac­tors had not been in a the­atre be­fore,” re­called the sprightly 86-year-old Wil­liams this week over the phone from Lon­don. When asked by Mat­shik­iza and pro­duc­ers Clive and Irene Menell to write the lyrics, she was work­ing as a reporter at the Rand Daily Mail.

“They would get up at 5am and take crowded buses to work all day, and then they’d come to re­hearsals and there’d be a bus to take them home at 1am … be­fore get­ting up at 5am again. I was in Cape Town for the pre­miere of the new King Kong, and I looked at the pro­gramme and there are trained pro­fes­sion­als all over the cast. Act­ing is now a day job,” said Wil­liams.

“It’s three gen­er­a­tions later. I don’t know what to­day’s au­di­ences would make of what we did. Do they know what it’s like to carry a pass every day? It had to be made rel­e­vant.”

Gumbi says some of the most vivid re­sponses from es­pe­cially stu­dent au­di­ences in the Joburg pre­views this week were to the char­ac­ter of Jes­sica, King Kong’s ill-fated girl­friend.

“There’s a lot more power to women in the new ver­sion,” said Gumbi. “The rewrit­ten Jes­sica doesn’t rely on a man to be happy. She says to him: ‘I’m not your woman, I’m Joyce.’ And the stu­dents were like, ‘Yaass!’.” he said. TALK

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Mat­shik­iza’s widow, Esme, spoke to City Press from Cape Town. She took her daugh­ter and two grand­chil­dren to the open­ing.

“They were all very de­lighted,” she said. “At first, it was a very emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence, but then I calmed down and loved watch­ing it. This is a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion with a dif­fer­ent set of is­sues,” she said, com­ment­ing on how the vi­o­lence in the new ver­sion has a dif­fer­ent in­ten­sity to­day, in South Africa’s cli­mate of “ter­ri­fy­ing vi­o­lence”.

She told City Press sto­ries about her hus­band’s en­coun­ters with the more gen­tle­manly gang­sters of the 1950s, when he was a reporter for Drum mag­a­zine and when he was ar­rested for drink­ing with a white man in Hill­brow to­gether with Can Themba. When he ar­rived in the prison court­yard, a gang­ster called him over and warned him that an­other gang­ster in­tended to rape the fa­mous jazz mu­si­cian and pro­tected him.

Mat­shik­iza would draw on these en­coun­ters when writ­ing the mu­sic for the orig­i­nal Tsotsi.

“We didn’t imag­ine it would be so big,” the chuck­ling Esme said over the phone.

“We were all sur­prised,” said Wil­liams. “Ex­cept Hugh [Masekela]. He said we can all see it’s bril­liant, why are we sur­prised? It be­came more than a mu­si­cal, it de­vel­oped a mythol­ogy.”

Now Gumbi and the elec­tri­fy­ing new cast are car­ry­ing the ba­ton. Will it reach 200 000 peo­ple? It wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing. Af­ter its Joburg run, King Kong is head­ing back to Cape Town due to pop­u­lar de­mand.

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PHOTO: DANIEL RUT­LAND MAN­NER

THIS IS NOW The com­pany in King Kong is set to as­tound au­di­ences

PHOTO: DAN POHO

THIS WAS THEN She­been queen Joyce (Miriam Makeba) dances with Pop­corn

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