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BROADWAY & WEST END HITS FOR SA (article first published : 2006-09-24)

No sooner do we hear that Disney's groundbreaking musical, The Lion King, will be seen on a South African stage for the first time next year, then along comes news that another award-winning West End and Broadway musical will soon be seen in South Africa - the exuberant Thoroughly Modern Millie.

The Lion King, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2007, will open on June 6 in what will become South Africa's largest theatre - the 1900-seater Teatro, now under construction at Montecasino in Johannesburg.

Booking for this grand, must-see musical will open at Computicket on October 29 and tickets will range in price from R150 to R425.

The production, inspired by the hit animated movie and centring on the adventures of a lion cub coming of age with help from colourful friends, will be co-produced locally by Lebo M and Pieter Toerien. It will feature a 53-strong South African cast, still to be finalised - although many will be performers who have appeared in other companies of The Lion King - and will boast a 40-member technical team and a 20-piece orchestra.

As for Thoroughly Modern Millie, this delightful recreation of the1967 George Roy Hill film screen musical, which starred Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing, is scheduled to run in the Nelson Mandela Theatre, at the Johannesburg Civic Theatre complex, from January 11 to February 25.

Civic Theatre chief executive officer Bernard Jay has brought together a new team to increase in-house production possibilities without breaching the risk management procedures imposed upon the theatre as a receiving house. Joining forces with prolific British theatre producer Paul Elliott – the original lead producer for the West End and UK Tour productions of Thoroughly Modern Millie – and local promoter and entrepreneur Roddy Quin, a deal has been struck to bring the show to South Africa with the original, fabulous, West End sets and costumes and an all-South African cast and company.

Says Jay: “There just isn’t enough product being created within South Africa to occupy our Nelson Mandela Theatre stage 50 weeks each year. And yet we have all seen in recent years that the skills and talents exist in the country to turn large-scale musical productions into hit shows. So we needed to be pro-active and bring together some major international players to make this event happen locally. Thoroughly Modern Millie will be just the beginning.”

The winner of six 2002 Tony Awards, including that for best musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie was the season’s most awarded new show on Broadway and was also a hit in London's West End. Based on the film, which won an Oscar for best original music score, the show takes audiences back to the height of the Jazz Age in New York City, when “moderns” – including a flapper named Millie Dillmount – were bobbing their hair, raising their hemlines, entering the workforce and rewriting the rules of love.

It’s the story of an American girl from the mid-west who arrives in New York determined to take the town by storm. A colourful valentine to the long-standing spirit of New York City and the people who seek to discover themselves there, the stage features 15 songs, including two from the film, four standards from the 1920s and nine original songs by Jeanine Tesori (music) and Dick Scanlan (lyrics).

The title role will be filled by bubbly Samantha Peo, who won acclaim last year for her role as Roxie Hart in Chicago, while Craig Urbani (star of Buddy and now in the television series Shado's) will reprise his West End role of Millie’s hunky but nerdy boss, Trevor Graydon. The menacing and very funny Mrs Meers, Millie's conniving landlady, will be filled by Fiona Ramsay (of television's Hard Copy), while jazz diva and actress Abigail Kubeka will portray dynamic, quintessential New Yorker Muzzy Van Hossmere.

Cast as Miss Dorothy Brown, Millie’s pampered new friend, is Angela Kilian, who starred as Maria in the recent Playhouse Company production of The Sound of Music. Brennan Holder, who played Raoul in the South African production of Phantom of the Opera, will play Jimmy Smith, the boy who inevitably gets the girl in the end, but is given quite a run-around by Millie on the way.

The cast also features 14 dancers, Michelle Levin as the prickly office manager who thoroughly disapproves of “modern” Millie, and Mortimer Williams and Jonathan Swart as the hilarious, bumbling sidekicks of Mrs Meer.

Britain's David Bownes directs the local production, the musical director for which is South African Bryan Schimmel.

Tickets are priced from R235 (exclusive of the booking fee) and are now available from Computicket outlets. All ticket prices for preview performances – from January 11 to 13 - are discounted by R50. Group discounts for parties of 10 or more can be arranged by calling 011 877 6854. – Billy Suter




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