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FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD - PREVIEW! (article first published : 2002-08-13)

No amount of publicity hype, beautiful still pictures and pro-active marketing can make up for the personal experience. This afternoon I was part of a – sadly, extremely small – number of arts journalists who responded to the invitation to watch a rehearsal of Far from the Madding Crowd – The Musical which is due to open in the Playhouse Opera on August 31.

Press releases months ago told us to expect a production in the style and scale of Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon, a statement that the jaundiced media might well have taken with a pinch of salt. After all, its creators and producers are comparative “unknowns” in musical theatre even though the production carries a star-studded cast, many of them top names in Durban theatre.

Watching two excerpts from the show, it slowly grew on me that this statement might have more than a ring of truth to it. Despite the lack of costumes, scenery or props in the fairly sterile atmosphere of a chaotic rehearsal room, the spirit of Far from the Madding Crowd shone bright and true.

Even in that short space of time, it was evident that the music is beautiful and of a high quality, the lyrics –particularly that of the Swallow Song - are heartwarming, the singers highly accomplished, the chorus vocal work good and the characters well defined. Bound to be a hit with audiences is the engaging and mercurial Jacques le Roux who features strongly in Scene 14, one of the scenes we saw. We were also able to hear the beautiful quartet in Scene 18 after Bathsheba and Troy’s wedding with Karen van Pletsen, Aubrey Po, David Dennis and Heather Leite.

Also in major roles are Duncan Royce, Kate Bruce, Peter Court, Carol Trench, Tebogo Hlahane and Joel Zuma supported by Hlengiwe Lushaba, Neil Coppen and Michael Byrne. Multi-award winning dancer and choreographer Boyzie Cekwana apparently represents the Madding Crowd. All by himself? This I gotta see!

Basing Far from the Madding Crowd – The Musical on Thomas Hardy’s great classic English novel, John and Raymond Ellis started work on this production over 12 years ago and it’s been a long, hard and painful road to their present position two and a half weeks off the world premiere. John has produced the lyrics while Raymond has created the sweeping score. “After years following the “sensible” route, appealing to industry, investors and producers for support,” say the brothers, “we have come to the hard realisation that if Far from the Madding Crowd – The Musical is to have any life then it is up to us to make it happen. “On the surface this appears to be foolhardy, reckless, flying in the face of sound established opinion. On the other hand does one ignore intuition, instinct, the inner voice and possibly let years of hard work and passion simply to go up in smoke?”

If this afternoon’s experience is anything to go by, Far from the Madding Crowd has the capacity to be big, big, big! And with a very wide audience appeal. Durbanites, please don’t do your usual “wait and listen to what everyone else says about it” thing. Book – and do it now! I believe this is one of the most exciting ventures to emerge from Durban theatre circles and one which has the potential to move successfully outside of South Africa.

Book at Computicket on 083 915-8000, or call Playhouse Dial A Seat on 031 369-9444. School bookings from Calli Denton on 083 661-7871 or 031 209-6634. For block bookings, call Margie Coppen on 083 251-9412. – Caroline Smart




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