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MESSIAH MUSICAL (article first published : 2004-12-19)

Down at the Stable Theatre running up to Christmas Eve is a rough diamond of a new work produced by Stable Theatre and Eager Artists. Directed by Jerry Pooe, Messiah Musical is a moving piece about the life of Jesus Christ set in an African context. Musical numbers include some well-known numbers and carols. Jerry has written the lyrics for some of the new songs and these have been set to music by the inimitable Patti Nokwe who also appears in the show.

The show starts off on an explosive note as Joseph (Simon Gwala) refuses to believe Mary’s story that she has been made pregnant by an angel. He exits in fury determined to find out who has defiled his wife. Mary, sensitively played by Mihla Magagula, is left in anguish to be consoled by Elizabeth (Patti Nokwe).

What follows is a vigorous and exuberant telling of the story of Christ interspersed with song and dance – including a particularly hilarious “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” turned into traditional Zulu dance style by choreographer Mdu Mtshali! The young cast includes some exciting new talent on the way up.

Herod was played Thami Sikhosana who also gave a poignant and compelling presentation of the raising of Lazarus. The Three Kings – although at first I thought they were the shepherds because they were carrying long sticks - were played by Xolani Henema, Wayne Dimba and Zelani Mthembu (of the dazzling smile) who also played Simon Peter. Sifiso Makhanya was a good Pontius Pilate.

Putting in an extremely good performance all round, Simon Gwala also plays Judas and the scene where he explains how he will indicate who Jesus is by kissing him was well-played. Judas’s song of despair after the betrayal was excellent.

Thami Zungu made an imposing and compassionate Jesus but he needs to give some attention to his voice which is set too far back in his throat and may give him trouble later if he intends to make theatre his career.

The scenario is a dress rehearsal where last minute adjustments are still being made by the director (Bhekani Biyela) who is seated in the auditorium. While he gives a consistently strong performance, I would prefer Bhekani to use his lower vocal range to produce anger as he tends to sound hysterical at times. A shielded light on his table will bring him into the production a little more and give the audience the opportunity to observe the nice attention to detail he gives his role.

Special mention must be made of Dumisile Mqadi who is one of the best dancers on stage. She plays the prostitute and the song that follows her deliverance gives us insight into her considerable ability as a performer. The other fine dancer is Xolani Henema (one of the kings) who also shows much promise as a comedy actor.

Waiting for the show to start, the audience is treated to a good music combo led by Sandile Mpungose on keyboards (definitely time for him to resettle in Durban after being in Gauteng!) with Philani Duma on drums, Mduduzi Mahlobo on lead guitar and Bongani Nkwanyana on bass guitar.

The show requires stronger or better-placed lighting and the cast need to be trained to find the light and stay in it! The sound is very erratic. This is a difficult venue because of its high roof but I think attention needs to be given to creating a better acoustic value otherwise we do not get the benefit of the cast’s talents. The Stable Theatre is now far more upmarket with the installation of brand new comfortable chairs on the upper raking.

Jerry Pooe has created a work with much potential. I would like to see it again next year on a bigger scale on the mainstream circuit at the Playhouse or the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre.

Tickets R25. Performances at 19h00 daily, with a show at 14h00 tomorrow (December 19), Messiah Musical runs until December 18. To book phone Mari at Eager Artists on 031 305 1624 (office hours) or call Jerry Pooe direct on 083 732 1640. – Caroline Smart




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