The 49th National Arts Festival is scheduled for 22 June to 2 July 2023 in Makhanda. South African theatre-makers, artists and musicians are currently preparing their performances, presentations and exhibitions, all contributing to what promises to be a diverse programme of events. As usual, emerging and established creatives from all over the country will present new, experimental or reimagined works alongside pieces hailing from elsewhere in Africa and other parts of the world.
Ahead of the festival, it can be challenging to discover the musical theatre presentations that dot the programme each year. However, there are usually several productions each year that fit the bill. There are always several shows created and staged in Gibson Kente’s so-called township musical style, along with musical theatre adjacent shows like revues and cabarets.
One company that has found its light in the last five years is the Eastern Cape-based Wela Kepela Productions. Several of their well-received biographical cabarets will appear on the Fringe, including The Story of Eva Cassidy, Amy Winehouse: The Diva and Her Demons, and Julie Andrews – Uncut. The works of Noel Coward will be showcased in Mad About the Boys, with more conventional Broadway show tunes to be heard in NEXT!!
In a more characteristically comic vein, MacBob Productions will present Go Big! and Bulletproof, shows that will showcase their typical marriage of big laughs with catchy music. Based in KwaZulu-Natal, Aaron McIlroy and Lisa Bobbert have been staging productions like these at the National Arts Festival and around the country for many years. The offbeat sense of humour that characterises their shows has developed a solid fan following.
As usual, the National Arts Festival will see the Village Green spring up at Victoria Girls High School, providing a hub for Festival patrons to enjoy local crafts and souvenirs while grabbing a bite to eat or a drink. The National Arts Festival team has also been working on a plan to address the threat of load-shedding, with all venues being equipped with a backup power supply to ensure a full schedule of uninterrupted shows.
The 2023 National Arts Festival programme will be revealed at the start of next month, with bookings opening then too. Hopefully, it will be a strong year for musical theatre-styled entertainment in 2023!