First Look at Musical Theatre Programme for the 2023 National Arts Festival

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.

Aaron McIlroy and Lisa Bobbert will present a range of works at the National Arts Festival this year.
Aaron McIlroy and Lisa Bobbert will present a series of shows at the National Arts Festival this year.

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!

Flagship NAF Musical Productions for 2019 On Sale

Brett BaileyFor the first time ever, audiences will have the chance in December to snap up early tickets to some of the flagship productions at the 2019 National Arts Festival in Makhanda, which will be held from 27 June to 7 July next year. Two of these have connections to the musical theatre scene, a new production by Brett Bailey and a programme to be performed by the Drakensberg Boys Choir.

Brett Bailey’s new work, Samson, promises to be a highly theatrical, visual and musical work with a sharp political sensibility. The piece markets itself as a lyrical, sharp-edged, apocalyptic dance-music-theatre piece, based on the popular Old Testament hero myth of loss, betrayal and rage, and interpreted on a rich visual canvas, with haunting choreography, soaring vocals and live electronica. It is set in a dystopian present in which a rapacious and supremacist master race feeds off the labour of the downtrodden masses.

Performed with opera, choral singing, punchy animated video scenography, black humour, brooding swagger and the booming sub-bass of dub-step music, Samson is a young man with a heroic mission in an era of intolerance and polarisation. Channelling the fury of his oppressed people, he inflicts terror on the population that he holds accountable for their subjugation. As the body count mounts and war surges, Delilah – an ambivalent enemy agent – seduces and ritually castrates him. His brutal punishment in the detention facilities of the authorities spurs him to an act of suicidal devastation.

The internationally acclaimed works of Brett Bailey and Third World Bunfight often have a strong musical element to them. These include productions such as Ipi Zombi? and MedEia as well as a re-interpretation of the Giuseppe Verdi composed opera, Macbeth. Samson, which will head abroad following its season on the main festival, also features three Standard Bank Young Artist alumni: choreographer Vincent Mantsoe (Dance, 1996), Shane Cooper (Jazz, 2013) and Bailey himself (Theatre, 2001). This a fortunate stroke of serendipity is a fitting in a year that celebrates 35 years of Standard Bank’s sponsorship of these awards. Cooper will is create the score for Samson.

Drakensburg Boys ChoirThe internationally renowned yet proudly local Drakensberg Boys Choir will perform a selection of classical, African Gospel and choral pop music. This will be followed by their unique, semi-theatrical presentation of indigenous South African music, which centres around the theme of Water=Life, as well as their renditions of chart-topping pop songs and gospel numbers. The choir will incorporate songs and music from Xhamissa into their single-set programme as a concertante version.

The choir is a unique institution with a 51-year history, the calibre of their old boys speaking for itself. One alumnus, Terence Bridgett, has made several appearances in local musical theatre productions, playing the Pharoah in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, the Fox in Pinocchio, and Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar, also performing in Saturday Night Fever. Another former chorister, Dawid Boverhoff, has found himself in the role of musical director for shows like Heidi and Avenue Q.

Only one performance per show is available for early bookings: 27 June at 16:00 for Samson and 1 July at 18:00 for the Drakensberg Boys Choir Live in ConcertAll other shows in these respective seasons will open for full bookings early in 2019. An excellent Christmas present or “just because”, these early bookings are a great reason to get planning for the 2019 National Arts Festival. For a bit of help with these plans, the National Arts Festival website has comprehensive information on how to get there and where to stay.