The Fugard Theatre brings acclaimed production of iconic musical KING KONG ‘home’ to Joburg
Over half a century since the world premiere of the original production of KING KONG – THE MUSICAL, Eric Abraham and the Fugard Theatre bring this legendary and iconic musical ‘home’ to Johannesburg.
The run comes hot off the Cape Town season, which played to five star reviews, rapturous responses and sold-out houses at the Fugard Theatre.
Eric Abraham produces and presents this Fugard Theatre production, with the official opening taking place on Sunday 17 September and runs until Sunday 8 October 2017 on The Mandela stage at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein.
The historic original show opened at the Wits University Great Hall on February 2 1959, as South Africa’s first black musical set in Sophiatown in Johannesburg in the late-fifties. Among the opening night multi-racial audience was Nelson Mandela with his wife Winnie. Of this momentous occasion, the Sunday Times raved ‘theatre in South Africa has taken an enormous leap’ while the Golden City Post wrote ‘tears of exultation as I feel that a new era in Non-White entertainment has been born with the production of King Kong.. I became breathless with the splendor of the production’.
The production went on to tour South Africa for two years, being seen by 200,000 South Africans and playing to record-breaking mixed race audiences – as apartheid was being implemented -before transferring in February 1961 to London’s West End for a 200-performance run. KING KONG helped in part to launch the international careers of Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela among many others.
Press comments for the Fugard Theatre’s 2017 production include:
“5 stars – KING KONG is a knock-out success… Expectations were exceeded… Gumbi…and Tembe… are an iconic double treat”- Debbie Hathway, City Press
“5 sterre – Daar is gelet op die fynstebesonderhede.” – Mariana Malan, Die Burger
“It pays homage to the 1950’s version and while it remains true to the score and the book (apart from the update at the start to contexualise it for new audiences), ‘King Kong – Legend of a Boxer’ is its own entity and while it is tethered to the past it soars to its own heights.”- Marianne Thamm, Daily Maverick
“Apart from the collective excellence of its cast, both actors and musicians, this production is stellar by virtue of its staging.” – Beverley Brommert, Cape Times
“a triumphant production, brilliant choreography” – Orielle Berry Cape Argus
“The end result is not only an immaculately staged piece of theatre, but also a tribute to South Africa’s performance arts legacy… King Kong 2017 is a knockout.” – Siya Mahomba, Whatsonincapetown.com
“ …King Kong 2017 is a beautifully staged, impeccably performed piece of work, bubbling with vitality and sparkling with talent. What the new team has done is taken an existing gem and polished it further, integrating new technology ..adapting the script …and generally smoothing and streamlining the action. The result is a production which pays all due respect to its origins, but at the same time is updated and totally in line with a 21st-century stage musical” – Karen Rutter (Weekend Special)
“King Kong is a theatrical treat, and something to treasure and celebrate for the fact that it brings to the here and now a part of South African theatre history in a way that makes one appreciated the talent this country has and the music that can still, after so many years, get a crowd’s toes tapping.” – Barbara Loots, TheatreSceneCpt
KING KONG – THE MUSICAL tells the story of heavyweight fifties boxing champion Ezekiel Dlamini whose self-appointed ring name was “King Kong” to the wildly exhilarating music of Todd Matshikiza.
“The Fugard Theatre is proud to be bringing this revered and iconic musical home to Johannesburg featuring a supremely talented all South African cast and stellar creative team,” says Daniel Galloway the Executive Director of the Fugard Theatre. “KING KONG – THE MUSICAL has a special connection with Johannesburg, as it was, in the words of Esme Matshikiza, composer Todd Matshikiza’s wife, ‘so deeply rooted in Johannesburg’s urban culture of the time.’ We are honouring those roots and, while remaining true to the original production, our Fugard Theatre KING KONG will reimagine the musical for the 21st Century”.
The Fugard Theatre’sKING KONG is directed by Jonathan Munby who directed the Fugard Theatre’s production of A HUMAN BEING DIED THAT NIGHT with Noma Dumezweni (the only double Olivier award-winning Southern African actor) amongst many other international productions. Following KING KONG Munby directs Sir Ian McKellen in Shakespeare’s KING LEARfor the Chichester Festival in the UK.
The revised book (with additional lyrics) is by Academy award nominated screenwriter and playwright William Nicholson (Shadowlands, Gladiator, Les Miserables, Sarafina, Long Walk to Freedom). South African choreographer star and recent French Legion D’Honneur recipient Gregory Maqoma choreographs KING KONG to the irresistible original music of the late great South African composer Todd Matshikiza.
The Fugard Theatre’s production sees Musical Direction by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder (West Side Story, Funny Girl, Cabaret) and Sipumzo Trueman Lucwaba with additional music and arrangements by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder.
Set design is by Paul Wills (A Human Being Died that Night, Royal Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet, West End – Wyndham’s Theatre – David Mamet’s American Buffalo); Costume design by Birrie le Roux (West Side Story, Orpheus in Africa, District Six: Kanala); Lighting Design by Tim Mitchell(A Human Being Died That Night; Royal Shakespeare Company’s King Lear with Antony Sher – Associate artist RSC/Chichester Festival Theatre) and Sound Design by Mark Malherbe (West Side Story, Funny Girl). The associate director is Mdu Kweyama.
Cast in the title role of King Kong is South African star – actor, singer and dancer Andile Gumbi. Gumbi made his Broadway debut as Simba in Disney’s The Lion King and has starred in productions of this musical in London, Sydney, Melbourne, Shanghai and South Africa. Gumbi, who was voted by The Sowetan asone of Mzansi’s Sexiest Top 12 celebs in 2015, is the characterZweli in the Mzansi Magic soap opera isiBaya, which was voted most popular TV soap at the 2017 SAFTA Awards.
Multiple award-winning actress and singer-songwriter Nondumiso Tembe will be recreating the role of Joyce, which propelled Miriam Makeba to international fame in the original production of King Kong. Tembe’s extensive list of credits include HBO’s Golden Globe and Emmy-award winning True Blood, SABC’s Generations, the military drama SIX on the History Channel and Zulu Wedding opposite Darrin Dewitt Henson. She won the Best Actress in a Supporting Role Naledi Theatre Award in 2014 for her portrayal of Susan in David Mamet’s RACE, which toured South Africa, and to the Edinburgh Festival. Her debut album Izwi Lami – My Voicereceived much acclaim including a Metro FM Music Awardfor Best Music Video.
The Fugard Theatre’s KING KONG cast includes: Sanda Shandu as Lucky(Orpheus in Africa); Tshamano Sebe as Jack (Athol Fugard’s Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek; Master Harold and the Boys; Noem my Skollie); Ntambo Rapatla as Miriam (Menopause the Musical); Sne Dladla as Pop (District Six: Kanala; Orpheus in Africa; Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek); Lerato Mvelase as Petal (Isibaya; Play Me) and Sabelo Radebe as Caswell (West Side Story; Peter Pan).
Also performing with the ensemble are Joel Zuma (Sophiatown; Kwela Bafana – The Musical); Ben Kgosimore (The Adventures of Oliver Twist; ‘I, Oedipus’; Singular Sensation); Athenkozi Mfamela (In The City of Paradise; Bash or Be Bashed); Shalom Zamisa (Voices of Hope; Sarafina); Sibusiso Mxosana (West Side Story; Funny Girl; A Spartacus of Africa); Aphiwe Menziwa (Passage; Inexba Lomphillisi); Namisa Mdlalose (Rent); Siphiwe Nkabinde (Exit/Exist; Music in the Air); Lungelwa Mdekazi (African Angels; Phantom of the Opera); Dolly Louw (Peter Pan; The Boys in the Photograph); Barileng Malebye (Sophiatown; Making Mandela; Dogma; Emotional Creature); Edith Plaatjies (District Six: Kanala; Orpheus in Africa; Blood Brothers); Rushney Ferguson (District Six: Kanala) and Given Mkhize (Sacredspace; In The End is My Beginning).
A live 9-piece band, under the direction of Sipumzo Trueman Lucwaba, will accompany the action at every performance.
Born in Vryheid in the then Orange Free State, Ezekiel Dlamini himself became and unwitting symbol for freedom and the wasted power of his people under apartheid. After a meteoric boxing rise Dlamini’s life degenerated into drunkenness and gang violence. In 1957Dlamini was to be a classic Greek tragic figure when, in a fit of jealousy, he killed his girlfriend and at his trial askedfor the death sentence to serve as a warning to others. Instead, the white judge, refusing to take instruction from a black defendant, sentenced Dlaminito twelve yearshard labour. Three months later King Kongwas found drowned in a dam on a prison farm. At 36 years old King Kong had taken his destiny into his own hands and, inadvertently, become a legend.
The original production featured music by Todd Matshikiza, lyrics and original book by Pat Williams and book by Harry Bloom. Songs such as Back of the Moon, King Kong and Sad Times, Bad Times, have become popular South African favourites and are firmly entrenched in this country’s musical history. Sales of the original recording achieved unprecedented numbers, with reviews such as “This for my money is the record of the year” (Rand Daily Mail) and ‘Five stars!” (Drum). The cast recording was the first release of an all black production in South Africa and unusual in that the libretti was included with the LP, which normally only happenswith opera recordings.Arthur Goldreich designed the sets for the original production with original musical direction by Stanley Glasser.
Some of the extensive rave reviews the original production for KING KONG in 1959:
“… a big event in theatrical history.” Time Magazine (March 03, 1961)
“… King Kong triumphs by its bursting,smoking glowing life”. Daily Express
” … the greatest thrill in 20 years of South African theatre-going”The Star
“ … Magnificent…spectacular… a resounding success” Rand Daily Mail
“ … the theatrical sensation of the (Union of) South Africa” The New York Times
“ … the audience was mixed…and for a short time at least, they held the laws of apartheid was suspended with their applause” The Central African Examiner
“ … there is inspiration here that must mean the beginning of a colourful vigorous theatre in South Africa” Sunday Tribune
“ … excellent… I must applaud Todd Matshikiza” Cape Argus
The UK’s Portobello Books publishes KING KONG lyricist and original book writer Pat Williams’ personal memoir of the original musical – OUR KNOT OF TIME AND MUSIC- to coincide with the Fugard’s production. “An extraordinary memoir of the first ever South African musical, which has since acquired mythical proportions. Essential reading for anyone who loves our country – and, of course, its music” Athol Fugard.The book will be available for sale at the Mandela Theatre during the run of KING KONG – THE MUSICAL.
KING KONG will run on The the Mandela stage at the Joburg Theatre from 17 September until 8 October 2017.
Performances are Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm with a 3pm matinee performance on Saturdays and a 2pm matinee performance on Sundays.
Tickets range from R150 to R350.
Bookings for the Johannesburg season can be made at www.joburgtheatre.com or through Webtickets at www.webtickets.co.za or try calling the Joburg Theatre Box Office on 0861 670 670.
There is a suggested age restriction of PG10.