Fans of musical theatre will be pleased to know that David Kramer’s Orpheus in Africa has returned to The Fugard after premiering to sold-out houses earlier this year.
New and improved
A writer should be hesitant at typing the words ‘back and better than ever’, but by all accounts that’s what the new incarnation of Orpheus is. Despite critical acclaim received for the February run, Kramer took his new production back to the rehearsal room for edits and revisions that have resulted in a tighter production, with characters that have more depth.
‘It’s always exciting for us to present musical theatre, but to be able to nurture and produce a new South African work is the most rewarding challenge of all,’ says Fugard Executive Director Daniel Galloway. ‘We were thrilled at the overwhelming critical and box office response to the first ‘work-in-progress’ season in February. For those who weren’t able to get a ticket then, we offer an opportunity to see a work that David Kramer has fine-tuned for its return season.’
What’s the story?
Like six Kramer musicals before it, Orpheus in Africa is at its heart an exploration of South African heritage; of the intersection of individual lives and racial politics. The plot follows the extraordinary true story of Orpheus McAdoo, a free-born African American theatre impressario, and his Virginia Jubilee Singers.
After performances in Europe, the ensemble embarks on a tour of South Africa in 1890. At first they achieve much success but once the novelty of their sophisticated performance wears off, McAdoo finds himself confronted with audiences and theatre managers who would much prefer that he conform to the traditional minstrel acts they are used to receiving from black entertainers. ‘Seems when you look at me, all you see is a coon,’ he finally tells one. ‘What is this obsession with minstrels? Why would you have me paint a black mask on a face that is already black?’
Wasn’t he in The Wild?
Casting certainly wasn’t an issue the first time around, and nearly the entire company has returned for the second run. Title character Aubrey Poo can do no wrong in a role that seems to have been tailor-made for him. Also commanding the stage are Jill Levenberg, reprising her role as choir mistress Lucy Moten, and Lynelle Kenned as Mattie Allen, McAdoo’s ingenue and fiancé.
The irony (and most uncomfortable realisation for audience members) is that the true scene stealer is Sne Dladla, who plays one of the ‘blackface’ minstrels that are a thorn in McAdoo’s side and the antithesis to his upliftment vision.
But can you hum it?
The score includes original songs by Kramer, as well as jubilee classics such as ‘Roll Jordan Roll’, ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ and ‘Deliver Daniel’.
Where The Fugard Theatre, Caledon Street, Fringe District
When Until 9 January 2016
Cost R110 (slightly restricted view) to R220
Need to know Contact Lamees Albertus via the box office for discounted block bookings
Contact +27 21 461 4554, www.thefugard.com
Photography Jesse Kramer