BWW Blog: Live Television Musicals for South African TV?

Poster art for KING KONG

With NBC already having announced a follow-up to the THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE! - it's PETER PAN, in case you missed the news - and FOX having thrown GREASE into the mix, it seems that the live television musical is back. Whether this is the start of a trend or just a novelty remains to be seen, but the ratings love fest that was THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE! (in spite of a central performance by Carrie Underwood that would make some high school drama students blush and turgid direction by Rob Ashford and Beth McCarthy-Miller) has made it clear that the musical is a viable commodity on the small screen for now. Surely it's just a matter of time until ABC announces a live broadcast of a Disney Theatricals vehicle.

With all of that going on internationally, perhaps local South African television moguls should sit up and take note. With the quality of South African television drama on our public television stations shifting precariously between pretentious, passé and just plain poor, maybe a radical move - like throwing money into a live television musical broadcast - is just what's needed. After all, there are a few local musicals that would fit the bill and many local celebrities that could up the ratings. Here are just a few ideas that might just work.

For SABC1, how about a live television production of KING KONG? A landmark production when it first appeared in 1959, the show features a book by Harry Bloom and a score by Todd Matshikiza, with additional lyrics by Pat Williams and tells the life story of heavyweight boxer, Ezekiel Dlamini. The original launched the career of Miriam Makeba, while her fellow cast members Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim would also follow spectacular careers after their time in the show. A familiar television face might be what's needed to carry the lead role of Ezekiel, so maybe Sisa Hewana (Skhumbuzo on ISIDINGO) needs to start warming up those vocal cords. And how about casting Freshly Ground's Zolani Mahola as Joyce, the shebeen queen who falls in love with Ezekial? Wouldn't it be great would it be to hear her belt out "Back of the Moon"?

The company of NOAH OF CAPE TOWN
Photo credit: Giovanni Sterelli

SABC2 might do well to find out about VERE, a musical by Deon Opperman and Janine Neethling, that was set against the backdrop of the ostrich feather boom in Oudtshoorn in the first part of the previous century. Perhaps that doesn't sound all that alluring, but this Afrikaans musical was something of a mash-up of OKLAHOMA! and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and featured a fantastic score that was performed by popular performers like Elzabé Zietsman, Natalia da Rocha and Zane Meas. Perhaps some of the big names in the original cast could recreate their roles for a live broadcast, but how much fun would it be to see the current and alumni cast of SEWENDE LAAN perform all of the roles in the show? The cast of South Africa's most palatable daily soap opera, and a very popular one to boot, performing great material seems like a sure bet.

Finding a property for SABC3 is a little more difficult. SABC3 tries to be liberal, progressive and a little edgy, but of course never really manages to get it right. What about NOAH OF CAPE TOWN, the post-apocalyptic musical by Graham Weir and Megan Furniss (who was known professionally as Megan Choritz at the time of its original chamber outing in 2005 and its subsequent expanded staging in 2009). Set in the aftermath of an environmental disaster around the year 2020 with the battle for our natural resources far from over, the show certainly seems like it would be an apt choice today. The piece is sensitive and needs a strong ensemble of singing actors to bring it to life. At the centre, there has to be a strong and charismatic Noah. Weir himself performed the part in the 2005 version and Francesco Nasssimbeni succeeded him in 2009. How about putting a bone fide rock star front and centre, someone like Wonderboom's Cito - or Martin Cito Otto to give his full name. Having played Jesus in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and Freddie in CHESS, he already has some musical theatre experience under his belt. And his "Gethsemane" and "Pity the Child" remain definitive renditions of those songs. And perhaps Flash Republic's Tamara Dey, GoodLuck's Juliet Harding, Danny K and Elvis Blue can head up the rest of the cast.

The company of the KAT AND THE KING revival
Photo credit: Jesse Kramer

For e-tv, might I suggest one of the David Kramer-Taliep Pietersen vehicles? KAT AND THE KINGS recently had an immensely successful revival at the Fugard Theatre and Montecasino, so that seems like a great choice. The Kramer-Pietersen brand is still strong enough to sell itself, so maybe this one could bring together some of the stage performers that have brought this show to life over the years. That said - how about featuring a celebrity like Tarryn Lamb from Blackbyrd in the single female role?

So there you go: four options for the fourTV stations to which all South Africans with a television set have access. A great way to smarten up local television, don't you think? And let's face it - who wouldn't want to watch a couple of repeat of a local live television musical rather than the umpteenth repeat of GENERATIONS, SCANDAL or RHYTHM CITY?

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David Fick Born and bred in South Africa, David has loved theatre since the day he set foot on stage in his preschool nativity play. He graduated with a Master of Arts (Theatre and Performance) degree from the University of Cape Town in 2005, having previously graduated from the same university with a First Class Honours in Drama in 2002. An ardent essayist, David won the Keswick Prize for Lucidity for his paper "Homosexual Representation in the Broadway Musical: the development of homosexual identities and relationships from PATIENCE to RENT". Currently, he teaches Dramatic Arts at a high school in Cape Town and also freelances as a theatremaker and performer.