Legendary South African Musical KING KONG Now Open at The Fugard Theatre

Legendary South African Musical KING KONG Now Open at The Fugard Theatre
The company of KING KONG, led by Andile
Gumbi in the title role, at The Fugard Theatre
Photo credit: Daniel Rutland Manners

Over half a century since the original production, a brand new production of KING KONG, the legendary South African musical, is now on in Cape Town. Eric Abraham produces and presents this Fugard Theatre production, which will transfer to Johannesburg following its run in the Mother City.

KING KONG tells the story of heavyweight fifties boxing champion Ezekiel Dlamini whose self-appointed ring name was "King Kong". Born in Vryheid in the then Orange Free State, Dlamini became an unwitting symbol of 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 1957, he killed his girlfriend in a fit of jealousy and asked for the death sentence at his trial so that his story would serve as a warning to others. The white judge, refusing to take instruction from a black defendant, sentenced Dlamini to twelve years of hard labour. Three months later, King Kong was 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 1959 production of KING KONG toured South Africa and was seen by 200 000 South Africans, playing to record-breaking and multi-racial audiences - as apartheid was being implemented - before transferring in February 1961 to London's West End for a 200-performance run. KING KONG launched the international careers of many artists, including the aforementioned Makeba and Hugh Masekela. The cast recording was the first release of an all black production in South Africa and its sales achieved unprecedented numbers.

Legendary South African Musical KING KONG Now Open at The Fugard Theatre
Nondumiso Tembe as Joyce in KING KONG
Photo credit: Daniel Rutland Manners

The Fugard Theatre's Daniel Galloway comments on what it means to bring this show back to South Africa:

We are thrilled that this long awaited production of this iconic and first South African musical of KING KONG, is a Fugard Theatre production which will showcase the very best of South African talent. The original production united audiences of all colours, launched careers and put South African talent firmly on the international map. We are excited to be re-creating the world of the "Back of the Moon" shebeen with an all South African cast and superb creative team. While remaining true to the original production our Fugard Theatre KING KONG will refresh the musical for the 21st century.

The Fugard Theatre's contemporary revival of KING KONG, with book by Pat Williams and Harry Bloom, and Williams setting lyrics to Todd Matshikiza's wildly exhilarating music, features a revised book by the Academy Award nominated screenwriter of SHADOWLANDS and GLADIATOR, William Nicholson. Nicholson has also written lyrics to music by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder for several new musical sequences in the production, which feature alongside classic songs like "Back of the Moon", "King Kong" and "Sad Times, Bad Times", all of which have become popular South African favourites and are firmly entrenched in this country's musical history.

KING KONG is directed by Jonathan Munby, who directed the Fugard Theatre's production of A HUMAN BEING DIED THAT NIGHT and whose production of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is being screened as part of The Fugard's current Bioscope Season. Mdu Kweyama serves as the production's associate director.

Musical direction for KING KONG is by Fugard stalwart Charl-Johan Lingenfelder and Sipumzo Trueman Lucwaba, who makes his debut as a professional musical director on this production and will direct the live nine-piece band that will accompany the action at every performance. South African star choreographer Gregory Maqoma, a recent French Legion D'Honneur recipient, will choreograph the show. The design team for KING KONG includes set designer Paul Wills, costume designer Birrie le Roux, lighting designer Tim Mitchell and sound designer Mark Malherbe.

Legendary South African Musical KING KONG Now Open at The Fugard Theatre
Sne Dladla as Pop in KING KONG
Photo credit: Jesse Kramer

Cast in the title role of KING KONG is South African actor, singer and dancer Andile Gumbi. Multiple award-winning actress, singer and songwriter Nondumiso Tembe plays the role of Joyce, which propelled Miriam Makeba to international fame in the original production of the show. The cast also includes Sne Dladla as Pop, Lerato Mvelase as Petal, Tshamano Sebe as Jack, Ntambo Rapatla as Miriam, Sanda Shandu as Lucky and Sabelo Radebe as Caswell. Also performing in the ensemble are Joel Zuma, Ben Kgosimore, Athenkozi Mfamela, Shalom Zamisa, Sibusiso Mxosana, Aphiwe Menziwa, Namisa Mdlalose, Siphiwe Nkabinde, Lungelwa Mdekazi, Dolly Louw, Barileng Malibye, Edith Plaatjies, Rushney Ferguson and Given Mkhize.

KING KONG will run at the Fugard Theatre until 2 September on Tuesdays through Saturdays at 20:00 with a 16:00 matinee performance on Saturdays. Tickets range from R130 to R280 and are available through Computicket.

The production will then transfer to the Mandela Theatre in Johannesburg from 12 September - 8 October, running Tuesdays through Saturdays at 20:00 with 16:00 matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets range from R150 to R350 and are available through Webtickets.

For further information about KING KONG, visit the production's official website. A BroadwayWorld South Africa review of the production will be published soon.

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