Thoroughly enjoyable musical

2008-10-02 08:05

THIS piece of musical theatre was workshopped by the Junction Avenue Theatre Company in Johannesburg in 1999 and it has worn well. In the hands of a group of mainly student actors and members of a township theatre group, directed by Diana Wilson, last week's production remained fresh, relevant and, above all, fun.

The plot concerns Jimmy “Long-legs” Mangane, a so-called people's poet who has been imprisoned for bank robbery - no prizes for guessing where that plot strand came from. He has two women in his life - Lulu Levine and Bibi Khuzwayo - who both want to see him free. But then there is the new chief of police, Queenie Dlamini, and the very, very cool businessman Lewis Matome who are not so sure that this would be a good idea. After all, Longlegs claims to have just been set up by a secret, secret service, and secret secrets might be better behind bars. Meanwhile, old-time gangster Bones Shimbambo mourns the lack of style of current criminals, while Bokkie Levine, father of Lulu, proves that power has not entirely changed hands, and that corruption and palm greasing are not a new phenomenon.

The format is old-style musical with set-piece song and dance numbers, performed in front of yet another top-class Peter Mitchell-designed set, which includes a wonderful Jo'burg skyline created from cardboard boxes, and a whole slew of plastic beer crates which double as whatever is needed. Add live music from Helen Vermaak, Ryan Calder and Andrew Rowe, and you have a thoroughly enjoyable production.

Generally the performers seemed more at ease with singing and dancing than when straight acting was called for. With a musical, audibility is the key, and most of the time they managed well, although once or twice when the action was hectic, enthusiasm overcame clarity. It is hard to single out members of an ensemble cast, but special mention must go to Mbo Mtshali, Caitlin Kilburn and Yithi Ntshangase. My regular gripe still applies - I would have preferred to see the microphones dispensed with, but they seem to be standard issue these days, even in a space where the acoustics are excellent.

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