Locals in David Kramer musical

2015-12-08 06:00
Front from left: Aubrey Poo, Edith Plaaitjies, Lynelle Kenned, Jill Levenberg, Bianca Flanders and Natasha Hess. Jarrad Ricketts, Carlo Daniels, Robin Pieters, Sanda Shandu and Graham Bourne are at the back in this scene from Orpheus in Africa, David

Front from left: Aubrey Poo, Edith Plaaitjies, Lynelle Kenned, Jill Levenberg, Bianca Flanders and Natasha Hess. Jarrad Ricketts, Carlo Daniels, Robin Pieters, Sanda Shandu and Graham Bourne are at the back in this scene from Orpheus in Africa, David

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Two local stars are currently on stage in David Kramer’s newest musical Orpheus in Africa at the Fugard Theatre.

Kensington’s Jill Levenberg and Woodstock’s Lynelle Kenned both feature in the production that tells the story of Orpheus McAdoo and the Virginia Jubilee Singers who toured Queen Victoria’s colonies in the last decade of the 19th century, along with the evolution of black American music.

Jill and Lynelle, who’ve both worked with David before, play the roles of Lucy Moten, the choir mistress, and Mattie Allen, Orpheus’s wife, respectively.

The two had previously shared the role of Mrs Lyons in David’s Blood Brothers, which was when he mentioned to Lynelle that he was working on a new piece and writing a character with her in mind.

Entertaining historyJill describes Orpheus in Africa as an entertaining history lesson: “A true story nogal – filled with wonderful spirituals and other music.”

The Jubilee Singers toured Scotland, Australia and South Africa. The group’s members were first-generation freed slaves who had graduated from America’s Hampton University, and as Jill adds, changed South African music.

Orpheus in Africa is the struggle of a visionary man, one forging a new path whilst remaining true to his history, using music and performance as a powerful social and political tool,” Lynelle says.

Both actresses are thrilled to be working with theatre legend David.

“He continues to inspire me and has a way of making epic, necessary stories like this accessible to people in a wonderfully entertaining manner,” Jill enthuses, while Lynelle says she still has to pinch herself when she thinks about it sometimes.

“I really appreciate how someone so established can humble themselves enough to collaborate with his performers,” Lynelle says, adding: “I think part of the success of the show is that we feel we’ve built something special together from the ground up, as opposed to [just] being handed material.”

Lynelle, who is also a television presenter on Pasella, is a graduate of UCT Opera School. While she’d performed in many operas before, she says her acting career only really “gained momentum” after her performance in Blood Brothers.

“Musical theatre has been where I’ve earned my acting wings.” She even played Maria in West Side Story earlier this year.

Jill is also a familiar face to television viewers, as she is currently on screen in the new KykNET soapie Suidooster.

She was just six years old when she got on stage at the Kensington civic centre. “I sang a song about a lollipop – haven’t looked back since!”

Jill’s acting career has seen her work in stage, film, television and radio and she says each medium has its own “gifts” and challenges and requires a different kind of discipline.

Movie fans will be able to see her in Jans Rautenbach’s Abraham and Reghardt van den Bergh’s Uitvlucht, due to be released in May next year.

Next year is shaping up to be a busy year for Lynelle, who also works as an MC. She’ll start rehearsals for the Johannesburg run of West Side Story this month and has already started negotiations for various arts festivals.

“I’m going to have to be smart about juggling my schedule.”

In the meantime, theatre fans can catch Jill and Lynelle at the Fugard Theatre in Orpheus in Africa until 9 January.V Tickets for the show are available from the Fugard Theatre box office on 021 461 4554 or via Computicket.

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