Bible story in song

2019-11-27 06:01
Andiswe Shongwe plays Mary in ‘Jesu, The Musical’.PHOTO: facebook

Andiswe Shongwe plays Mary in ‘Jesu, The Musical’.PHOTO: facebook

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AFTER watching a rehearsal for a new play by the Edendale theatre group Born Legends, playwright, actor and director Menzi Mkhwane was blown away by the talent of the young actors.

It was the start of a creative journey which will culminate with the premiere of his latest production, Jesu, The Musical, to be held in Pietermaritzburg this weekend.

Speaking about the first time he met the cast members Noluthando Ngcobo (20), Andiswa Shongwe (17), Phumla Mkhabela (29), Bongeka Ndaba (21) and Ziyanda Mthethwa (19), Mkhwane said: “As I sat down quietly, waiting to go through the usual motions of seeing errors that many young actors exhibit when acting on stage, I was suddenly blown away the moment the presentation began. “These five women made up the all-female cast performing Senzeni, a drama co-created by the actors and their director Dumisani Kubheka.

“It left an indelible first impression as I sat there watching in awe.”

He was impressed by the discipline and harmony of the cast, as well as their charm, grit, intensity, awareness and fluidity. “They were young actors who possessed a performance prowess that could only be acquired from university training which they never had,” Mkhwane said. “They won me over instantly. They stole my heart and a connection was made that first day.”

He then discovered that the women were also great singers, whose voices had been trained to blend well together.

Mkhwane was determined to help them succeed in the performing arts business.

He sat down and gave them notes on Senzeni, which went on to win awards in two community theatre competitions. He also told them he had been toying with the idea of creating a musical featuring their beautiful voices.

“This was about a year-and-a-half ago. The rest kind of fell into place,” he said. Mkhwane said that once he had made the decision to create the musical, he began reading different versions of the Bible, focusing especially on the nativity story and what the scriptures said when they told the story of Jesus’ birth.

“I discovered that it is also a love story about Joseph and Mary, which hinges on purity and God’s desire to save his chosen people,” he said, adding that he had designed the musical to be staged using a minimal set.

On stage there is what Mkhwane calls a “storytelling canvas”, which provides a constant backdrop and music from a percussionist who sits in front of the first row of seats in the theatre.

As the play starts, five hands carrying Bibles slowly emerge from behind the canvas and then, as they begin to address the audience, a gentle mbira plays. The songs are sung mostly in a gentle a cappella style, which is occasionally underscored by instruments played by the percussionist.

Mkhwane also uses the sound of clashing pots and scraping metal to denote more dramatic moments in the story, including when King Herod and the Romans are introduced.

Another rhythmic section follows Joseph and Mary as they set out on their journey to Bethlehem.

“With Jesu, The Musical, I pay my respects to the original text and the integrity of the religious story of Jesus Christ, the saviour, but I have added some new scenes and characters to iconic moments in the known story.

“I believe these additions only help to enhance the core message intended for believers of the faith.”

Mkhwane, who has won a coveted Naledi Award, is one the hardest working young theatre-makers in South Africa. He regularly holds workshops for young actors and presents shows under the banner of Namalandi Creativity, which he co-owns with Mehrunnissa Mullah. “I want to champion creating work independently and I am not waiting for government to fund the arts before creating,” he said.

“Our theatre company works with schools, transforming set works into engaging pieces of theatre for high school pupils, runs master classes, mentors young artists and creates new plays that employ local talent.”

Jesu, The Musical will be staged for a private audience at Maritzburg Christian School on November 22.

A second performance will take place in the Epworth Chapel at 8.30 am on November 26.

Some seats at this show are available to members of the public and in particular to ministers and pastors in Pietermaritzburg and the KZN Midlands.

If you would like to book a seat, phone Mehrunnissa Mullah at 073 616 6766 or e-mail


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